Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Jennings, 2005)

Just because Spike Jonze is a brilliant filmmaker--look at one of the first drafts of Charlie Kaufman's "Malkovich" or "Adaptation" to see what a huge hand Mr. Jonze had in shaping these films; his simple visual style a perfect counterpoint to Michel Gondry's flashy nonsense--doesn't mean music videomakers should be allowed to direct movies. Especially not movies from one of my favorite books of all times.

Apparently it was Mr. Jonze who recommended to the Hitchhiker producers that they hire British music-vid supastars Hammer & Tongs to make this film, and they are in way over their heads. I thought it was impossible to pull a shitty performance out of Tim from The Office, but here he is, twitching like a Tourette's victim after drinking three Diet Tabs. Mos Def looks completely lost, and Zooey Deschannel simply wins the award for largest eyes. Props to Sam Rockwell for updating Zaphod Beeblebrox from a Reagan-parody to a Bush-slam, but Garth Jennings simply lacks the control--both visual and narrative--to pull this one off. It's pure train-wreck cinema: a movie where it looks like no one has any clue what is goin' on.

I've read the entire series and still had trouble following the plot; the visual language was equally non-sensical (to film the emotional climax in tight close-ups is a bad idea, especially when your star is more porous than planet Zed); and the performers seemed unable to combine dead-pan Brit drollery with the zesty Brit nonsensery. Twenty years in development should have also guaranteed a script in which the characters' goals were at least clear to an audience. Almost a complete failure from start-to-finish--yes, the stop-motion yarn was cute, but it belonged in a Beck video--the filmmakers had the nuts to end the film with the dedicatory "For Douglas." Believe me, whatever heaven that genius is in, he's vomiting yarn all over the place if this piece of doggerel ever makes it up there.

It underscores Fouch Movie Rule #77: good books do not make good movies. Mediocre books can make great movies.


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