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THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (PG) (2005)

Touchstone Pictures

Official Site

Director: Garth Jennings

Producers: Todd Arnow, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Nick Goldsmith, Caroline Hewitt, Jay Roach, Rebekah Rudd

Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick; based on the novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Cast: Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, John Malkovich, Warwick Davis, Steve Pemberton, Anna Chancellor, Dame Helen Mirren, Thomas Lennon, Polly Jane Adams, Richard Griffiths, Ian McNeice

Rating:


“The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as a radio play series in the 1970s. Creator Douglas Adams stated that he devised the piece as “something that would combine comedy and science fiction, and it was this obsession that drove me into deep debt and despair.” This was followed by a popular series of books, a BBC TV mini-series, comic books, stage shows, and even computer games. It seems that cinema remained the only medium to which Adams could not adapt his property. For years, it was something Adams was trying to achieve—something he said was always coming, but never materialized. It almost became a running joke. And finally after years of talk, creative discourse, and most recently the untimely demise of Master Adams himself (in 2001), director Garth Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (working from a first draft by Adams himself) have brought The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy to theatres.

Adapted from the first novel, Hitchhiker’s follows Arthur Dent (Freeman), whose home is about to be demolished and, little does he know, his home planet as well. Thankfully, Arthur’s best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), has everything all set, and the two promptly escape impending doom at the hands of the Vogons, the aliens who blow up the earth to make way for an interstellar bypass. “South Park”’s Towely will be happy to know they didn’t forget to bring a towel. Improbably, Ford and Arthur are unwittingly saved by Zaphod Beeblebrox (Rockwell), President of The Galaxy and currently in command of the Spaceship Heart Of Gold. Traveling with Beeblebrox is another human, Trillian (Deschanel), Zaphod’s girlfriend, whom Arthur fancied before Zaphod whisked her away and the 2nd big bang. Other characters include a certain paranoid android, Marvin (Rickman and Davis), a lower torso-less religious leader, Humma Kavula (Malkovich), and other odd things.

I think what struck me about Adams’ books when I first read them was how structured the language was. The text contained a rhythm and type of pentameter. It seemed every word Adams wrote had a meaning behind it, and not one letter or phrase was wasted. The Hitchhiker’s Guide novels possess a fantastic dry wit and tone. There are times when Adams will make an offhand remark or mention something briefly in a chapter, then in the next he goes on to explain that brief reference using The Guide itself (voiced by Stephen Fry in the movie) as his voice. Despite going on tangents, Adams uses such supreme brevity without sounding dense that the result turns out quite brilliant and hilarious. The idea of the Guide and its purpose is one of the things the movie translated quite well and in faithful spirit to Adams’ material. The narration by the Guide is still a laugh, as are the Flash animation presentations provided.

The movie tries way too hard to raise the stakes and make the material more serious than it needs to be. It attempts to create conflicts—a love triangle with Zaphod and Arthur and Trillian, and rather obligatory road trips, first to see Humma Kavula, and then to Vogsphere to save a kidnapped Trillian. All these parts really do is slow down the narrative. Attempts at creating urgency or raising the stakes come off as rather cheesy. It feels like they are dumbing down Adams’ work so more of us Yanks will pay to see it. I think Jer Moran made a good point in that the film should’ve been more like Monty Python and less like Men In Black. And while the book has retained a good deal of the funny bits from the novel, it’s sadly missing some of the best ones. You won’t hear Eddie the computer sing his song.

I will say the first and third acts of the film are rather strong. The movie opens with the story of the dolphins leaving Earth, followed by a masterful opening credits sequence featuring a Broadway-esque song-and-dance number by the dolphins themselves, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish.” Freeman (most famous for his role as Tim on the BBC TV series, “The Office”) is a more than competent Dent, and sadly the only British member of the main cast. I’m eating a full plate of crow, because I was certainly surprised by how much I ended up liking Def’s Prefect, who really did make me believe he’s an alien from a “small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he usually claimed.” Prefect worked really well in the movie, and I think many will enjoy his deadpan and eccentric performance, or specifically for me his cry of battle when he goes to fight with his towel. Bill Nighy’s Slartibartfast, a Magrathean planet designer, is similarly excellent, along with Rickman and Davis’s tandem performance as Marvin.

The biggest tragedy, however, has to be Rockwell’s Zaphod. What makes the portrayal so disappointing is that Rockwell is a good performer, yet he just totally misses Zaphod, depicted in the movie as a poor imitation of George W. Bush. Because you see, Zaphod is the President, and W. is the President I guess. Zaphod is no longer the coolest person in the universe, and is now just the goofy comic relief who takes the annoying pratfalls. It’s underwhelming seeing Zaphod executed in this manner. I think this is a person who could have very well been the coolest character in the history of cinema—cooler than Jack Sparrow from Pirates Of The Carribbean, cooler than Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. No matter what anyone says, Rockwell’s Zaphod just isn’t cool. As for Rockwell’s cheap imitation of our current commander in chief, I liked it a lot better when Will Ferrell did it on “Saturday Night Live.” The character needed to be more lazy and aloof than stupid, and maybe more Elvis than Bush. And the pratfalls… Zaphod does not take pratfalls.

There’s also Trillian, who’s just sort of there, rounded out by a weak performance by Zooey Deschanel. I personally feel that Trillian’s characterization is one of the few things the filmmakers could have improved upon from the books, but sadly she just gets the dishonor of being part of the lame love story. During the movie’s pornographic shower scene (A.N.: This time, surprisingly enough, not XXX porn once again; really, even with an implied naked Trillian in the shower.) you will understand. And I have nothing against romance, but it feels like this was the stuff the brilliant second trailer for this movie was making fun of—you know, “finding true love” and all that. Bohemians, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… FUCK LOVE!

Production and creature design were handled by Jim Henson’s creature shop, giving the movie a more practical look and approach that is very refreshing compared to most sci-fi flicks, which are heavily CGI-ed. The Vogons in particular are fantastic and truly look like the ugliest beings in the known universe.

One of the more brilliant moments the movie could have used more of concerns the pokes at mainstream and pop-cinema conventions, such as when the camera cuts from a close-up POV shot of our heroes as the earth is about to be destroyed. It cuts out, and out, and out. And the comedy comes from the ridiculous repetition until we finally get a shot of all the Vogon ships surrounding the planet. This moment of seemingly intentional hilarity is then juxtaposed with what many would consider a morbid and depressing moment as the earth blows up. It almost feels as if the filmmakers tried to give us a good laugh to soften the blow. Or maybe they were just trying to make a statement about mainstream society and our propensity for and desensitization to violence and self-destruction. I’m not totally sure, so I’ll have to sleep on it a bit more.

For the fellow Hitchhiker’s faithful, keep your eyeballs sharp for cameos by Simon Jones (the original Arthur Dent), the BBC mini’s version of Marvin, and even the mug of Adams himself. I’m not quite sure how this movie will play. As a fan and reader of the books, it feels like the filmmakers tried too hard to cater to the general audience. And as a moviegoer, I feel the movie is funny, but also flawed with a second act that drags quite a bit—not a good thing for a comedy. Finally, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is a fun experience, but doesn’t quite reach the potential of being “wholly remarkable.” The second trailer for the movie captured even more perfectly the spirit of Adams’ material, yet served as a brilliant commentary on movie trailers and mainstream box office garbage as well.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

“There is another which states that this has already happened.”

—From The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

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