Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,

Weekly Video Picks

Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures: PICK


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: PASS


Born Into Brothels [Calcutta’s Red Light Kids]: PICK


This week on DVD, the British are coming. The absurdist sci-fi world of English humorist Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s empire makes the jump to feature film, with mixed results. British photojournalist Zana Briski’s inspiring, devastating documentary Born Into Brothels [Calcutta’s Red Light Kids] offers hope and heartbreak. And with dotty English inventor Wallace and his loyal but dubious dog Gromit finally coming to the big screen in October in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, of course we need another DVD release of their original, classic shorts.

Directed by Garth Jenning, the new Hitchhiker’s
Adams was a convinced atheist and, in his stories, a nihilistic sense of cosmic absurdity — along with satiric barbs at religion — jostles with an intriguing preoccupation with the notion of meaning and ultimate answers. The movie ventures a broadly satiric poke at religion, and goes through the motions of the quest for the ultimate answer of life, the universe and everything. But it’s too interested in its “mostly harmless” status to have teeth.

What could have been a bitingly Gilliamesque Men in Black comes off as a hit-and-miss Britcom Galaxy Quest. That may be adequate for moderate Adams fans (like myself) who know enough to get the jokes but aren’t emotionally invested enough to be outraged by the film’s shortcomings. For most viewers, though, the film falls between two stools, neither satisfying diehard fans nor engaging newcomers.

Zana Briski visited and finally moved into Calcutta’s red light district, intending to make a film about brothel life before finding herself and the children who lived there mutually drawn to one another.

If Born Into Brothels merely recorded the marginal lives of these beautiful, all-but-doomed children, it would probably be nearly unbearable, though potentially still worthwhile. But Briski, who has a master’s in theology and religious studies, did more than document the kids’ milieu: She empowered them to document it themselves, giving them cameras and teaching them to use them.

As seen in the film, the results are arresting. The kids love photography and, while their work isn’t always inspired, some of it has real power and verve (visit kids-with-cameras.org to peruse — or purchase — samples).

Photography offers Briski’s voiceless, powerless students the power to speak across oceans and language barriers. There are gallery shows, a Sotheby’s auction — proceeds from which could pay for education, the only hope for escaping the cycle of destitution and dissolution. Born into Brothels is one of the most constructive, inspiring takes on the power of art and artists to make a difference that I’ve ever seen. Next to Briski’s enacted prayers, what prayers I might offer for these children half a world away seem woefully inadequate.

Jam-packed with dazzlingly inventive sight gags and quintessentially eccentric British humor, the classic Wallace & Gromit shorts deserve a place on every film lover’s shelf. Compared to previous DVD editions, Three Amazing Adventures lacks commentary by director Nick Park, but boasts the previously unavailable “Cracking Contraptions,” 10 mini-shorts featuring Wallace’s latest inventions.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Hitchhiker’s Guide contains slapstick violence, mild crude language and a brief sequence of broad religious satire. Born into Brothels contains documentary depiction of brothel life (nothing explicit), including drug abuse and a few strong obscenities, and might be acceptable for mature teens. The Wallace & Gromit shorts contain some comic menace and are fine family viewing.

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