***Dave and Solonor bring us bad news about the upcoming Hitchhiker’s Guide movie. Seems M. J. Simpson, author of Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams (among many other books), was invited to a prescreening of the new movie and he came away very disappointed:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is bad. Really bad. You just won’t believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular – but that’s just peanuts to the Hitchhiker’s movie. Listen.
And so on…
It’s bad on a big scale because enormous swathes of the story have been dispensed with – most of the Guide entries, whole scenes – or changed beyond all recognition. And it is bad on a small scale because many, many wonderful lines have been cut or in some cases actually rewritten to make them less funny. Whatever your favourite line from Hitchhiker’s, there’s a good chance that it won’t be in the film. Even if it’s really well-known, widely-quoted, much-loved, very funny – it will probably be absent from the movie. Or if it is there, it might have been changed.
Douglas Adams was a dialogue writer. That was his skill – writing great dialogue. And when he had written it, he would rewrite it again and again and again, changing a word here or there because he knew that good comedy writing is like poetry. It has a meter to it and when you get the right words in the right order it just sounds right and nothing else will do. Douglas’ dialogue was perfect. However, the makers of this film, despite all their talk of being faithful to Douglas’ intentions and ideals, have seen fit to piss about with his carefully crafted, wonderfully quotable lines.
To put it bluntly, they have cut most of the jokes out. I’m not being metaphorical here, they really have, in a very literal sense, removed the jokes from the story. There are scenes where all we’re left with is the set-up dialogue, there are jokes where we get the feed-line but not the punchline. It’s astounding. Occasionally, the filmmakers have actually bothered replacing the jokes but they have replaced them with really, really pisspoor, unfunny jokes; they have replaced them with stupid playground humour and pointless slapstick.
[…] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is an abomination. Whereas the radio show, TV show, books and computer game are all recognisably variations on a theme, this is something new and almost entirely unrelated. It’s not even a good film if viewed as an original work: the characters are unsympathetic, the cast exhibit no chemistry, the direction is pedestrian, the pace plodding, the special effects overpowering (lots and lots of special effects, none of them funny mind you) and above all the script is amazingly, mindbogglingly awful. Oh, and they have taken most of the jokes out.
This is a terrible, terrible film and it makes me want to weep.
As my mother would say, “Well, shit.”
I’ve been waiting for this movie to be made ever since the possibility was first brought up decades ago. The Hitchhiker’s Guide series was one of the binding threads in my circle of friends when I was a teenager and it remains one of the few series I’ve read and re-read over the course of decades. It was one of the first audio books I ever bought and that was when I first realized that aspects of the American release of the novels were different than the British release which prompted me to collect even more editions so I could experience the story in all its permutations. I can be as obnoxious about these books as some folks are about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series and I was really excited about the movie because Douglas Adams himself had developed the screenplay. There are very few movies these days that I make a point of seeing in the theaters and H2G2 was definitely one of them so this is a major blow to my happiness.
The above was taken from the short, spoiler free review of the film. Simpson wrote a longer 4 page review full of spoilers that lays out just why it all went horribly wrong. Normally I’m cautious about taking most reviews at face value (which is why I like sites like Rotten Tomatoes for movie reviews), but Simpson is uniquely qualified to be a good critic of this film due to his many works about Douglas Adams and the H2G2 books. He opens the longer review as follows:
Let’s start by establishing a few basics. The only two things that matter when judging this film are ‘Is it a good movie?’ and ‘Is it a good version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?’ One thing which is totally irrelevant is ‘How much of it did Douglas Adams write?’ Douglas was not the best arbiter of what did or did not work in various versions of Hitchhiker’s Guide: much of what we love in the story was created by other people or at least by Douglas in collaboration with other people, and some of his own ideas were wisely dropped from earlier versions. So ‘but Douglas came up with that bit himself’ is not a valid rejoinder to any criticism of changes made from previous versions.
In other words, from the audience’s point of view, it matters not a jot whether Douglas Adams wrote any particular part of this movie; it only matters that it should sound like he wrote it.
Let me also acknowledge that a lot of very nice, very talented people, who have been very kind to me, some of whom I’m lucky enough to consider friends, have worked very hard on this film. I have been extraordinarily privileged – a visit to the set, interviews with cast and crew, exclusives for my website, a preview screening – but that should not affect my critical judgement. Disney have got some great free publicity out of me in return – quid pro quo – but when it comes to reviewing the film, all this means is that I will be kinder when making negative points and more enthusiastic when making positive ones. It won’t affect what those points are and it won’t affect my overall opinion. You can’t (or at least, shouldn’t be able to) buy good publicity for a bad film. And this film, I’m very sorry to report, is bad.
That alone is enough to inspire me with confidence that Simpson is going to provide a review I can trust. He admits his biases and special treatment right up front while stating his desire to be as fair in his opinion as he can. So when he says something like…
The plot has changed considerably. Yes, every version of Hitchhiker’s has been different, but there is a core plot: the first radio series, the TV series, the two LPs, the first two novels and, crucially, the play. Jonathan Petherbridge’s stage adaptation is a perfectly good example of how the whole of the Hitchhiker’s saga can be effectively told in under two hours but seems to have been completely ignored by the film-makers as possible source material or guidance. (And speaking of running times, let us never forget that this movie is adapted from a novel which was based on only four radio episodes, ie. two hours of material, so there really shouldn’t be any need to cut too much out.)
What we have here is a story which changes some of the really, really basic, iconic elements of Hitchhiker’s as established in all the previous variant editions. That wouldn’t be so bad if it changed these elements for the purposes of creating a good film, but that is sadly not the case. What has emerged from all this chopping and changing is an incoherent mess in which important things happen for no reason except to advance the plot and unimportant things happen for no reason at all.
…my heart just sinks.
I rarely get upset about bad movie versions of books as there are very few books I get that emotionally wrapped up in. This is definitely one of those books and I am definitely very upset.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings were upset with some of what was removed and changed for the movies, but the movies still ended up being damned impressive despite the changes and omissions because the folks who made it understood what made the books so damned good. The same doesn’t appear to be true of the folks who made H2G2. Simpson makes his case against the film quite well going so far as to produce a list of things not in the film that should have been.
Oh well. It’s not like I can afford to go see the stupid movie at the moment anyway. I’ll probably watch it once it hits cable just to see how bad the train wreck is, but for now it’s definitely off my list. Dammit.