Variations On A Theme By Adams

Naturally, nobody is the slightest bit interested in my opinions of the HitchHiker movie.

So here they are.

First of all, gratuitous and unnecessary metaphor time.  I see the HHG as a theme, rather like a Jazz standard, that’s been reworked in several media.  There were the original radio plays, the books, the BBC TV series and now the movie.  In most cases, Douglas A himself was at least partially involved in each, which is all to the good – it was his creation, after all.  Stretching the metaphor a little, let’s also consider that the HHG has, at its core, certain key attributes (let’s say these are like the basic chord structure or tensions of a tune).  I’d argue that these are:

  • Verbal humour
  • A sparkling, surreal and tagential wit (and by tangential I mean “goes off at tangents for the sheer fun of it)
  • A slightly cynical and rather British attitude to life (the Universe, and Everything)
  • The media in which the HHG has worked best are those where the key attributes have shone.  The radio plays were all about words (though the sound and music were a fantastic support for it all).  Ditto the books, where DA could spend even more time on his love of verbal trickery and prose designed to flick the reader’s mind from image to image.  In both cases, the plot (such as existed) was a stream on which to hang jokes.  The TV series and the movie were visual; because they’re visual media.  In general, I thought the TV series was the worst incarnation.

    That’s thought, past tense.  And then I went and saw the movie.  With my wife, an intelligent and thoughful person who has never been exposed to the HHG in any depth before.  And I wanted to love it, I really did; and for her to (at the very least) enjoy it… but both of us, for different reasons, were hideously disappointed.

    She saw a movie with no real plot, with a few sketchy characters that made little attempt to explain the context of a series of jokes that left her cold.  It meant nothing to her; didn’t even seem to want to try to explain itself to her.  It preached to the faithful, not to the neophyte.
    I saw something that had been a part of the way I think since I first heard the plays at the age of 13… but via a medium that had torn it up, shredded it, picked up some of the juicier bits and crammed them into a structure that didn’t have much to do with the things that had entranced me.  Gone was much of the verbosity, the tangential exposition, the love of irrelevant but wonderful detail.  Even the characters weren’t the same; true, the Vogons looked exactly like Vogons should look but Arthur… wasn’t.  Arthur Dent should not be not brave, should not risk all for the woman he lost.  I saw elements that I recognised (the jewelled scuttling crabs and the beautiful creatures of Vogsphere) that made no sense at all to anyone who wasn’t steeped in HHG lore.  I came out bitterly disappointed.  I well appreciated the problems involved in turning the HHG into a movie, but this failed both me and my wife on so many levels.

    The elucidatory and expositional Yoz Graham (whose merest blog entries I am not worthy to footnote) puts it thus:
    The secret of Hitchhiker’s success is that it means something different to everyone.  That something could be a mood, or a scene, or even a single line. If your particular something is included in the film, you’ll probably love it. If it isn’t, you probably won’t.

    But some of my favourite ever lines were in that movie, and love was the emotion furthest from my mind as I emerged into the light of the Trafford Centre.  There went two hours of my life which I had not only lost forever, but invested in something that had lost me far more; part of the love that I had felt for what the HHG had meant to me.  Chewed up and spat out, with the best possible intentions, by movie makers.

    I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.

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    4 thoughts on “Variations On A Theme By Adams

    1. I’m okay

      I saw the movie without ever having read the book or seen any other version of it, and I thought it was funny and I liked seeing it. I don’t think it was inaccessible to people like me, at all.

      • Re: I’m okay

        Didn’t say it was; but that’s how my wife found it. One thing that’s very interesting is how polarised the opinions about it seem to be – so far, in talking to several people about it, they’ve all either liked it or hated it. Nobody’s said “well, it was okay”, or “take it or leave it”.

        • Re: I’m okay

          Actually I think I might be in that group. I said I liked it and I thought it was funny, and that’s true, but I don’t think I will want to see it again.

    2. I definitely agree that the verbal humour has suffered, though not nearly as much as you would expect from most movie adaptations. There are several places in the film where the dedicated Hitchhiker’s fan will be singing along and expect a punchline and it won’t be there, and they do the Wile-E-Coyote-going-off-the-cliff thing. That’s always jarring.

      I have to disagree about your other two big points, though this is obviously entirely subjective. The tangents are there – the most obvious ones being the various Guide entries and the whale sequence. Similarly, there are liberal sprinklings of wit in the design and other visuals. As for the Britishness, I think that the depth to which the Vogons are explored and the bureaucracy revealed gives the movie a core of Britishness that you don’t really get in the other versions, though it’s not exactly cynicism. What you may be lacking is the nihilism of the other versions, the smirking melancholy of an ultimately meaningless universe, and yep, that’s not really here, and I miss it too.

      I still stick to what I said in my original post (and please, not worthy to footnote? I don’t know what I look like online, but I assure you I’m a useless shlemiel in real life) about not finding the core of what Hitchhiker’s means to you, and that if you watch it a second time, you’ll be able to enjoy what’s there rather than aching at what isn’t – though I can understand if it’ll be a while before you’re willing to sit through it again.

      (And thanks again for the pointer.)

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