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Date: 29 September, 2005

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'There are laugh out loud moments, and quirky ideas which still haven’t lost their sheen in twenty-five years.'

Now with links to resources from christian publisher Damaris, Steve Couch reviews films recently released on DVD.

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Use the jump links below to read the other reviews in this column
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Scrubs, Season 2
The Interpreter
Friday Night Lights

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyDVD Cover
(Touchstone, certificate 12)

Two friends of mine, both long-standing Hitchhiker’s fans, had very different responses to this film. Fan One raved about how brilliant it was and how true to author Douglas Adams’ original vision it was. Fan Two, by contrast, scowled and protested at how this travesty had trampled all over the venerable memory of the original. Who was right? In my opinion, neither of them.

First of all a history lesson – seasoned Hitchhiker’s fans, skip ahead to the next paragraph. First, in the late 1970s, there was the radio series written by jobbing young writer Douglas Adams. Flushed with an unexpected success, he began adapting the story into a novel, which spawned a sequel and eventually stretched to a ‘trilogy’ of five books. Subsequent versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have included a TV show in the early 80s, a stage show, a computer game and even a series of comic books, and all had significant involvement from Adams. Discussions and rumours of a movie version have been with us since 1980, and Adams had worked extensively on the script for this film prior to his sudden death in 2001.

What all of this means is that is no such thing as a definitive version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Fans of the various formats can’t even agree on a definitive spelling of the title, for goodness’ sake (is Hitchhiker’s one word or two? Hyphenated? One ‘h’ or two? Does the apostrophe go before or after the ‘s’? Who cares? Many many people, who should possibly get out more). The fact of the matter is that ALL of the above iterations of Hitchhiker’s came from the keyboard of Douglas Adams, and all – including this one – have equal claim to authenticity.

Fan Two complained about the arrival of – say it quietly – Americans in this very British sci-fi classic. Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod Beeblebrox is annoyingly brash, but Zaphod has always been annoyingly brash – that’s the point of the character. Mos Def’s Ford Prefect is certainly cooler than his predecessor, but who says that this is a bad thing? And as he comes from another planet (rather than Guildford, as he always told Arthur) what’s the problem with him not sounding like he’s from Guildford?

Martin Freeman’s Arthur Dent is still English, albeit considerably less plummy than Simon Jones’ radio and TV version, but the posh version of Arthur would seem less of an everyman today than he did back in the late 70s – our society has changed, and the new Arthur represents it every bit as well as his predecessor did all those years ago. None of the changes represent a vast acceleration in the evolution of the franchise, just another example of Adams’s usual tinkering in the margins.

Is it any good? To some extent it is a collection of sketches and set pieces, as opposed to an entirely coherent storyline (although the movie probably comes closer to coherence than any of its predecessors). There are laugh out loud moments, and quirky ideas which haven’t lost their sheen in the twenty-five years since Douglas Adams brought them into the world (as well as brand spanking new ones), but much of the bizarreness will delight some while leaving others cold.

So who is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for? Newcomers might want to approach with a little caution (you could love or hate it). For existing fans, it depends how precious you are about previous versions. If you treat the book (or the radio show, or…) as a sacred text, then prepare to fume. If you can hold it all a little more loosely, you can expect a joyous romp as new incidents jostle for space alongside familiar friends. You can expect to recognise whole chunks of script, even if the voices are less familiar.

A good selection of extras, which score highly for visual design as well as for content. Director Grant Jackson and his Hammer and Tongs partner-in-crime Nick Goldsmith come across as infectiously enthusiastic and winningly cheery, and their audio commentary with Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy is further evidence for my view that the best commentaries feature likeable, funny people enjoying each others company as the tape rolls. As well as a clutch of deleted scenes, there are also two ‘really deleted scenes’ which are nothing more than the cast mucking about. They are probably the highlight of a very enjoyable package, and I could have happily done with more of them. Marvin the Paranoid Android also appears in a cosmic version of hangman, which is enjoyably silly.

Click here to read the Damaris study guide for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Scrubs, Season 2DVD Cover
(Buena Vista, certificate 12)

The funniest of the medical sit-coms (sort of ER meets Ally McBeal), season two saw J.D. and the gang going through all their usual dramas, while adapting to their new status as residents at the Sacred Heart hospital, rather than first year newbies. If you don’t know the show, you probably won’t take a risk on buying a whole season box set (does anybody buy these unless they already know that they like a program? I doubt it), but if you have never seen Scrubs, season 3 is currently broadcast by Channel 4 on Friday nights. Discover what you have been missing, then rush out and buy this once you’re hooked.

Season 2 is where I got the Scrubs bug, with a bizarre extended cameo by former Men At Work singer Colin Hay hooking me just a few minutes into the first episode (my wife needed a couple of episodes more, so stick with it if you are not instantly convinced). Stripped of adverts, each episode (there are 22) only lasts for 20 minutes, so they are ideal for those evenings when there’s nothing on and not enough time for a whole film.

The extras package is enjoyable too, even if at times the commentary tracks disprove the theory that I claimed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had proved (and if that doesn’t make sense, then let that be a lesson for you not to cherry pick which of my reviews you read).

The overall feel of the extras is very similar to the show itself – light, irreverent and with the emphasis firmly on humour. Little time is spent on the weightier philosophical musings sometimes found in the show’s narration, with the focus instead on practical jokes, ad libs and the ever-changing colour of Elliot’s (Sarah Chalke) underwear. Doctor Cox fans will want to know that there is an interview with actor John C. McGinley, who provides arguably the most satisfyingly complex character in this highly enjoyable series.

The InterpreterDVD Cover
(Universal, certificate 12)

Silvia (Nicole Kidman), an interpreter who works at the United Nations building, is staying late at the office and discovers a plot to assassinate a visiting African politician. Enter Keller (Sean Penn), a secret service agent who is unconvinced that Sylvia is as innocent as she first seems. This sets off a chain of investigation, intrigue, and deception leading to a tense climax as all the loose ends come together.

Kidman and Penn are excellent, and the plot never lets you get too comfortable in your sense of which side everybody is on. The two leading players in the drama are revealed to be more psychologically complex than in many thrillers, although there is still a sense by the end of the film that we have only scratched the surface of both characters.

The extras include the usual suspects: a few deleted scenes, an alternative ending (not as good as the official one), and a clutch of brief featurettes. We get some interesting production trivia and an insight into the life of the real United Nations interpreters (don’t call them ‘translaters’ – there’s a turf war, apparently). Director Sydney Pollack even includes an impassioned plea to viewers not to watch widescreen films in ‘Pan and Scan’ mode, but to trust the director’s judgement regarding format. None of the extras are dull (even the last one mentioned), but none of them are particularly essential either.

Clever and compassionate, the film explores justice, revenge and forgiveness, and reinforces the values of global community and democracy which the United Nations was built on. On top of all that, it entertains too.

Click here to read the Damaris study guide for The Interpreter.

Friday Night LightsDVD Cover
(Universal, certificate 12)

More than just another American football movie. Based on a true story, Billy Bob Thornton stars as Coach Gary Gaines, intent on steering his young team at Permian High to the 1988 Texas State. You don’t have to be an expert – or even have a passing interest – in American football to appreciate this clear-eyed take on the passing of youthful glory.

Much of the film covers standard sports movie territory (plucky hopefuls overcoming adversity and rising up to enormous challenges) and covers it well. But more impressive is the film’s sure grasp of the flip side of small town sports: the sheer weight of expectation that the community places on the young shoulders of the players, the way the burden can outweigh the joy of actually playing the game.

This is less a sports movie and more a lament to the inescapable and irreversible passing of youth. The match footage is convincing, and the last-gasp emotion that often surrounds the Grid-iron game is faithfully recreated. A thoughtful film, which succeeds in showing both the glory and the hard yards, on and off the pitch.

The DVD extras are thorough without scaling the heights that the Panthers themselves aimed for. Possibly the most interesting featurette catches up with the real life versions of the central characters and reveals what has happened in their lives since their Panther days.

Click here to see the Damaris Study Guide for Friday Night Lights

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