HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, THE (director: Garth Jennings; screenwriters: from the book by Douglas Adams/Douglas Adams/Karey Kirkpatrick; cinematographer: Igor Jadue-Lillo; editor: Niven Howie; music: Joby Talbot; cast: Martin Freeman (Arthur Dent), Mos Def (Ford Prefect), Sam Rockwell (Zaphod Beeblebrox), Zooey Deschanel (Trillian), John Malkovich (Humma Kavula), Bill Nighy (Slartibartfast), Anna Chancellor (Questular Rontok), Warwick Davis (Marvin), Alan Rickman (voice), Stephen Fry (Narrator), Helen Mirren (voice), Thomas Lennon (voice of Eddie the Computer); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Gary Barber/Roger Birnbaum/Jonathan Glickman/Nick Goldsmith/Jay Roach; Touchstone Pictures; 2005)
“We’re not talking Star Wars here; we’re instead talking Disney-like cute.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is based on the late atheistic and science fan geek Douglas Adams’ series of books, radio shows and TV series about a mild-mannered everyman, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), who is faced with losing his isolated English country home to a bypass and on the same day he finds out his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), is an alien. Ford tells him not to worry because the planet is also being destroyed (so that alien forces can construct a hyperspace bypass), and the two hitch a ride in outer space to escape before the earth vanishes in a puff of smoke. We’re not talking Star Wars here; we’re instead talking Disney-like cute. Adams died of a heart attack at age 49 in 2001, but nevertheless managed to write two drafts for the screenplay (it was completed by Karey Kirkpatrick).
Taken from the work Adams did in the 1970s, whose humor has become dated, it’s adapted to the screen in a splashy slapdash manner by first-time director Garth Jennings (known for his work in television commercials and music videos). This punchless goofy sci-fi comedy is rife with droll Brit humor, inside jokes, and about such sitcom concerns as manners, bureaucracy, and men not getting what women get. There’s also the big mysterious deal raised about asking the ultimate question, which gets caught in the cross-hairs of cutesy mice and puppets so as to be put out there as only some kind of intellectual trap for the purists to mull over on what’s missing from the book.
Stephen Fry is the unseen narrator that begins the tale with a singing dolphin exhibition, where their message to their human friends has been misinterpreted and should read “So long and thanks for the fish.”
Prior to the earth-shattering day Arthur has just met Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), the love of his life, at a costume party, and is disappointed he lost her to a groovy surfer-boy type who impresses her with his spaceship and half-wit charm.
The two pals hitch a ride aboard the Heart of Gold spaceship, where Ford presents the PJ clad Arthur with a beginners self-help guidebook telling how to navigate one’s way through outer space. Along the way, they encounter such interstellar characters as the unpleasant, bad poetry spewing Vogons, an overweight and bureaucratic class of beings; a robot known as Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman), who is depressed and designed to have a human personality; Arthur’s romantic interest Trillian and her idiot spaceman boyfriend, the two-headed Galaxy president Zaphod Beebelbrox (Sam Rockwell), who mistakenly signed the orders to destroy the planet because he thought he was signing an autograph for a fan; the legless loser in the presidential race, a religious cult leader named Humma Kavula (John Malkovich); and interplanetary designer Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), who was part of a team who rebuilt a backup model for the destroyed earth.
The film was a major disappointment because it all seemed rather silly and harmless to be an effective satire, where the funniest moments were over something like yarn vomit or being turned into a sofa. The drab nondescript Arthur pines for his gal and for a cup of tea with the same passion, as the adventure story makes its way around outer space with the help of CGI special effects and a spaceship load of busy physical comedy from Mos Def and Rockwell (aping human behavior). After it’s all over, the only radical message that could be deciphered is that only the dumb can be president and it pays to have loyal friends.
REVIEWED ON 5/1/2005 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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