The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy at Hoyts, Broadway

It’s always tricky seeing the film version of a book you love (and yes, I know Hitchhiker’s was a radio play before it was a book – but it was the book that I first read and loved). I find it interesting to see how close the filmmakers’ vision of the book is to my own interpretation. Normally there’s something to like, though this can often be outweighed by the aspects that just seem wrong.

I loved this film’s version of Marvin. He looked a lot more like “Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun To Be With” than the one in the TV version (though it was nice to see that one having a cameo in the film). And when you add that to Warwick Davis’s depressed slump, and the ironic world-weariness of Alan Rickman’s voice … well, I’ve never had a strong visual impression of Marvin before, but I think this one will stick with me.

I read one review that said Martin Freeman was perfect as Arthur. Well, that’s just silly. The only person who is perfect as Arthur Dent is Simon Jones. However, I ended up liking Martin Freeman more than I expected. He wasn’t Simon Jones, and he wasn’t quite middle-class enough, but he did seem to capture the essence of Arthur. The rest of the main cast were a bit more disappointing. Ford’s part was cut right back, and Zaphod was a bit too over the top (though I’ve never been much of a Zaphod fan). I quite liked Trillian, although the development of the relationship with Arthur meant that she was fundamentally a different character.

I guess I can see why they built up the Arthur-Trillian relationship, though I don’t think it was really necessary – I think the film would have still had a good linear plot without it. However, having decided to put it in, I wish it had been a bit less conventionally bland: it was pleasant enough, but it didn’t have the slightly offbeat nature of the Arthur-Fenchurch relationship in So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad film. Much of the classic Adams stuff was there (though it’s a shame they dropped “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard“), and some of the new stuff was fun – especially the Point-of-View gun. If I’d never read the book, I would probably rate the film higher than I do – certainly, it was funny and enjoyable. But it just didn’t have the offbeat zaniness of the book, which was disappointing. In spite of the cheesy special effects of the TV version, I think I preferred that over the film – though neither of them will ever take the place of the book.

Influence (David Williamson) – Sydney Theatre Company production at the Drama Theatre (Sydney Opera House)

Another year, another Williamson play. Actually, that’s not quite true, as we tend to only see the “new Williamson” every three or four years or so.

I quite enjoyed the first half of this one – it wasn’t up to his vintage work, but it was enjoyable. The performances were all good, and I liked the fact that all of the characters (except Zehra) were treated unsympathetically, regardless of whether they were left- or right-wing. I found the character of Vivienne Blasko particularly fun in her completely unashamed self-absorption.

It went a bit soft in the second half, though. By the end, most of the characters (even, in a way, Vivienne) had become “nice” in order to set off Ziggi. It would be more interesting if they could retain some of their flaws.

Downfall [Der Untergang] at Hoyts, Broadway

Downfall was a very powerful film. The performances were excellent, especially Bruno Ganz (Hitler), Ulrich Matthes (Joseph Goebbels) and Corinna Harfouch (Magda Goebbels). And it gave a really, really scary picture of fanaticism – particularly in scenes like the one where Magda Goebbels says there is no point in living in a world without National Socialism. Other really powerful scenes included the one where she killed her children, and the visuals behind Eva Braun’s letter to her sister.

I gather the presentation of some of the characters has been rather controversial. They certainly weren’t painted as monsters, but I don’t think that any of them were glorified either. I though most of them came across as sad and pathetic. However, this presents its own problems, as it does incline you towards feeling sorry for them.

Not Hitler. With everything going wrong for him, you see him refusing to accept it, and making decisions that condemn hundreds to death. He also seems to show a total lack of sympathy for the German people – which is in stark contrast to the reverence you see them holding for him. So even in his more “human” moments – with the dog, for instance – you never really lose sight of what he has done. He’s not a monster, but he’s not sympathetic either.

But it’s a bit different with the others. There’s nothing in the film to remind you of the atrocities they were involved in. So what you see are broken men, who, when they decide to suicide, have a almost a dignity about them. Not glorified, or admirable, or heroic – they are sad, and pathetic, and inadequate. But they are suffering, and the incredibly strong performances really make you feel this. So unless you remind yourself that they were personally responsible for infinitely more suffering in countless others, you do feel sorry for them. You really have to work to keep perspective, and not just be caught up in the pain in front of you.

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

Back in the last millennium, Justine Larbalestier and I were both members of Sydney Uni Fencing Club. I completely lost contact with her when she gave up fencing, but when I stumbled across her website I read it with interest.

A little while before the publication of Magic or Madness, there was an excerpt on the site. I read and enjoyed it, and was really looking forward to the book. However, a week or so later, one of the people I work got caught up in a friend’s custody battle over a child whose father suffered from a psychiatric disorder. And this made me rethink the Magic or Madness extract. Was it saying that Reason was better off with her mother, and modern society was unkind/insensitive to place her into the custody of her grandmother? Was it trivialising the danger for children in these situations? Was it maybe giving a “wrong but wromantic”/”right but repulsive” slant to the whole thing?

So it was with some trepidation that I bought and read the book. Fortunately, my concerns were allayed – reading the whole book, rather than just an excerpt, didn’t give me the same feelings. Firstly, Sarafina’s madness was much more tied in with the whole magic system than I had realised; and secondly, Reason proved to be a not-entirely-reliable narrator.

I really enjoyed the book. The Sydney sections had a terrific sense of place – probably the New York bits do as well, but since I’ve never been there, I can’t tell. I kept getting a “yes, that’s exactly right” buzz as I was reading it: you’d think this would be easy, but I’ve read some things set in Sydney that really feel as if they could be anyplace.

I really enjoyed the character of Reason. There were times when I wanted to shake her and say “wake up and see what’s really going on”, but I think these were just enough to keep the story going, without making the character absolutely infuriating. I imagine this is a very difficult balance for an author to manage!

I also liked Tom a lot, though Jay-Tee didn’t work for me quite as well. However, she was an interesting character, and I suspect I will warm to her in later books of the series. I particularly liked the fact that there were just enough questionable aspects to Esmerelda that I was never quite sure whether Reason or Tom was right about her – or if they were both wrong.

I’m looking forward to the next one, although sadly it appears there will be a year to wait. (Though this is nothing to George R R Martin – I have been hanging out for the next volume of Song of Ice and Fire since 2000!)