Tuesday, October 02, 2007

No Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

Listen, we've all known for a couple of years that any sequel to Garth Jennings' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be, at best, highly improbable, but now Martin Freeman has reiterated the fact and, here and there across the web, the knives have come out and people have started taking stabs at the film again.

But why? Why don't they like it?

Guide, as I tend to call it to save on tongue, is one of the films I use most frequently in my film classes. Every one of my students has watched it, and a couple of sequences have been quite rigorously dismantled in class. In fact, there's one shot in the film I find quite simply indispensible in teaching mise en scene (if you can work out which shot it is, you can win a gold star). There's some truly brilliant cinema here, and Jennings often displays the grasp of the language and craft of film that marks him out, after only two feature films, as one of the most exciting and talented of modern filmmakers.

Jennings' film is definitely not the TV show, which in turn was not the books, and they were not the radio show. Every new version has taken some pretty sharp turns from the previous, but that kind of goes without saying. What is much less discussed, however, is how the problems are, generally, problems that do stretch back through all of the versions. Houses getting knocked down to make way for bypasses? That's just the biggest and most obvious example of Douglas Adams dated satire and stale view of beauracracy. Where he did manage to hit on something timeless - the improbability drive, the conception of Zaphod as a politician - it has survived and much of this material is better presented by Jennings than we'd ever seen it before.

I think there's a sad nostalgia at fault here. Like the countless hordes that profess Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is somehow a better film than Tim Burton's Charlie (that's a truly ludicrous position if you just stand back and compare them side to side without emotional fogginess) these Guide bashers are basing their cases on little more than sentiment.

On the one hand, I'm sad that Jennings won't be stepping back behind the camera for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - but on the other hand, he's got better things to do and I just want to see him do those. Son of Rambow is streets ahead of Guide, certainly in terms of the writing, and it suggests to me that Jennings is better off not shackling himself to fondly remembered, not-as-good-as-you-think dinosaurs that he can't deliver to their full potential without changing but can't update without being punished for it.


Kevin-Lee said...

count me as ludicrous because i prefer Willy Wonka to Burton's Charlie. call it sentiment if you want, but Burton's movie - while undoubtably made very well - left me cold in a way the "original" doesn't. And as good as Depp is, he isn't a patch on Gene Wilder. Add to that I find the supporting characters more interesting in the older movie and (i can't believe I'm typing these words) I prefer the songs and "show" of the first then I'm an unabashed supporter of the Willy Wonka > Charlie position.

Good that there won't a Guide sequel btw. I'm interested in the original things that Jennings can bring to cinema without feeling beholden to source material, or it's sometimes "over enthusiastic" fans.

Bobby said...

"But why? Why don't they like it?"

Personally I find a little of that kind of try-hard daffiness goes a very long way. So although I found the film moderately enjoyable, it does grate a bit. I saw it once, when it first came out (early 2005, wasn't it?), and I probably won't ever watch it all the way through again.

And I've never read the novel.

Anonymous said...

Is the mise en scene the part where they are yarn people? Thought that might be it just cause it simplifies everything down to the basics.

I have to agree that I too enjoy the film. It's one of those movies that gets better with repeat viewings after the expectations are gone. The only thing I think is still wrong with it is the frantic pace. I liked the radio show better when it was dryer and could focus on minutiae for longer to really wring the humor out of it.

Incidentally, none of the sequels were ever as good as the first one, so it's probably appropriate there's no sequel


Kyle said...

I consider myself to be pretty non-nostalgic about my tastes, and I was very disappointed with Burton's Chocolate Factory and with the new Guide movie. Actually, in both cases I think ANY screen version pales in comparison to the books.

I was very excited to see Burton's interpretation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I took issue with some of the purposeless special effects scenes, the horrible songs from the oompa loompa, and with Johnny's Depp's annoying delivery of Wonka's lines.

As for Hitchhiker's Guide, I thought the movie was at its funniest when it was reciting excerpts from the Guide, which were taken directly from the book. The visuals helped here, but I really think it's Adams' language that makes the jokes funny. I laughed out loud at these parts, but not at any of the content that was actually unique to the film, except for the opening scene with the dolphins, which had me in stitches.

I'm not saying the movie was bad--it was at least worth the matinee price I paid. I just didn't find anything funny or interesting in the film that didn't exist in the books.

It was still better than the TV adaptation, though.

Stephen said...

I was just left feeling dissatisfied with the GUIDE film. I barely remember the TV series and never read the books so I didn't feel the film cheapened the source material or anything. I felt it was a pretty dull film, really, I can see some of the craft that went into it but as a narrative found it lacking.
As for the Wonka movies, I think Burton's is superior but not great.

Roger said...

Thre are bits to that film that work, though teaching it in film classes seems to me like a way to ensure there is no more British cinema in the future than there is at present. The love story doesn't work, the "Book" does. It begins beautifully, but sputters pretty much the minute Ford Prefect shows up. The general "Englishness" of the story was simply lost. Mos Def is woefully miscast. No screen charisma at all, no urgency.
Rockwell was grand. Marvin was too cute to be annoying. Insipid ending.
Take the old radio show, and animate it. For TV. Better voice actors, with animation, is the way to do more with Adams' conceit.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason why the movie fails, in my opinion, has almost nothing to do with Jennings' technical ability as a director. Sure, maybe much of the material is better presented by Jennings than ever before (thanks in no small way to a larger budget than ever before), but the story itself has not withstood the test of time. As satire goes it is pedestrian and, at times, verges on the banal. The story sometimes manages to achieve a sort of slow-witted camp pulp, but even that is largely ruined by Adams's familiar over-reliance on surreal coincidence to keep things moving along.

droidguy1119 said...

The problem with Hitchhiker's Guide was not that it didn't use the source material, but that the things it used instead of the source material were oftentimes not very good. Had the movie been as riotously funny as the books, then it would have been fine, but the movie often took the much more unsubtle route with the comedy. Also, many of the visual effects were just plain bad.

I think what made it worst, though, is those few fleeting moments when the film is inarguably brilliant (the opening song, the planet factory floor) -- those probably frustrate the ones who want it to be good the most, because the film is demonstrating that it can in fact be good, but is not entirely succeeding.

Brendon said...

That's not a bad guess, Max.

But you're not right.

Nice to see a range of opinions. I wish you all took the time to tell us all what you think more often. Much better than just me banging on and on.

Don Murphy said...

Since Gene Wilder is a thousand times better as Wonka than my admittedly good friend Depp I don't see how you can possibly prefer the remake.

droidguy1119 said...

I also forgot to say, some of the movie makes very little sense. While the review is now gone (probably archived somewhere, but where I don't know), the extremely negative review posted at Planet Magrathea by a longtime Guide fan pointed out more than a couple logical fallacies with the film, and if there was anything the book is to a T, it is logical. Even when it is using logic to be illogical or be funny, it still makes great sense.

Anonymous said...

I feel sad for your film students.

Brendon said...

Sad for my film students? Don't be. here's why:

a) they enjoy the course

b) they graduate with high grades, typically (almost exclusively) As

c) they end up on the career path they wanted

d) they no longer suck for the canonised crap about what makes a good film and can actually understand the craft behind good filmmaking