Saturday, May 28, 2005

Long time coming: Dirk Pitt, Douglas Adams, and Episode III

So, in just over a month, I get to see a Dirk Pitt movie, a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, and the final Star Wars movie. Wow. I've been waiting for these for what seems like my entire life, and then, bam-bam-bam, out they come. And they're all good. That doesn't happen often enough.

Granted, I haven't been waiting for them anxiously - I always thought the Pitt novels would make good movies, even if I wasn't too impressed with the novel Hollywood eventually adapted, but didn't think it was a crying shame that movies weren't made. I'd sort of resigned myself to there never being a Hitchhiker movie, and was OK with that; it's one of the books (and, lest we forget, radio programs) that fires the imagination to the point where a visual representation seems unnecessary. And Star Wars - as much as I like endings, who wants it to be over?

One thing that pleased me greatly about Sahara and Hitchhiker's is that they aren't completely faithful adaptations. I own the originals, and I'll still be able to read new Dirk Pitt books without seeing/hearing Matthew McConaughey, or return to Douglas Adams' works without being particularly beholden to what Garth Jennings & company did. Some filmmakers may look at that as a failure, but it pleases me; I like that these are just one interpretation. Books are singular things, and I'd rather they not become the big collaboration that a movie is.

Another thing about Hitchhiker - I'm kind of surprised and disappointed that Activision hasn't re-released the classic Infocom game as a $5 CD. It was great fun and how I first encountered the story. Although, from Douglas Adams's website, Activision no longer owns it. The good news is, it's shareware/online/apparently free now. (Though, sadly, Bureaucracy isn't) Enjoy.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2005 at AMC Fenway #11 (first-run)

I have to admit, I had mixed feelings when I first read the stories about Clive Cussler being upset with how this movie's producers were treating his story. On the one hand, you never really want to hear about a creator's wishes being disrespected, especially in a situation like this, where Cussler was so burned by the last movie adaptation of one of his novels (that Raise the Titanic movie really was ghastly) that he swore Hollywood off for two decades. But the thing is... This is Sahara we're talking about. It's roughly where I stopped picking Cussler's new novels up in hardcover and started looking at paperbacks and remainders; it's not a great book. As it turns out, a little "disrespect" probably made for a better movie.

The plot certainly follows the Dirk Pitt adventure template. Open with an action scene set sometime in the past, in this case a Confederate ironclad setting sail just before the end of the Civil War; give us a reminder of Dirk Pitt's past adventures, such as the newspaper clippings that litter his office; and set up two plots. In one, Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) will be taking part in an undersea salvage or scientific expedition along with his colleagues at NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Association), Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), Rudi Gunn (Rainn Wilson), and the organization's head, Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy). In the other, a more immediate problem will be uncovered by a pretty girl (in this case, Penelope Cruz as UN doctor Eva Rojas), who is rescued from a violent end by Pitt. They agree to help each other out, and go their separate ways until their paths cross just before the big action finale.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2005 at AMC Fenway #13 (first-run)

One can be forgiven for not actually believing that a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie has actually been made. After all, the first paperback copy of the book I read in elementary school, about two decades ago, had a "soon to be a major motion picture" sticker on the front cover. At the time, it seemed likely enough - it had already been a radio show, a book, a television program, a record album that differed from the radio show, and a computer game. And yet it languished in development purgatory, with Michael Nesmith never seeming to find the money, Jay Roach never seeming to find the time, and writer Douglas Adams dropping dead of a heart attack while working out at the gym, an end he probably would have been amused by, though he (like us all) would have preferred it happen much, much later.

But, wonder of wonders, a movie has actually been made. A good one, too, with an appealing cast, many of Adams words (indeed, often whole sentences and even paragraphs) intact, excellent design, and much of the same sense of whimsy that made this story delightful in all of its iterations. That's a big accomplishment, since Adams's voice was distinctive: Playfully intelligent, cynical without being bitter, unrepentantly atheistic but still seeing the universe as full of beauty and wonder. Film is a highly collaborative medium, more so than any of the others, and it's easier for a writer's voice to get drowned out. Here, Adams isn't so much drowned out as much as music video director Garth Jennings and a team of production/costume/set designers elaborate on the ideas he tended to give a sentence or two before moving on to the next one. Adams's fingerprints are still all over the movie - other than adaptations of stage plays, I can't remember the last film where so much of the dialog came directly from the source material - but the visuals are all Jennings & company.

Read the rest at HBS.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2005 at Loews Boston Common #2 (first-run)

I was still waiting for it to hit me as I walked from from the Park Street T stop to the Loews Boston Common theater for a 9AM showing. Some would say that just being at a theater that early as a paying customer was a big deal itself, but if theaters had morning shows every weekend, I'd be there every weekend. As I bought my ticket and found a seat dead center toward the front, I awaited the goosebumps, the trembling in my legs, the acknowledgment that this trip to the movies was special. As the trailers for The Island, War of the Worlds and Fantastic Four ran, I actually wondered if it wasn't going to happen. Maybe the rest of Hollywood had caught up; maybe a new Star Wars movie was just another movie. It wasn't until the John Williams music started, and the camera followed two small spaceships as they traversed the hull of a much larger carrier ship, that I got excited. Then we followed them to open space, and George Lucas springs a look at the biggest space battle ever committed to film on us, and we gasp. And that's just what he's doing for openers!

As I watched this sequence, I'm as giddy as I have been while watching a movie in quite some time. Not just because, come on, spaceships and robots are cool, cooler than anything the other, lesser epics such as The Matrix and Lord of the Rings have thrown at us in the last few years. It's the early indication that Lucas is finally firing on all cylinders again. As much as I enjoyed The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, they didn't show the same skill. Right away, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, looking very Sir Alec Guinness-ish) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are trading words in a grimly humorous way. Then Lucas throws a swarm of droids at them, cleverly designed suckers that are almost cute, but whose job is to scrap any ship to which they attach themselves, and they start tearing into Obi-Wan's, actually ripping the head off his R2 unit in a way that seems gruesome, even if it's only a machine. It's an early but understated sign that Lucas is going to be playing hardball this time around.

Read the rest at HBS.

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