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Entertainment

Movies to Watch While the Sky Is Falling

'Hitchhiker's Guide,' 'War of the Worlds,' Disney's 'Chicken Little,' and more.

By Dorothy Woodend 6 May 2005 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend has been the film critic for The Tyee since 2004. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers and books across Canada and the US, as well as a number of international publications.

Dorothy worked with the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Whistler Film Festival and the National Film Board of Canada. She is a member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Arts and Culture in Vancouver. Dorothy is also the Director of Programming for DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver.

Reporting Beat: Film.

Dorothy's Connection to BC: Born in Vancouver and raised in the wilds of the Kootenay, Dorothy's favourite spot is her family's farm on Kootenay Lake.

Twitter: @dorothywoodend

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Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent

I've been thinking about the end of the world lately. Maybe it's all the signs that point to the imminent change of the earth's climate. When the end comes, it won't come with a bang but a tiny little whisper, a puff of ozone, the gentle hiss of evaporation. A big bang might be preferable actually, so we wouldn’t have to worry about what's happening until it happens. Much like what happens to Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Dent (Martin Freeman), is a tubby little Englishman intent on saving his house from a demolition crew. Unbeknownst to Arthur, he has bigger troubles on the way. A death squad of Vogon destroyers have arrived to blow up Planet Earth in order to make way for an interstellar express route. Luckily for Arthur, his best mate is one Ford Prefect, played here by Mos Def, who lives up to his name, mumbling his lines so much so that you can be forgiven for saying "What's that? Speak up Sonny, I can't hear you."

Ford isn't from around these parts, and even while the world is being readied for demolition, he wants off this hunk of rock, taking his friend Arthur along for the ride. Having narrowly escaped the destruction of the planet, Arthur and Ford find themselves in the belly of a Vogon ship. The Vogons, who mostly resemble British civil servants, are infamous for their love of officiousness and bad poetry, in equal measure.

After a little versing, and conversing Vogon-style, Arthur and Ford are jettisoned into space only to be rescued by the president of the universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and his new girlfriend Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Trillian is an earth girl who is easy on the eyes, but hard on the heart of Arthur Dent. Trillian and Arthur have met previously at a fancy dress party, but Arthur in nebbish-fashion couldn't hack her freewheeling ways and he lost his girlie to the space cowboy Beeblebrox.

Arthur is determined not to blow it a second time, and thankfully, this being a fairly forgiving universe, he gets a second chance, as do we all, courtesy of some Interstellar Ikea employees in orange jumpsuits who rebuild the earth, much like you'd put together your Stefån sofa. Although with less swearing.

Heart attack clears the way

The movie version of the story has been on the cooker for some time, but when Douglas Adams died from a heart attack at age 49, he couldn't endlessly rewrite the screenplay anymore and the film came into fruition. After such a long build up, you'd expect more. But despite the actorly talents on display (Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, John Malkovich) and more aliens than you can shake a towel at, there is something crucial missing from the mix. Some heart and soul that might make you care more about the plight of plebby Arthur and his gang of intergalactic pals.

A little whimsy goes a long way -- a very long way actually, from one end of the galaxy to the other -- while the motley space crew rescues the girl, solves the mystery of the meaning of life, the universe and everything, and restores the earth to its blue green beauty, and so on and so on. You may leave with no feeling whatsoever, except mild and only occasional bemusement. It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel, well, bored, actually. I could have left half way through and indeed I was tempted to, because despite the clever bits, it was as if the top ten medley of Douglas Adams -- So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, 42, Don't Panic -- have long since passed into the t-shirt lexicon of zitty 14-year-old boys, and unfortunately what was amusing when you're 14 is less so when you're 34. Or hopefully so anyway.

Cruise-ing towards apocalypse

Since Hitchhiker started out its life as a radio play, it's a riff on another equally famous radio play coming to the big screen again. In War of the Worlds, it is also the end of the world. Unfortunately for we puny humans, this time it's menacing Martians, who want what we've got, but, unlike the Vogons, they can't be chased away with a towel. Although it is fashionable to hate Tom Cruise, I have always disliked him mostly because he reminds me of a grade four bully I once knew named Randy Brown. But a planet on which Tom Cruise is the biggest star, is perhaps, a planet that deserves what it gets.

War isn't the only alien invasion film arriving in the coming weeks; there's also the Disney version of Armageddon called Chicken Little, he of the sky-is-falling fame, who manages to save the planet from alien invaders even though he's a little chicken. But what if, like soccer star-cum-philosopher David Icke says, they're already here, walking among us, having a gay old time, 7 foot tall Anunnaki Lizards. Icke maintains that George Bush is a lizard, Queen Elizabeth too, Julia Roberts, most definitely. And that's part of the premise of the new Korean film Save the Green Planet.

Director Jang Jun-Hwan was inspired by Icke's writing, but that was just a jumping off point for a film that defies description. A recent article in the Village Voice describes it as "amphetamine-addled genre-scramble of flat-footed police procedurals, alien-invasion theories, end-times agonizing, and other assorted terrors of South Korean sociopolitical life is a movie lover's mind fry no matter where it's screened."

Don’t blame us

If there is one common theme here, it's that when the world goes kablooie, it's not our fault. Someone else did it, wrecked it, blew it up, and the poor humans had nothing to do with it. Which is actually how it has happened in the past, according to Elizabeth Kolbert's article How Hot Can it Get? -- the second installment of her series about global warming in the New Yorker. Sometimes, people are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when the winds shift just a little bit, and the rain goes away, everything that has been built up falls down again. It happened to the Mayans, it happened to the Martians and it may well happen to just about everybody.

In the HG Wells version of the story, the Martians come to earth because they're feeling a little puckish. We are the restaurant at the end of the universe and human smoothies are the best thing on the menu. Sooner or later, it all comes down to eat or be eaten. The critical difference is that once upon a time, alien invasion spawned mass panic but now it simply entertains us away from real horror.

Journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote that Orson Welles with his Mercury Theatre broadcast had unwittingly stumbled upon one the premiere tools of the 20th century. "They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond a question of a doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery..." It makes sense that the Anunnaki gravitate to Hollywood doesn't it?

The end of the world seems terribly near in the new Paramount Theatre downtown which takes as its central conceit "the great indoors". Fake rocks, fake sky, fake trees on big plastic tumblers, it's supposed to recall the beauty of nature by way of Photoshop and it's where we all might be living in the near future. Watching movies, while outside the sky really is falling.

Dorothy Woodend reviews films for The Tyee on Fridays.  [Tyee]

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