The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Garth Jennings (dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
Theatrical ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JO27
Date: / Show Official Info /
Douglas Adams would be proud.
The big screen adaptation of his best selling Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy may not be perfect, but it is fun, charming and full of the offbeat humor that makes Adams? novels so terrific. Of course, Adams co-wrote the screenplay so he might've had a presentiment that the movie would be good.
The story in brief?
British everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) wakes up to find his beloved country home on the verge of destruction. A bypass is being built and his home lies in the way. Just as Arthur is lying in the path of an especially uncaring bulldozer, his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) shows up and escorts him away? because the world?s going to end in twelve minutes.
Ford explains he is not really an unemployed actor from Guilford; he?s an itinerant alien from a world near Betelgeuse. He came to witness the end of the world and write it up for the ultimate reference work, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (whose immortal words of wisdom are: Don?t Panic). With Arthur in tow, Ford hitches a ride on a ship belonging to the Vogons, who are destroying Earth to make room for a galactic bypass. (Irony? Perish the thought!)
The Vogons, as explained by the voice of the Guide (Stephen Fry), are not actually evil, but they are mercilessly bureaucratic and write the worst poetry in the galaxy -- it?s so bad, it?s been known to kill innocent victims. Ford and Arthur, as stowaways, are cast out of the ship?only to be picked up by the Heart of Gold, a starship equipped with the Infinite Improbability Drive. Its crew includes Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), the runaway President of the Galaxy, and Trisha ?Trillian? McMillan (Zooey Deschanel)? a girl the shy Arthur met and lost to the smooth-talking Zaphod. The fifth member of this group is Marvin the Android (Warwick Davis, voice by Alan Rickman), a massively depressed and monstrously intelligent robot.
Beeblebrox, a smarmy combination of politician, used car salesman and lothario, is literally two-faced; one face is goofy and dim-witted, the other is aggressive and unpleasant. And neither of them want Arthur spilling the beans about Earth being an ex-planet to Trillian.
He also has a plan. Fame as a politician, he explains, is temporary, but if he can find the mythical planet of Magrathea (home of ancient computer Deep Thought [voiced by Helen Mirren]), he has a shot at learning the Question to Life, the Universe and Everything. (In the distant past, Deep Thought answered with ?42? but couldn?t tell its builders what the question was -- for that, a bigger and more powerful computer needed to be built). That, he says, is fame.
In seeking the Question, they are pursued by Vogons, deal with Zaphod?s Truman Capote-esque political rival Humma Kavula (John Malkovich), chase after a kidnapped Trillian, race to fill out forms and stand in line (something Arthur claims is his birthright as a Briton), and pass through dimensional portals on a long-dead and empty world. Arthur misses this last, but ends up meeting Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), an eccentric world-builder with some interesting news about Earth?even as Zaphod finds a weapon desired by Kavula and inadvertently uses it on himself, after which wackiness really ensues. (Well, not really.)
The movie feels like the love child of Monty Python and 2001, with a dose of romance and some really great special effects. Freeman is deft as Dent, a gentle man who?s forced to find the hero within when he?s left with nothing but a towel. Mos Def is brilliant as Ford, a madcap character only slightly less feckless than Zaphod himself; he?s the best friend you?d want at the end of the world.
Rockwell merges bits of Elvis and President Bush in bringing Adams? ultimate egotist to the screen, making him shallow and sympathetic at the same time; this is a neat trick for a character whose every thought and action centers around his own best interest. Deschanel provides a charming match as Trillian, a smart and complex young woman who only gradually comes to understand the mysteries of her own heart.
Nighy is spectacular as Slartibartfast, a befuddled wizard of worlds who (like Merlin) helps Arthur see the light. His timing is terrific and he makes the very most of limited on-screen time. And, though unseen, Davis and Rickman provide considerable laughs as Marvin, the most dour creation since Eeyore.
The Vogons, soggy-looking blobs of Victorian nightmare in black latex, are creations of Jim Henson?s creature laboratories, but they are brought to life by Adams? sharp-edged take on bureaucrats. If a more soulless creature exists, it must be a Vogon.
Amid plenty of slapstick (including literal shovels to the face on the Vogon homeworld), there?s real heart. The opening, wherein dolphins take their leave of the Earth in a hilarious musical number called ?Goodbye and Thanks for All the Fish? (coincidentally the title of a Hitch Hiker sequel), cannot be missed. Ditto Fry?s deadpan narrative voiceovers, wherein the Guide illustrates oddities of life in the galaxy at large with clever cartoons.
The movie is dedicated to Adams, who died at the age of 49 in 1993. Although he co-wrote the screenplay, it is bittersweet that such a charming adaptation only came about long after he could appreciate it in person.
Filmgoers should be glad that Adams wrote more than just the one book. This movie adaptation seems likely to foreshadow good things to come.