7) The Guide Entries (and Lack Thereof)
For a movie called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is a surprising lack of actual Guide entries. Those that remain are mainly truncated (most notably the Babel fish one) or featured purely as voiceover narration. Since this list is really full of ranting, I will take a moment at this point to be uncharacteristically positive. The animation for the Guide entries (by music video production company Shynola) is superb. Disney should hire them to create an iPhone/iPad Guide app, because their entries are on par with the work that Rod Lord did on the original TV series. It's just a damn shame that there aren't more of them.
6) Whatever the Hell Is Going On with Zaphod's Heads
Full disclosure: I actually think that Sam Rockwell's performance as Zaphod is one of the film's high points. I know this isn't a hugely popular opinion, but I just thought I'd get this out of the way before I delve into my next tirade about the utter mishandling of Zaphod's second head. In Robbie Stamp's The Making of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is revealed that original director Jay Roach came up with the idea of having Zaphod's second head -- whose brain contains the majority of his negative personality traits -- in his neck. It would save money on CGI-ing a second head onto Sam Rockwell in every shot for sure, but at the cost of being extraordinarily ass. If the TV show could do it in 1981, there's no reason why a big-budget motion picture couldn't some 24 years later. As if this all wasn't already shitty enough, then the movie seemingly gets bored of having the second head altogether, and loses it just before this bit of subconscious/and or meta criticism on the part of the filmmakers happens:
I think the casting in Hitchhiker's was mostly terrific (although in my mind, the perfect Arthur and Ford would be David Mitchell and Robert Webb respectively). Two notable exceptions are Mos Def and Zooey Deschanel. Before you cry racism in the comments, I have absolutely no problem with Ford Prefect being portrayed by an African-American actor. The problem is that Def's take on the character is far too laid back and low-key, and the movie suffers because of it. You never get the sense of Ford's wild or mischievous sides and no, that scene on Viltvodle VI where he enters the bar and everybody shouts his name a la Norm on Cheers doesn't count. Like Def, I have seen some great acting in other projects from Deschanel as well, but her Trillian is embarrassingly bad. I hope Ben Gibbard doesn't show up to my house to kick my ass for saying so (okay, I totally do because man I love me some Death Cab for Cutie) but Deschanel delivers the worst female sci-fi performance since Winona Ryder in Alien Resurrection and that is really saying something. We're talking Jake Lloyd bad here. Since she has proven herself more than capable since, you have to question whether or not she just wasn't directed properly. One thing that is certain is that the movie marks the most developed that the Trillian character has ever been. But I'm such an asshole I have a problem with this too. Why? Read on and see.
4) The Forced Love Story
To make the movie more palpable to mainstream audiences, the decision was made to expand the Arthur/Trillian dynamic into a typical Hollywood love story. The only time that a love story worked in the Hitchhiker's saga was in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, and most people would argue this opinion (including Douglas Adams, who jettisoned Fenchurch between the end of that book and the start of Mostly Harmless). As characterized in the film, Trillian is a woman suffering from either bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder who encourages grounded guys to ditch their jobs and responsibilities to join her on ill-advised treks across the globe. When they don't, she runs off with the first flake who will become her partner in misguided bohemianism. But you know what ultimately happens to people like Trillian? They beg you for change in the intersection while you drive to the bank to deposit your meager paycheck and wonder what the fuck became of your dreams. Getting back to my original point though, the love triangle (make that rectangle, what with Questular lusting after her boss and all) between Arthur, Trillian and Zaphod never works because what we are shown about why they are into each other never rings true. It feels forced because it simply is.
3) They Had Someone Unfamiliar with Hitchhiker's Punch Up Douglas Adams' Script
According to Neil Gaiman's biography Don't Panic, Adams handed in a completed script to Jay Roach in 2001 shortly before his death. In publicity interviews conducted around the release of the film, co-screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick discussed how he was previously unfamiliar with Hitchhiker's and the changes he made were done so in order to make Adams' screenplay work cinematically. The fact that the screenplay is a mash-up of Adams and Kirkpatrick's work helps to explain somewhat why the film is so tonally uneven. Yet the mysteries of what happened to the finished script that Adams worked on, why it wasn't deemed good enough to be produced, and why a screenwriter more aware of the source material (Terry Jones anyone?) wasn't brought in remain. It's bad enough that Adams' script was somewhat tossed, but then someone with NO PREVIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF THE STORY was brought in to, er, fix it. That just strikes me as being contemptuous to Adams and his fans.
2) It's Not Especially Funny
The first cut of the movie was 2 ½ hours long. This was whittled down to 110 minutes, which meant that a lot of things had to go in order to fit the new running time. Apparently, humor was the first thing trashed. I already discussed how the Guide entries suffered in the completed film, and many familiar scenes were hacked and slashed beyond recognition (ex- Arthur's interactions with Mr. Prosser, the discussion of Slartibartfast's name, etc) as well. Douglas Adams' humor often lies in the big ideas he presented. While heavy on fan-wanking details like having Zaphod eat Star Bix cereal, the film often seems to have little interest in actually presenting humor in the intelligent manner that was the author's trademark. It's one thing to have Ford carrying around a towel, but when the information on why towels are so important is never conveyed to viewers new to the story a great comedic concept is reduced to an in-joke. While researching this article, I learned that Douglas Adams was apparently responsible for the decidedly un-Hitchhiker's slapstick sequence on Vogsphere. It surprised me that such a broad sequence came from his mind given the fact that it didn't feel like his style at all. After all, in the 1980s he decried Ivan Reitman's aborted attempts to create a Hitchhiker's Guide movie based on big jokes instead of the comedy grenades he was used to lobbying. Adams lamented several times during this period that Hollywood wanted nothing more than "Star Wars with jokes." With him out of the way to protest, it looks like they finally got their chance.
1) A Shocking Misunderstanding of the Characters and Concepts That Made Hitchhiker's So Great in the First Place
Fact: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe exists as a location in time rather than space. Given how often the filmmakers claimed they had nothing but a deep respect and understanding for Douglas Adams' work such a major detail shouldn't have been lost on them. This is a problem that plagues the film on a fundamental level. The fake deleted scene shown above pokes fun at fans fears of having Hitchhiker's turned into a mainstream Hollywood action flick. But what Disney and Garth Jennings did with the finished product is far worse that what you see here. They've stripped bare the soul of Hitchhiker's Guide, leaving behind a shell of a movie that strives for greatness but can barely muster up mediocrity. Now I know how Marvin feels.