The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Blu-ray)
Got your blanket with you? I have barely a passing familiarity with Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series of books. So passing that I actually thought it was a single book, and only found out that it was first a radio creation and then a series of books, TV shows, and other media creations when I read the Wikipdia entry before writing this.
Although fans of the other forms of Hitchhiker creations were polarized by the movie's production, I frankly took little notice when this movie came out in 2005, other than to think the trailer looked pretty good. Of course, that's what trailers do, and it's often as if there's an inverse law of quality that dictates the better and splashier the trailer, the worse the movie actually is. Star Wars Episode Whatever: Attack of the Clones is a perfect example. That trailer still looks good even though I know the movie stinks.
So, as is becoming more frequenctly the case, I discovered this movie as a very fun little surprise by watching this Blu-ray release. This is a weird, wild ride. It's episodic in that the scenes play better individually and don't really blend into a coherent narrative, which isn't surprising given its origins as something of a serial. I had too much fun watching it to care. It's a well crafted blend of witty comedy, superior acting and yes, awesome special effects.
' I don't make that last comment lightly. Anyone with a decent amount of money to spend can buy SOTA computer generated effects for his/her movie. What takes that artisanship to the next level is the imagination behind it to make it serve and enahnce,rather than dominate, the stories and characters. This movie succeeded for me because the effects were wildy imagined, but always serving the narrative.
There are a bunch of great performances in this movie. Martin Freeman and Zooey Deschanel are sweet and funny, Sam Rockwell is over the top and down the other side, and Allan Rickman's bipolar voice-over for Marvin the robot is hysterical. John Malkovich has an out there cameo that's cool too. But the one who surprised me most was the rapper Mos Def as Ford Prefect. He was wonderful. I've never heard his music, but this kid can act. He wasn't out of place one step, even with the other heavweights on screen going full tilt.
Buena Vista compressed this 1080p transfer using MPEG-4/AVC and the results are mind-bending. The detail is superb to the lowest levels, and the film grain adds just enough to make the experience a little more cinematic. This movie has more bright white interiors than any movie I've seen this side of 2001 and yet nary a highlight is crushed. The colors are whacky but that seems to be representative of the artisitc choices of the filmmakers. This is one of the best handful of HD transfers I've seen yet, reference quality.
The sound of the 16-bit/48kHz uncomporessed PCM soundtrack is no less impressive. The sound is appropriately aggressive, with seemingly unlimited dynamic range and a deep, spacious soundfield. This is another in which you'll hear easily that uncompressed PCM is in another league from lossy compression, especially inrendering the nuance and dynamics of the film's score. The bass is punchy and thunderous, and the sound effects are very convincing and well rendered. Dialog isn't always easy to understand, but every other element of this soundtrack is just mind boggling.
The extras aren't a mile long, but wha'te here is good. There are two commentaries, one with a producer and one of Douglas Adams' colleagues, and the other with the director and members of the cast. There are two sets of deleted scenes, of which some seem worthy of inclusion in the movie, and abrief but funny additional "Guide entry." And of course, there's the Buena Vista Movie Showcase with three locked and loaded show off scenes for you and your system.
Overall, another wonderful suprise on Blu-ray. If you've got a sense of humor and can handle movies that don't walk the beaten path of narrative linearity you might get as big a kick out of this as I did. And if you want a fun movie for show off your system this one is worth buying on that score alone.
Picture: 10 out of 10
Sound: 9.5 out of 10
Video reviewed on Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector, 80" wide Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 screen and Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray Disc player via HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Audio sent as PCM over HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Ayre MX-R monoblocks and Theta Dreadnaught power amps, and Vandersteen loudspeakers. All video cables by Bettercables, all audio cables by AudioQuest