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September 29, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- The Movie

I've talked about the book on the making of the movie elsewhere. Now, I'm going to talk about the DVD. WARNING -- There WILL be some spoilers ahead. If you'd rather not know how the movie turns out, don't go any further.

Ok -- you were warned. There is a lot to love about this movie. The Vogons look exactly the way I'd always expected them to. They didn't over high-tech the Guide itself. Marvin the Paranoid Android is perfect. Fans of the books will also appreciate some inside jokes -- when Ford "swears" at one point, he says "Belgium Bummer," thus qualifying the film for the Rory Award for Most Gratuitous Use of the Word "Belgium" in a Serious Screenplay. Ford is also called "Ix" repeatedly by those who didn't know him on Earth, referring to his adoptive name in the books (it means "boy who is not able satisfactorily to explain what a Hrung is, nor why it should choose to collapse on Betelgeuse Seven," and is a way-inside joke for those who read the books). Of course, Ford's name has always been an in-joke that American audiences never got, but I digress ...

The movie reflects Douglas Adams' low opinion of religion, as shown in the scenes on Viltvodle VI. The residents of that planet are unique in the universe, because they believe that the entire universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arklesiezure, and live in fear of the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief. Adams never missed an opportunity to skewer organized religion in general in his books, but the movie includes only this example.

I did question something that I found out in reading about the filming of the movie that I didn't think was clear in the movie. Trillian's brain wasn't suitable for the mice's purposes because, in the movie, she is half alien. I didn't notice that ever being made clear in the movie itself -- Adams worked around that by saying that Trillian had been absent from Earth for too long before its destruction to be useful.

Fans will be disappointed in some scenes that were left out. There are no Dentrassis on the Vogon ships. There is no protracted argument with the guard over culture and career possibilities. The plotline with Deep Thought is highly abbreviated, as is the Magrathea plot line. But anyone who has followed the Hitchhiker's Guide in its many incarnations (radio series, books, TV series, computer game, and now movie) will be aware that no incarnation is totally faithful to the others; in fact, Adams seems to go out of his way to make the different forms ... different, and sometimes contradictory. So, while I missed the absence of some of my favorite Hitchhiker's bits, their absence wasn't enough to ruin the movie for me.

BUT there is a problem. One that I cannot think of as being faithful to Adams' original intent, and seems to contradict not only the other incarnations of the Guide but also the underlying theme.

Arthur Dent wins.

The point to the books seems to be that there is no point. No matter how hard you try, how much you think of other people, how much good you try to do, you won't win. The best thing you can possibly do is have as much fun as you possibly can without endangering yourself or anyone else. Arthur tries to do the Right Thing (tm), and consistently is let down. He is, in the words of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged (from book 3 of the trilogy), "... a jerk. A complete kneebiter." Anything positive that happens to him ultimately results in more disappointment, and it is ultimately only the end of the entire universe (in the final book of the trilogy) that makes Arthur satisfied.

But in the movie, Arthur wins. He gets the girl. He beats the aliens. The Magratheans even rebuild the Earth and offer him the opportunity to make it the way he wants it. He picks the girl and adventure. The happy ending doesn't fit Adams' books, and almost contradicts his worldview as well. It shouldn't matter that Arthur does the right thing. Nothing should actually matter -- there is no point to our existence, and it is futile to actually spend time trying to find it. The books tell us that it is impossible to know both the Ultimate Question and the Ultimate Answer at the same time.

But the movie tells us that, ultimately, there is a reason. The movie leaves us with Deep Thought's admonition that "Only when you know the question will you understand the answer." There is a goal, even if it's not the goal that we would think at first. It is possible to understand. We just have to ask the right questions, and ask them of the right person.

(This was originally posted at Cinema Veritas. Head over there for movie/TV discussion from a Christian perspective. Christians DO go to the movies, after all!)

Posted by Warren Kelly at September 29, 2005 10:27 AM | TrackBack
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