So I've had some time to let the Hitchhiker's movie sink in, and watched it again to leer a more critical eye on the latest adaptation.
The result is that the film seems less "adequate" than I originally thought. Perhaps, after waiting so long for the film, and so eagerly wanting to love it the way I did the radio series and books, that I simply did. After watching it again, and thinking about why the originals are so good, the flaws of the film became much more apparent.
I thought before that the biggest flaw in the film is that it was too short; it seemed rushed, sprinting from one scene to the next - even from one line to the next - and that it could have benefitted from taking a bit more time to explain some of the concepts and plot reasonings, and put in a few more of the classic jokes while they were at it. The second viewing reveals that this is merely the symptom of the problem. The flaw is that one of the keys to what made HHG so funny was Adams's style, and that style has been mucked up. Adams would take a sci-fi situation and apply it as a satire or exaggeration of human life, and tell it in a metre and rhythm that naturaly flowed from one thought to the next and led to a punchline that would actually strike you like an emotional punch. The Hitchhiker dialogue was practically perfect; prose with a timing and flow that delivered thoughts with almost sing-song clarity. The screenplay has no such flow, no such rhythm, and the result is an edited mishmash that saps the humour out of the jokes and leaves the plot with many a hole in which to fall.
The original dialogue between Arthur and Mr Prosser regarding the demolition of his home was a hilarious rhythmic exchange satirising bureaucratic complexity and political muck-ups, which cleverly setup the exaggerated but equally identifiable bureacratic obstacles around the demolition of Earth. The screenplay's version slices the scene such that it merely advances the plot, but without the charm and humour, and as a result also subdues the humour of the entire Vogon personality.
The Guide entry on towels is missing, so while the characters repeatedly comment on their significance, the viewers are left wondering what the big deal is with the towel. The explanation of why they're significant is missing completely, and that was the reason why it was funny in the first place. Even Earth's entry in the Guide ("Mostly harmless"), the key point that put Earth in its place compared to the rest of the universe, is entirely absent.
Marvin was lovable because he was an exaggerated version of every time we feel down and want attention or pity, but the running-gag lines that best express this intention ("I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side...") are absent, and we are left with a Marvin that is cute and sad, but not as endearing as his '70s predecessor.
The reshuffling of elements without the attention to style has left Zaphod with misplaced drive, a new Humma Kuvula character that is surrounded by unexplained motives and purposes and easily edited out, a plot that moves for unsatisfied and occasionally contradictory reasons, and an improbability drive that is based less on improbability, and more on, well, uncontrollable "magic".
Maybe the successive screenplay writer simply didn't understand Adams. Maybe the money behind the scenes thought the general public would not understand it. Maybe they attempted to please far too many people at once, and as Aesop taught us long ago, in the end pleased no one.
All of this, of course, compares the movie to a story that is one of the world's favourites. Compared to its radio and novel predecessors, it is quite weak. Compared to the norm of Hollywood movies that churn themselves out of the system, it is still an uplifting and humourous adventure. I still feel it is a good movie - and not just because Zooey plays an adorably spell-binding Trillian. The cast of actors still convey great character, the visuals are what the TV series wishes it could have had, and the movie is filled with intricate details that throwback to jokes of incarnations passed. A plethora of potential is visible throughout the film, it's just terribly frustrating to see it left unused, misdirected, or sapped of life, the universe, and everything.
The film is good, but it could have and should have been so much more. If Adams were alive today, I am sure we would still be waiting for this film, because he would still be busy fighting for it.
I will still, however, get one of those plush Marvin dolls.