The 15 Worst Things About The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Movie

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, Miscellaneous, Movies
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 8:08 am
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"Hitchhiker's by its very nature has always been twisty and turny, and going off into every direction. A film demands a certain shape and discipline that the material just isn't inclined to fit into." - Douglas Adams

To badly paraphrase Douglas Adams, when The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie was released in 2005 it made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. Or at the very least a divisive one. Six years after its release and good chunk of Adams' fanbase still regard the film as a disaster. Admittedly, there are some fun things about the movie: The introduction to the guide floating in space is breathtaking, the original Marvin cameo makes me giddy, the production design is wonderful and Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy own their roles -- underwritten though they may be. Maybe you love this movie. If so, good for you. I wish I felt the same way. Instead, the film has haunted me for the better part of a decade as a jumble of bad pacing and artistic compromise after compromise. You see, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie after what felt like a lifetime of waiting (I am currently clinging to the vague hope that there will be a reboot with a different creative team). But what we ended up with pains me so greatly that I am writing today's Daily List as a way to heal. If you share my views, maybe this analysis of 15 particularly bad things about the flick will help you let go and move on as well. And if not, well, at least we can all agree that Alan Rickman was a fine Marvin, no?

15) The Cosmic Cutie Didn't Get a Cameo
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There's going to be a lot of debate-inducing nit-picking going on with this list, so I'm going to start you off easy. I actually understand why this one was left out of the film and its promotional materials. Douglas Adams notoriously hated the green space being (nicknamed the "Cosmic Cutie") that was used on the cover art for various Hitchhiker's releases. By not including it in the film, director Garth Jennings honored Adams' beliefs that the Cutie should no longer be associated with Hitchhiker's. However, given the fact that the movie constantly rushes through jokes and makes the Guide entries seem like an afterthought (more on these issues in a bit), it wouldn't have been the film's biggest slap in the face to Adams if the Cutie popped up on screen for a second in order to appease die-hards like myself who love the little guy.

14) "I'm a robot, not a refrigerator."
For a clinically depressed robot, Marvin sure knows how to bring the lolz by whipping out a Star Trek reference. Relive the laughter for yourself by jumping to the 1:50 mark in the above video. Then remember that the film doesn't actually include any discussion of how the Earth is "mostly harmless" and get enraged.

13) The Sirius Cybernetic Corporation Machines
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An especially painful sequence in the film involves Trillian justifying her blowing off of Arthur by showing him the high-tech gadgets aboard the Heart of Gold. She first demonstrates the Nutrimat drink dispenser, which seems to work for her -- even though moments before it produced a beverage that was almost, but not entirely, unlike tea for Arthur. Then with the presentational skills of a QVC host, she toasts bread with a knife that is so similar to a lightsaber you've got to wonder whether George Lucas was prepping a phone call to his intellectual property lawyer at some point. The main problem here is that these products actually work. At no point does Trillian say turn her arm into toast or give Arthur third degree burns. Part of the fun of Hitchhiker's is witnessing the complete and utter ineptitude of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation and the products they offer. By having the SCC products do what they are supposed to, their entire purpose for being in the story is completely neutered and their joke potential is lost.

12) It's Visually Spectacular Yet Emotionally Hollow
Under the name of Hammer and Tongs, director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith created visually spectacular music videos such as Blur's "Coffee and TV" and R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life." When it was first announced that they would be the team bringing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to theaters, even skeptics had to begrudgingly agree that, if nothing else, it would look terrific. And it truly does. What's surprising though is empty and soulless the film feels. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that this was Jennings' first film and perhaps he didn't know how to get better performances out of some of his actors. Anyone who watched the aforementioned Blur video -- which relates the tale of a milk carton that goes in search of the missing man whose picture is imprinted on him -- knows that Jennings is capable of generating real emotion from offbeat circumstances. So why couldn't he here? I think a few things may be at play here, namely studio interference and bad editorial decisions. Whatever the reasons, the finished product really is visually superb. But with the exception of the Magrathea sequence, it never really begins to allow viewers to emotionally engage with what is happening on screen.

11) The Infinite Improbability Drive Sequence with the Woolen Dolls
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Just so I'm clear, we were denied the opportunity to watch Ford turn into a penguin, but we did get to see the Heart of Gold crew transformed into Etsy refugees? That just doesn't seem right, now does it? If I wanted twee preciousness I'd watch a Belle and Sebastian DVD, thank you very much.

10) The "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" Musical Number
Having spent much of the past six years bitching about the flick to anyone who'll listen, I've learned one thing: people love the musical number the opens the flick. "It's got dolphins and is really cute!" is the response I get when I furrow my brow and get all stick-in-the-muddy about how I think the song plays like a low-rent outtake from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. I'm familiar with Adams' link to the Pythons, and obviously have a love for the troupe. But I also think that Hitchhiker's has such a unique voice of its own that the wannabe Python-esque qualities of "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" do nothing more than devalue the humor inherent in Adams work. It feels like a studio decision to me, as if a Disney exec who didn't understand the varied nuances of British comedy insisted that this opening be tacked on to up the humor value of the film by adding a madcap song. Worse still, it undermines the initial appearance of the Guide itself. This segment, accompanied by "Journey of the Sorcerer" (the Hitchhiker's theme tune), shows up nearly twenty minutes into the film and feels like the true opening sequence. Yet in the aftermath of the dolphin tune a moment that should have been triumphant instead comes off as weird and disjointed.

9) The Vogons
Speaking of weird and disjointed, did anyone else feel that by focusing on the Vogons extreme bureaucratic nature the film missed a golden opportunity to explore the comedy inherent in all aspects of their personality? It was an interesting decision to be sure, but one I feel isn't fully successful. Whereas the radio series, the books and the TV show all handled the Vogons as bureaucratic, it was never their sole trait before. Where is their callousness? Why did the filmmaker's decide to feature the narration of the Guide entry on Vogon poetry over footage of Jeltz torturing Arthur and Ford with his prose? Where's Jeltz carelessly slaying his underlings? These questions beg clarity that will never come. I realize and am fine with every permutation of the Hitchhiker's story being its own thing, yet I have a problem with the saga's one big bad being reduced to a one-note characterization here. Sigh. I should probably just realize that sometimes resistance is useless after all.
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