April 27, 2005

Don't Forget Your Towel!

Guess who got our hot little hands on a pass to an advance screening of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Seattle Maggie will give you three guesses. We humbly thank The Stranger for the honor even though we had to jump through a few hoops, including completing a Hitchhiker-themed maze and forfeiting two stamps. “We did the maze!” we proclaimed proudly to our neighbors, while standing in the astonishingly long line that wrapped twice around Pacific Place mall. “What maze? My buddy gave me like five of them,” was a typical response. The audience was something of a puzzle, made up of mature Douglas Adams fans, disdainful comic book shop owners, twenty-something hipsters, and a surprisingly large crew of Mos Def admirers.

As for the movie - let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, the film takes liberty with the book. And no, it doesn’t suck. While the general storyline of Arthur Dent’s introduction into the world of interstellar travel and ensuing high jinks remains mostly intact, it has been molded a bit to form a free-standing film. The romantic plot is also played up a good deal more than the book, which may be troubling to hardcore fans. Seattle Maggie admits that it has been more than a few years since we read the book, but we felt as though the movie captured the overall spirit of Douglas Adams’ classic with just the right amount of quirky British humor, sci-fi adventure and ironic elbow jabs at Life, The Universe and Everything. We know we have a tendency to err on the side of saying only nice things about movies, but seriously - this movie was pretty darn awesome.

Director Garth Jennings does an admirable job of creatively providing a visual aspect for some of the more theoretical aspects of the script, especially in scenes concerning the fallout of the Improbability Drive. Somehow, the movie manages to make it work, and even pushes the envelope further than we would have expected. While your head tells you, “There is no way they are going to pull off the interior monologue of a sperm whale”, lo and behold a giant sea mammal appears floating in space on the screen in front of you. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the movie seemed well managed as far as its special effects. The heavy hand of computer animation was present but not overwhelming; there were enough actors in alien costumes and fun whirring machines to keep us happy. As amateur enthusiasts of animation, we were tickled by the short stop-motion section in which a sock puppet Arthur Dent upchucks colored yarn into a basin, and especially impressed with screen version of the Guide itself. Featuring the soothing voice of Stephen Fry, the Guide was updated for the movie with hilarious bits of IKEA-colored silhouette animation, just the thing to induce a calming state of “Don’t Panic”.

As Arthur Dent, Martin Freeman continues to be our favorite schlubby everyman (only a true British lad can utter the phrase “lovely” without sounding like an interior decorator), while Zooey Deschanel provides a nice mixture of spunkiness and sexy intelligence as Trillian. Mos Def gamely tackles professional hitchhiker Ford Prefect, although we felt that his character seemed a little underused and a bit more of a dandy than we remembered. Alan Rickman’s droning voice as Marvin the Paranoid Android hit the punch line of more than a few jokes with droll finesse. And can we just say, if Johnny Depp can wrassle up a Best Actor Oscar for freakin' Pirates of the Caribbean, we vote hands down that Sam Rockwell gets this year’s dark horse nod for Zaphod Beeblebrox. From the burnished shine of his giant belt buckle to his snakeskin-boot swagger, Rockwell’s intergalactic party-boy president (freakishly similar to another all-too-real cowboy president) is brilliant in its brashness. “I’m the President of the Galaxy, I don’t have time to read,” he slurs winningly, pitched somewhere between a boast and a wheedle. He’s egotistical, unmannerly, vain and oh so very annoying, but somehow you can’t help be sucked in by his toothy charm. With each progressively fabulous new outfit, Rockwell’s Zaphod grows on you - along with the urge slap him upside one of his pretty blond heads.

Unless your bladder insists, don’t be so quick to exit once the credits start rolling. Not only will you be enlightened as to exactly who holds the coveted title of “Head of Hair and Fur” (hee - yes, we are twelve), but patient filmgoers will also be rewarded with one last parting lesson in audio wormholes from the Guide. As we sat there, unable to stop our face from beaming idiotically, two older gents to our right began a lively discussion about the translation of book to film and various similarities to the work of Terry Gilliam. “Well,” one man pronounced, with an air of finality, “I quite liked it.” We couldn’t agree more.

Posted by seattle maggie at April 27, 2005 6:28 AM