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Apocalypse Now: Redux

There are 10 reasons not to miss Apocalypse Now: Redux at the theater —Richard Sharp (review...)

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Director Garth Jennings says that his first reaction on hearing that there was a Hitchhiker’s script was “God, no.” He didn’t want to be responsible for ruining the series with a bad movie. But he eventually saw the script, liked it, and said yes.

My reaction was just the same.

Evolution

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started as a radio program. It evolved into a book, a television show, and a wonderful text-adventure computer game by Infocom. Each of the preceding formats was long enough for both the story and enough tangents to really make it funny. While a feature film allows for lots of visual detail, it doesn’t leave much room for funny sidebars, and thus fandom’s trepid reaction to a movie version.

The film starts out very strong. The production values are immediately apparent, and Martin Freeman (The Office) is perfectly cast as the lovable loser Arthur Dent. Mos Def makes a cool, cryptic Ford Prefect, and the whole home-being-demolished-for-a-bypass gag starts the movie with a bang.

Things start looking up as we meet the Vogons, a giant wrinkly bureaucrat species who wear leather outfits over their horrible green skin. More impressively, the Vogons are not computer-generated, bless the production’s human heart.

But once we meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, things start going downhill. It’s not that Sam Rockwell isn’t funny, it’s just that he plays a series of jokes, rather than an actual character. The romance between Arthur and Trillian, hinted at in the earliest versions of Hitchhiker’s, falls flat, and the movie, at 109 minutes, starts to feel long.

Still, given this fan’s fears and lowered expectations, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a minor pleasant surprise.

DVD Extras

The Extras on this disc are pretty good. The best is the second audio commentary, which features executive producer Robbie Stamp and friend of Adams Sean Solle. Their commentary stays on topic and neatly ties the movie into the Douglas Adams canon. It’s a relief to hear how involved Adams (who died in 2001) was in the production. It was enjoyable having these two men point out all the hidden Adams fingerprints in the dialogue, set design, props, and music.

The other commentary track isn’t so informative. It features director Garth Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith, and actors Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy. They are more inclined to goof off and amuse each other. It’s sort of fun to listen to them, but it’s also basically a waste of time.

An additional Guide entry, deleted from the final cut, explains how the babel fish simultaneously proves and disproves the existence of God, Whom we see jogging on His treadmill.

The making-of featurette throws a little light onto the production of the film. The Henson-created Vogons were controlled by guest puppeteers, students from a local art college. The Marvin the Robot suit outweighed the actor who played him.

There are also two “Really Deleted Scenes,” including “Do Panic!” These scenes are the practical jokes of bored filmmakers having fun in front of a camera.

There are also two DVD gimmicks: a Marvin Hangman game — guess the secret word, one letter at a time, before Marvin gets disassembled; and an Improbability Drive, which randomly plays one of the DVD’s extra features.

Picture and Sound

Picture and sound are both very good. The big musical numbers at the beginning and end fill a surround-sound room and separate movie-time from reality. The picture is presented in its original widescreen format.