Saturday, 3 March 2007

All Vogsphere's Spent

Douglas Adams did everything I wanted to do for love and money before I was ten- be funny and write for 'Doctor Who'. This was good because
a) it meant I had to concentrate on being me instead of trying to be who I very very slightly reminded people of (as a result of imitating them slavishly and incompetently to the best of my ability) and
b) it meant he got loved and monied (more for the being funny than for the writing of 'Doctor Who' obviously).

This evening though I finally did something Douglas Adams didn't- I watched the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' movie, and a resounding curate's egg it is too.

The thing is, it's painstakingly loyal to Adams in a large number of details (and Stephen Fry is a Book so good you nearly forget the great Peter Jones) some of them quite nerdish, and yet fails to quite capture the feel I think is required. Verbal wit, black humour, digression, those are the great things in 'Hitchhiker's' and there's not enough of them in the film.

Unsurprising really, because mainstream movies need a plot, action and some feel-good all of which can and do happen in 'Hitchhiker's' but largely as an unexpected bonus that sneaks in between the more obviously good bits.

The biggest problems, a two armed, three headed man who exists for one throwaway reveal gag and a couple of follow ups and a narrator who has most of the best lines are part of the film's radio heritage, and I reckon both were better dealt with in the pretty shoddy BBC TV series, which did its best to integrate them visually as much as possible.
They don't belong in the film because they don't justify themselves visually and film is a visual medium first and foremost, and they really aren't there enough for us to just accept that they should be. They're there because fans expect them to be, not because they serve the telling of the story in the medium.

This is the second problem- story. It really isn't what 'Hitchhiker's' was ever about. It's a rambling yarn stitching together jokes which then pull a story into being in their wake. When you try to unpick it to produce a three act Hollywood drama and then try to staple the old jokes back on (along with any new ones you can think of), you end up with a lot of scar tissue, some not particularly pleasant scabs and a slightly messy and blood spattered piece of fabric, as a result of all that textile stuff and medical stuff above rubbing up against each other a bit too vigorously.

I can't help thinking that, if Douglas Adams had lived, the film would have been more of a thing of itself and of its medium, would have been less true to the source material, and probably would and should have had a lot less dialogue in it. The radio, book and telly 'Hitchhiker's' were about connecting one person to one author's vision and making them smile, snigger or even snort occasionally (ideally in their own homes and a favourite chair), I think the film should have been about how you can reinvent that to make a multiplex cinema audience laugh out loud as one, and often.
The best moments in the film we have are visual reinterpretations of the radio ideas (the bathos of the world's end is done divinely in an entirely new and cinematic way, Ford and Arthur in the airlock is a great kinetic reinvention of a dialogue scene, and the League of Gentleman/Plaskitted Vogons are a joy a world away from the originals, though recognisably akin to them) that make you wish there'd been more liberties taken. I reckon Adams probably wouldn't have allowed the let-off of a new Earth being created so easily in the last reel, if he'd still been around either, as it rather diffuses the bleakness of what had occurred just an hour before.

I wish he was here being effortlessly clever and strenuously funny about things still, his film and our world would be all the better for it. If nothing else it would mean people didn't feel they had to impersonate him so badly and loyally, so much, like I did when I was ten.

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