For years I have been a huge (and yet still increasingly interested) fan of British comedy. I much prefer the subtle and quasi dry humor to the slapstick and over-the-top humor that dominates American cinema. There’s just something about a joke when it can be done with less animation but still evoke gut busting laughter. Growing up with Life of Brian, I guess I could call that (and other Monty Python creations) the “School of Dry Knocks”. Moving on to A Bit of Fry and Laurie, throw in some of The Office, a dash of Guy Ritchie and finish up with a huge helping of Little Britain, I am completely sold on British humor and my thirst has yet to be quenched. After seeing a trailer for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy years ago, I figured this was right up my alley…and I was not disappointed (especially with narration from Stephen Fry).
Lowly Authur Dent lived a life unsuspecting that his world was no more extravagant than his humble surroundings and that it hold no more potential than a pint of lager. Just as his house is set to be demolished for a planned bypass, he and his friend Ford (who to Dent is unaware is actually a humanoid alien) escape Earth’s demolition as his planet similarly is an obstacle in the way of an Inter-Galactic bypass. Funny coincidence huh? While Arthur is coming to grips with everything, Ford presents him with the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” to get him acclimated to the wonders of the cosmos as they prepare to set out on the journey of a lifetime.
What I was most excited about seeing in this movie is was that I really couldn’t expect anything. The plot was so random and “out there” that I couldn’t tell what was going to happen next. From singing dolphins to Vogon poetry readings to John Malkovitch and ultimately the Improbability Drive, this movie not only kept me interested but also left me scratching my head. But whereas I may have been confused and lost as to how they came up with what was on screen, I found comfort in Stephen Fry‘s narration to find me safely though to the end of the film. Each narrative sequence with Fry served 2 purposes: 1. I recalled his many hilarious skits in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and 2. His delivery has this dignified tone that even though you know you are hearing something so fictionally ludicrous, you start to feel like there’s still some credibility to the subject matter.
I guess the first high point (aside from Fry obviously) in this film was the cast. Not only were the lines they read incredibly funny, but each actor delivered them with such style that you’d think they were born to play the part. Martin Freeman played Tim in The Office and while his role here was very similar he still got me laughing with just the looks he gave. Odd choice casting Sam Rockwell but his turn as Zephod was wacky and if I didn’t see him as Crewman number 6 in Galaxy Quest, I would have never know he had a talent for zany antics. Although, if you think of British humor being mostly cut, dray and very funny, he had to be animated as it provided enough contrast to sell his jokes but also appeal to American audiences. To me, I think he had the best overall performance of the movie.
And who knew Mos Def could act?? I didn’t but after this I saw him in 2 other films(16 Blocks and Journey to the End of the Night) and it really got me thinking that I have to keep an eye out for him in the future. So he could act…and he was also funny. Terrific combo and again, it really surprised me. Now if you’ve read any of my recent Off the Shelf posts (namely Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and Galaxy Quest) you’ll know that I am increasingly fond of Alan Rickman. Well he, as did Helen Mirren, only provided his voice talents for (robot) but had probably the funniest lines of the entire film. God, that dead pan delivery just slayed me. The only person who didn’t pull their weight, and has yet to in any movie I’ve seen, is Zooey Deschanel. How does she land parts other than the fact she’s pretty damn cute. Unfortunately, she has zero contributions to this film and I really could have done without her. Lastly, and I don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, but Bill Nighy comes in for a cameo and with his trademark quirky acting quality, just steals some scenes and is a welcomed addition to this rather varied and yet likeable cast.
I haven’t listened to the original radio series and I didn’t know anything of the history of it before this recent adaptation (or is it a big budget retelling? I don’t know) but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Sometimes having little to know knowledge of the original source material can be refreshing as it lets me go in without prior preconceptions. That said, ignorance is bliss and this movie just killed me. Brits do some of the best quirky, oddball and really “out there” humor (Mighty Boosh anyone??) and this film was no exception. I mean who would have thought to make doors “sigh” as the opened, and who would have thought that would be increasingly funny? Who cares why it works so well right? All that matter is that it does work. Even cyclical humor just got me every time.
The film starts to lag just a tad at the end but the ride it wild, imaginative and helped along with amazing effects and designs from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. I’ve never heard any of Douglas Adams’ radio broadcasts, nor have I read the books or seen the miniseries but I still enjoyed the mis-adventures of Arthur Dent as the humor was right up my alley. Although I commended the Brits for existing in a realm above slapstick, maybe it’s just me being an American, but a dabble in those waters never hurts as long as it is selective and tasteful. Case in point, probably the funniest sequence in the film was the sequence when they crash-land on the Vogosphere and have to make it to the city without “thinking”. Painful for the characters=funny for me. I’ll take that any day of the week as long as the rest of the jokes are good, old sophisticatedly British.