Steve O’Brien looks at the case for reopening the DVD box for the big screen remake
Prosecution: But what the TV version did have, for the most part, was the original cast who are truly iconic in those roles. Can you seriously tell us that Martin Freeman was a worthy successor to the dressing gown of Simon Jones?
Defence: Jones’ stuffy grammar school boy has little relevance in the 21st Century. He’s a relic from a bygone cultural age. Martin Freeman is a very contemporary everyman. He brings an innate likeability to any part he’s cast in. It takes a very charismatic actor to make Arthur Dent work, as he’s constantly surrounded by characters much bigger and more colourful than him. Most actors would be swamped by that. Freeman isn’t. He’s one of the things the movie got exactly right. And besides, could Simon Jones have ever made you care about the love story with Trillian?
Prosecution: Well, we’d have preferred David Mitchell. And while we’re on casting... Mos Def... What the frakk??
Defence: Again, the original Ford Prefect was a left over from an Evelyn Waugh world. Mos Def gives the character grit and some much needed pizazz. Though, we will admit, the way he mumbles and garbles a lot of lines hardly does Adams’s wordplay justice.
Prosecution: And casting an American means that three quarters of the main cast are now yanks. With Sam Rockwell and Zooey Deschanel already there for the Stateside audience, do we really need to throw them another bone? It could have been Robert Webb...
Defence: We think you just want Peep Show in space.
Prosecution: With Superhans as Zaphod Beeblebrox, yeah, we’d buy that... But back to the script. Doesn’t the amping up of the love story and the more traditional structure rather piss on the Hitchhiker’s legend? Isn’t the point of Hitchhiker’s that it’s a dizzily formless orgy of ideas? And doesn’t the film version betray that by conforming to audience expectation?
Defence: That it has an emotional level to it now is no bad thing. And is obviously the result of being written by a man with some life experience, as opposed to – with the original – a man straight out of Cambridge with little worldly wisdom.
Prosecution: Obviously? I’m more cynical. The love story purely seems like rule one in the scriptwriters’ Big Book Of Scripting Rules – “Need some emotional investment? Shove in a love story.”
Defence: Have you no heart? I bet you hate Richard Curtis movies and kittens. But can the Prosecution , hand on heart, really find nothing redeemable in the film?
Prosecution: Well, who can fault Stephen Fry as the Book? (Though the book seems oddly underused.) And the Vogons were fantastically realised, we grant you. Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast is scene-stealing in his part. And then there’s the opening musical number with the singing dolphins leaving Earth. And…
Defence: Exactly. Point proven. You may recall an overriding disappointment with this film, but when you think about it, you start to realise how much about it there was to like. That’s why it needs another chance. And could you think of a director better suited to this material than Garth Jennings? His idiosyncratic videos alongside producer Nick Goldsmith are the cream of the Brit crop, and his quirky and so very English sensibility meshes well with Adams’. Any standard Hollywood director – and don’t forget, this could well have been helmed by Austin Powers ’ Jay Roach – wouldn’t have hesitated dumping some of Adams’ more whimsical ideas. Bill Bailey’s bemused whale is still there, virtually word for word, from the radio incarnation. And also what of all the unique, new Adams material contained in this film? To quote executive producer, Robbie Stamp, “All the substantive new ideas in the movie, Humma, the Point of View Gun and the ‘paddle slapping sequence’ on Vogsphere are brand new Douglas ideas written especially for the movie by him.” So there!
Prosecution: Alright, alright, you’re making your point. Maybe I’m being too negative. Maybe this job’s affected me too much. I started off as a glass half full kind-of-guy, and now life’s made me a half empty one. Maybe it is time to give the Hitchhikers film another chance.
Defence: Good. Job done. But, erm, I have to admit… it’s my job to defend the film, and there’s a lot worth defending, making this an easier case than usual. However, off the record, when you do rewatch it… it’s more a case of watching a great, big, whopping missed opportunity. But the real trick is trying to work out whether you’d like it if you’d never seen or heard of Hitchhiker’s ever before.
Prosecution: You know what? It would probably be considered a cult classic.