the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Took in a number of movies this week...

Wednesday: Kung Fu Hustle. Ebert's summary captures this perfectly. A charming, kick-ass cartoon of a movie. Fluffy, action-packed, and full of heart, and with possibly the sweetest, most genuine happy ending I've seen in quite some time.

Thursday: House of Flying Daggers. A much more straightforward narrative structure than the Rashomon-like Hero, and not as balletic in its action, HoFD feels more like a movie. It's nowhere near as stylized, but it is still heartbreakingly beautiful. A nice little twist conveniently induces about ten minutes of head-hurting "whoa!" moments. The "Echo Game" sequence near the opening of the film is not to be missed--a beauty to watch, and some of the most effective surround sound work since Das Boot.

Friday: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. So much to say about this one... I grew up on Adams' works, devouring the books, radio show, TV series, and Infocom game with equal fervor. I used to go to sleep listening to the books on tape or the radio shows. There was a time in my life that I could nearly recite books from any arbitrary point. So, with the movie on the horizon for a while, I have been filled with a terrible anticipation, wondering where in the spectrum of "raped my childhood" to "mind-blowingly amazingly great" the film was going to fall. Thankfully, it is somewhere comfortably in between.

First, the complaints:

Gone are many of the great bits of dialogue (mostly Arthur's) in which Adams' wit really shone. One after another of the great jokes are set up, but not carried out. I really want to know how much was trimmed to fit studio requirements--the film could be immesurably bettered with just a few minutes of material restored.

Mos Def's portrayal of Ford Prefect is practically criminal, wildly divergent from that hoopy frood that Hitchhiker's fans have come to know and love. The film's Ford is flighty, cartoony, spastic--the opposite of the droll, even-tempered Ford of the books. (Even Peter Jackson's controversial Frodo and Faramir got better treatment than Ford Prefect!) Worse, the revelation of Ford as a field researcher for the Guide is so rushed that you'd miss it if you blinked (and with it, the wonderful "mostly harmless" dialogue has been completely excised).

However, there is much that is good:

The look of the film is brilliant. For the most part, the film looks the way I had always secretly imagined that it should. Arthur and Slartibartfast's entrance to the Magrathean "factory floor" is jaw-droppingly wonderful, and got me a little choked up the same way that seeing Peter Jackson's Hobbiton for the first time did.

The visualization of the Infinite Improbability Drive (which is barely explained at all, alas!) is wonderful, and while I would have liked to see buildings washing up and down, or Ford turning into a penguin, I quite enjoyed the way the Heart of Gold transformed in small pops between different random objects (including Douglas Adams' head), and the "yarn dolls" sequence.

Lots of little details thrown in for the hardcore fans -- among them, the Marvin costume from the TV series appears during a scene on Vogsphere, several appearances by Adams (including, apparently, his nose rendered as giant piece of set), and Simon Jones (the original and definitive Arthur Dent) as the Magrathean answering machine. And while Trillian's performance isn't terribly good--she never even gets to tell us about her degrees in math and astrophysics (which I think inexorably tied the concepts of "incredibly brainy" with "dead sexy" in my warped little mind)--at least this time around they got her hair color right.

While Zaphod isn't portrayed as smooth and cool as he was originally written, I rather enjoyed the not-very-subtle similarity to a certain American president currently in office...

Finally, and most impressive, there are a number of perfect performances among the supporting cast. Specifically: Marvin (as played by Warwick Davis and voiced by Alan Rickman) is quite expressive and nicely performed; Stephen Fry is an absolute delight as The Book; and Slartibartfast is simply perfect.

So... Deeply flawed but not completely flawed. Mildly disappointing, but not a crushing blow to my treasured memories of "the real thing." In many ways, better than expected, and an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Being the completist that I am, I will probably end up buying the DVD.

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