THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (2005)
Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, Bill Bailey, Warwick Davis, Su Elliott, Stephen Fry, Richard Griffiths, Dominique Jackson, Simon Jones, Thomas Lennon, Mark Longhurst, Kelly MacDonald, Ian McNiese, Helen Mirren, Steve Pemberton, Jack Stanley, Mak Wilson, Albie Woodington and John Malkovich.
Screenplay by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick.
Directed by Garth Jennings.
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures. 110 minutes. Rated PG.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been done so many times, in so many arenas, that it is hard to figure if there is a real reason for this movie to be coming out. Particularly because it has been years since the story of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and their towels has really been in the public eye. Douglas Adams, the genius behind the series, died at only 49 just four years ago. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has been made into a radio series (still its best incarnation), been the subject of four novels (and a book of the radio scripts), was a television series on the BBC, been performed on stage. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that there was an opera, ballet, or maybe a puppet theater which told the offbeat, very British story.
The one place it had never made it, though, was onto the big screen. Until now. I wish I could say it was worth the long wait (the original radio series is now 27 years old), but it is only partially. The problem with the new film is an odd mixture of faithfulness to the source material and a lack thereof, making the movie too watered down for the hard-core fans and too quirky for the casual fans.
Now the Hitchhiker’s Guide has been tweaked for each variation, so it should not be too surprising that it would happen again. However, the early passages of the movie, which are rather faithful to the original storyline, are by far the most enjoyable. As the story strays farther and farther afield from its source material, the film loses its footing.
Like all the other versions, the film starts out with a nebbishy Briton called Arthur Dent (played by Martin Freeman of the original UK version of The Office) who wakes up one morning to find out that his house is scheduled for demolition to create a freeway bypass. While he is laying in front of the bulldozers trying to halt progress, his best friend, Ford Prefect (played by rapper Mos Def, an odd casting choice which works surprisingly well) tells Arthur that he is not from Islington, he is actually from a “a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.” He has been working as a roving reporter for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and he has just heard some outer space chatter that the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Dent thinks he has gone mad until a humongous spaceship comes down over the valley and announces the destruction is imminent. Ford takes Arthur along as he stows away on the ship.
The film has quite purposely created dinky special effects and kind of cheesy sets, which is true to the spirit of the tale and yet at the same time will totally turn off the audience that just wanders in because it is a space tale. At the same time, they have done a bit of a short-hand, Cliff Notes take on Adams’ words, often cutting off a joke after the first punchline but ignoring the one or two more that Adams backloaded onto them to make the whole situation funnier. For example, when Arthur and Ford are in a bar and talking about the potential of the Earth being destroyed, but Arthur is still more concerned about his house being demolished, there is a big crash. In the movie, Arthur just yells, “My house,” and goes running off. This is missing the whole joke. In the original Arthur asked what that was, and Ford says, “don’t worry, they haven’t started yet.” When Arthur calms down, Ford continues, “It’s probably just your house being knocked down.”
This skipping of jokes seems rather epidemic here, they seem to shorten many of the jokes – I don’t know if it is to save space and time, but it’s distracting for the hardcore fans and leaves the casual observer not getting the best bits.
On the other hand, on rare occasions they stretch the joke too far, as well. In the intro, in which it is explained that the dolphin was more intelligent than man, they come to the punch line (“So long, and thanks for all the fish”) and instead of moving on, they turn it into an awful pseudo-Broadway show tune that is amusing very briefly, but then goes on and on long after we got the point.
So, in the long run, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has some great moments, but it will probably disappoint the cult of the series and at the same time somewhat perplex the uninitiated. (4/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 2, 2005.