Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

And. We. Are. Back.

And what better way to usher in 2019 than a comedy that opens with the Earth being blown to smithereens?

Douglas Adams’ widely-adored series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy traveled a long way towards being a feature film, making a stop at virtually every other kind of mass media along the way. The property originated as a radio show, then was adapted into a novel (with several sequels), a live-action TV series, a video game, comics, and just about everything else except movies.

After long last (and after Adams’ tragically premature death at only 49), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy finally arrived in theaters in 2005, directed by Garth Jennings (in his feature debut. He would go on to direct Son of Rambow and Sing).

The film stars Martin Freeman as a hapless Englishman (which…I mean…that’s why you get Martin Freeman, right?) who discovers one ordinary morning that 1) His best friend Ford (Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def) is actually an alien ‘hitchhiker’ hopping from planet to planet for research, and B) the Earth is mere moments from being destroyed as part of an intergalactic construction project.

Ford whisks the duo away, bringing with them only ever-useful towels and the eponymous guidebook for interstellar adventuring. Eventually their paths cross with renegade, two-headed President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), fellow lost earthling Tricia McMillan (Zooey Deschanel), and manic-depressive robot Marvin (Alan Rickman). Together, the group set out to learn the secrets of life, the universe, and everything, but mostly they just discover trouble, bad poetry, ill-tempered mice, bored super computers, and even more trouble.

Next Week’s Pick:

We’re excited for the year of movies ahead, but let’s first take some time to reflect on the great year we’ve just had. Here’s the plan for some films we loved in 2018 to coincide with awards season.

You Were Never Really Here – 1/18 (Amazon Prime)
Bomb City – 1/25 (Amazon Prime)
Roma – 2/1 (Netflix)
Leave No Trace – 2/8 (Amazon Prime)

So give You Were Never Really Here a watch on Amazon Prime and we will see you next week!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Nick Spacek:

For whatever reason, when the trailer originally came out for the Hitchhiker’s Guide film, I was like, “Fuck this movie. I’m not going to see something that ruins my childhood.” Then, flash-forward to ten years later when I’m not a complete idiot, and I watch it, and now I’m filled with a million kinds of regret. How many other people skipped this, not knowing that Sam Rockwell is fucking amazing in EVERYTHING, or that Martin Freeman is the perfect befuddled straight man, or that Mos Def wasn’t going to do many movies and we should savor what we had? If this had been successful, we could’ve gotten a Restaurant at the End of the Universe movie, people. It’s charmingly balanced between brilliantly-colorful animation and practical puppetry, and every performance (Zooey Deschanel notwithstanding) is perfectly suited to the person playing the role. I feel like every time I watch Hitchhiker’s Guide, I’m doing penance for my past sins, because this is so much fun and such a love letter to the fans of the series, and we spit on it. Yes, the romance angle is pretty “meh,” but the TV series’ Marvin looks like a windup toy, so there. (@nuthousepunks)

Trey Lawson:

In my teens I was a huge fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in all its forms — books, TV, and audio. At the end of my freshman year of college my friends and I were beyond excited for the debut of this film, which was released on April 29, 2005. April 29, 2005 was also the day I had two final exams. Nonetheless, we went all-out for the movie. We had “Don’t Panic” shirts made and got tickets to the nearest midnight showing — an irresponsible hour and a half away. We brought our towels and robes, and we had a blast. I say all of this mostly to emphasize that my enjoyment of Hitchhiker’s Guide is both long-running and based in part on its versatility as a multimedia franchise. In other words I appreciate that even though the story is always roughly the same, each incarnation is adapted to best suit its medium by shifting character and story elements as needed.

While in a lot of ways the movie version of Hitchhiker’s Guide isn’t entirely “faithful” to prior versions, I would argue that it is a franchise that rejects notions like “original” and “copy” in favor of something more like parallel co-equal incarnations. Watching for the first time in several years I was surprised at how well much of it holds up (although Sam Rockwell’s Bush-esque Galactic President is a little dated). Most of the changes made for the film serve to streamline the story and make it more “cinematic.” Not all of the jokes land, and a holdover from prior versions is an overall episodic structure. That said, Douglas Adams’ combination of dry humor and silly jokes is unmistakably there, and the cast is just perfect. I also dig the visual aesthetic, which is kind of retro 50s/60s sci-fi by way of early ’00s tech trends (think early iPods or iMacs at the time). This isn’t a film with weighty themes or ideas — in fact, it openly mocks any suggestion of such deep thoughts. Even with several American actors prominently featured, this is British comedy first and science fiction second, and on that level it succeeds. It may not be one of my favorite films, but after all these years I’m glad to say I still really like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Oh, and for the record, I got As in both of those classes back in 2005. (@T_Lawson)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

I love The Hitchhiker’s Galaxy. I love the radio drama, the book, what little I’ve seen of the show, I just love the concept and nonsense of it all — but my favorite thing about it is how it morphs into a slightly new form each time it’s adapted for a new medium.

Now, the 2005 feature film of Hitchhiker’s doesn’t technically work. Even grading on the curve of the material (which was ideally suited to serialized radio and struggled to find narrative footing afterward), it’s disjointed and odd and for every killer sequence (the poetry, the introduction of the improbability drive, basically every Guide entry), there’s a story beat that isn’t so much straining at the seams as it is trying to stuff candy back in an already busted pinata. But I don’t care, because it still manages to charm the socks off me every time. I love Def’s laconic Ford, I love Rockwell’s “Zaphod by way of George W. Bush,” I *adore* the version of Marvin synthesized by Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman, and I still can’t get over how perfect Martin Freeman is as Arthur Dent.

And, unlike most versions of the story, the film actually gives Arthur something to do. It’s awkward and bumbling about it, but Freeman really carries that final act, and lands an emotional beat while arguing with cartoon mice because…well, he’s Martin Freeman. Even if the film ends up feeling somewhat shabby and overstuffed-but-not-in-the-right-places and in as in need of revision as the titular Guide itself, I can’t help it. It’s a bit of a mess, but a cosmically enjoyable one.

Also, the Idea Spatulas are one of the best gags that’s ever come out of the property, fight me. (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

I’m not going to try to be witty or entertaining with this entry today because this film certainly wasn’t either of those things. Instead, this film takes what should be a slam dunk premise, then mixes in a stellar cast, and somehow falls flat in mostly every way. When it was released, it did nothing at all for me. And, this go around, I wasn’t even able to watch it in a single sitting. In fact, it took me 4 attempts to even get past the early goings, at which point I finally just let it play through for fear I’d not make it through in time to participate in this discussion.

It’s not necessarily a “bad” movie, so much as it’s an uninteresting and disappointing one. And, if you can’t keep me interested in a film featuring a good bit of Mos Def, you’ve certainly failed hard… because I love everything — well almost everything — that dude does! (@thepaintedman)

Brendan Foley:

Like a lot of the other folks on here, I have a huge affection for the Hitchhiker’s book. I’d go so far as to call it a favorite, as I can’t even count the number of hours I’ve lost giggling over the droll absurdity of Adams’ words and worlds. Unlike the rest of these guys, though, I find this movie to be a big fat stinking miss on almost every level. While much of the dialogue and incidents of the film are ported over whole from the book/show/radio play, Jennings flubs the timing and rhythm almost every time, so lines and jokes that read funny on the page just lie there dead, like fish flopping on the sand unable to breathe.

This is the part where normally I would say that the film doesn’t work but at least the cast is good, but while I like pretty much every performer here on their own, as an ensemble they never once click and in fact only seem to bring out each other’s worst tendencies. Def and Rockwell both flail around, I guess trying for ‘alien’ but instead landing on obnoxious. Deschanel at times seems to be reading her lines off a card, utterly lost with a character who changes personalities and temperament from scene-to-scene. And Freeman, look, I love the guy and he’s the obvious perfect choice for Arthur Dent. But that in and of itself is a problem. Arthur Dent (and this goes for his eventual casting as Bilbo Baggins as well) is so effortlessly in Freeman’s wheelhouse that the character doesn’t feel so much as a character as Stock Nervous Brit, with Freeman cycling through all his usual tics and mannerisms and never being asked to dig for anything deeper or more interesting. Part of that is inherent to the material, as Arthur Dent was always more of a placeholder than a dynamic character, but the film’s attempt to beef up the role with a romantic/heroic arc for him and Deschanel falls completely flat and is totally at odds with the black-hearted, tongue-in-cheek spirit of Adams’ work.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is ultimately done in by trying to bring reverence to a property that all-but defined irreverence. In trying to cram as much of the book (including chunks of the Guide itself) as they possibly could, the filmmakers never cracked how to make this material work as a movie. The gags and bits that do work (including the ‘idea spatulas’ mentioned up top) are almost all original to the movie, and I wonder what might have been if the filmmakers had opted/been allowed to be looser and friskier with the material. Oh well. Not like there aren’t plenty of other incarnations of the story that work just fine. Still, it’s awfully disappointing to see so much talent and good material gone to waste.(@theTrueBrendanF)

Look close: That’s right-after-Shaun-of-the-Dead Edgar Wright as a Deep Thought technician

Austin Vashaw:

I’m not sure how well Hitchhiker’s Guide did globally, but my perception was that it zipped in and out of US theaters with little fanfare or recognition. A fan of the series of novels, I watched it theatrically, and found it serviceable if not particularly great.

The movie had some things going against it — a primary cast of mostly lesser known actors (and more famous ones in voice-only roles), a lack of marketing, and a PG rating helped generate a tepid response. While based on a great novel, that was mainly of appeal to nerdy types (me).

Revisiting the film years later, I was astounded at what a different experience it was. The humor hit me right, and the cast has retroactively become really star-studded affair: Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Bill Nighy are all very recognizable faces at the cinema.

The film remains clever and enjoyable, keeping the absurd spirit of the books much intact thanks to its voiceover narration and wry delivery. The film failed to launch a franchise, but even 14 years later, I’d love to continue the adventure with these characters. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

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