30 October 2008

Vogon poetry is of course the third worst creative work in the Universe.

The second worst is that of the Azagoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode To A Small Lump of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos is reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve-book epic entitled My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain.

The very worst creative work of all was an ill-advised Hollywood adaptation of "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" in AD 2005 on the planet Earth, but it has blessedly passed out of all knowledge with the recent demolition of the same planet.

(with apologies to Douglas Adams)

So I went against my better judgment, the imploring pleas of friends, and a general prescient sense of foreboding, and I moved the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the top of my Netflix queue, and we watched it last night. Or rather, a more than sufficient quantity of it.

My expectations were low; I had watched and actually rather enjoyed the 1981 BBC television adaptation, which had low budget sets and even lower budget acting. Still, in its cheesy awful way I loved it, and Debra (who has not read the books) enjoyed it as well. I figured, might as well try the movie. We expect it to be bad, even worse than these, but it might be at least moderately entertaining.

I can't put into words how unspeakably awful this movie was. Obviously, you observe, I am attempting to do so, but mere words are insufficient and can never fully represent the depth of awfulness attained by Garth Jennings.

I am staring into the blank white void of a Blogger text window and I find it hard to come to grips with it, hard to find where to begin. The conclusion is inescapable. This was in fact the worst movie I have ever seen. It is possible that I have seen worse ones and they are simply unable to rise through my memory banks for recollection, but I have been contemplating this and I cannot think of a worse motion picture. There is a possibility that I will see one in the future that represents a lower nadir of supreme awfulness than even this, but that seems unlikely in that I don't own one of these.

I like Martin Freeman as an actor...I've always been fond of his character Tim from The Office, even if that is the only character he is capable of playing. However, his modern lower-class British was immensely skewed from the Arthur of the book, played to perfection by Simon Jones, and on the whole he was profoundly lame. Much of this wasn't his fault, in that the dialogue was nothing short of raped, but still, he was playing his usual Tim Canterbury character, not Arthur Dent.

Trillian/Tricia McMillan could have been worse. Admittedly she was a better actress than the one who played Trillian in the 1981 series, and was more believably intelligent, which is appropriate, but the horrendous, unnecessary romantic subplot, and the extra non-Adams dialogue...if Zoolander Deschawhatever could have simply played the part from the 1981 series, she would have done fine I think, but the absolutely vomit-inducing "romantic interest" subplot and related dialogue completely ruined her character.

Ford Prefect. Now, don't call me a racist ("racist!!!"); I was thoroughly open to Ford being of whatever race. In fact it could have added to the humor, particularly if Ford had assumed a race very unlikely to have come from Guildford. However, why in the world did they have to get someone who acted like Tracy Morgan's stand-in on 30 Rock? Again, if the man had a proper English accent and had stuck with the lines in the book, he would have done rather well possibly (well, as good as Tracy Morgan would have done). As it stands, he was bloody awful. When he starts referring to "people of Earth" in the first scene it is so out of character, he was henceforth lost to me as a character. That was the moment I knew the game was up, the movie was rubbish.

Zaphod Beeblebrox had a few good lines (most of the good ones taken straight from the book) and was perhaps the least awful adaptation of characters. I never heard him with an American accent, of course (Adams was likely hardly capable of writing dialogue from a non-British perspective), but the character was about right. His failing was outside of his control as an actor...in the awful extraneous dialog handed to him by the bastard writer-rapists, and in the stupid "creative" interpretation of the multiple heads. While the 1981 BBC Zaphod did look terribly awkward and reminiscent of Michael Scott in the Halloween version of NBC's The Office, I still preferred that more literal interpretation, because guess what, that is how EVERYONE that reads the book pictures his two heads. Nobody thinks he's got a hidden chin face.

Marvin was acceptable, and while the actor who voiced him is one of whom I think decently, I preferred the original Marvin voice from the '81 series, again. Also, his physical design looked too much like a playful, cheery Japanese toy robot. Bad design.

I am a huge Stephen Fry fan, but after V for Vendetta I realized that everything he does does not in fact turn to gold, so I can readily admit that I preferred the original narrator. Fry did fine, but his voice was just wrong. Also, the original lo-fi graphics were much better than the cartoon animated graphics in the new Guide, and it seemed to have less comic punch.

Whoever scored the movie either didn't read the books or didn't "get" the books. The playful incidental comic music thrown in throughout the movie was just horrid, and felt like it would be more appropriate in a Julia Roberts romantic comedy. Then, when Good Lord, they tried to make an ExcitingAdventurePlot! the music got even worse. Adams wrote an adventure comedy, that is, a comedy written with a background of a space adventure, whereas these script molesters turned it into a comic adventure, that is, a space adventure with humor sporadically sprinkled throughout it. Not realizing that the plot is the least interesting and worthwhile part of Adams' books. And also gutting and neutering the humor that they did manage to port over from the original.

Yes, the plot was abysmal. Why in the sodding arse did they have to go to Vogsphere? To establish an awful and awkward romantic adventure rescue? What Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh did to Tolkien's work is mild and completely acceptable in comparison to the awful plot liberties executed on this one. I grant, Adams may have had some role in rewriting parts of the plot before his death, and we will probably never know how much of the crap was his, and how much was put in later to make it more sellable to Hollywood. But the wanton abandonment of Adams' dialogue was the worst of it. Like Wodehouse, Adams excels at writing comic dialogue, inestimably more than the screenwriter on this film. Imagine a Wodehouse adaptation with Alan Alda as Jeeves and Ben Stiller as Bertie Wooster. IMAGINE IT!

We stopped it after the Vogsphere scene just as they had gotten to Magrathea. Neither of us could take any more. Debra had fallen asleep through the Viltvodle/Vogsphere section, which was her good luck, but I was transfixed by its awfulness and remained unable to avert my eyes until Debra, bless her, finally insisted that we turn it off.

I suppose I will continue to heal, coping with this, my burden, one day at a time. One day at a time.


Percussivity said...

I would say that the movie purely in relation to the wonderful book Douglas Adams penned is just as you say to the nth degree. Had I never read the books I believe I would have seen the movie as a somewhat average or maybe below average space comedy but quite a longs ways off from being the worst movie ever.

However the fact remains that I have read the books many times and love them dearly and therefore I heartily agree with your review.

Debtoneufer said...

I have not read the books, and I would say it is at least in the top 10 least favorite movies of all time. I like chick flicks, and this was a super lame chick flick. At least chick flicks are usually somewhat funny. Not this one.

Safety in Silence said...

The crazy thing about reading this blog about hitchhiker's guide isn't that I just finished reading the book for the first time this weekend. It is that I am reading your blog for the first time the day after I finished the book. I'm feeling a divine appointment from God in the mix of all of this. Let us contemplate what the next step in our new found friendship is.