Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent
Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox
Mos Def as Ford Prefect
Zooey Deschanel as Trillian
Warwick Davis as Marvin
Alan Rickman as Marvin (voice)
Stephen Fry as Narrator (voice)
John Malkovich as Humma Kavula
Helen Mirren as Deep Thought (voice)
Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast
Bill Bailey as The Whale (voice)
Anna Chancellor as Questular Rontok
Strong performances by Sam Rockwell and Mos Def make The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a movie worth checking out though hardcore fans of the book may have issues with it.
This film is based on the novel by Douglas Adams.
One morning Arthur Dent wakes up to find his world turned upside down. He learns his house is about to be demolished, his best friend Ford Prefect is really an alien hitchhiker that has been stranded on Earth, and that the planet is about to be demolished in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass. All in all, it’s not a good way to start a morning.
Arthur and Ford are able to hitch a ride on one of the Vogon demolition ships before the Earth is destroyed, but they are certainly not welcome guests. The bureaucratic, poetic, ugly alien Vogons quickly eject our heroes from the ship. Yet through a series of highly improbable events, they are picked up by a passing spacecraft.
The ship, which is stolen, turns out to be piloted by Zaphod Beeblebrox, the dim-witted President of the Galaxy. Accompanying him is Trillian, another human refugee that, through more improbable coincidences, had once met Arthur at a party in the UK before she was whisked away by Zaphod. Also on board is Marvin the Android, a chronically depressed robot. It turns out that Zaphod has stolen the ship in order to find a lost planet that is home to a computer that has been puzzling out the answer to life, the universe, and everything. With the Vogons hot on their trail and an unpredictable spaceship at their command, our heroes face the perils of the galaxy.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is rated PG for thematic elements, action and mild language.
I had been intending to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for years, but I didn’t really get around to it till earlier this year. In anticipation of the movie, I read it and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and was quite excited about seeing the film. Unfortunately, I think I got my hopes up a bit too high. I wasn’t blown away by it as I had hoped, but I don’t think it was a total bomb, either.
Reading the book in advance both helped me and hindered me while watching the movie. It hurt me because I had in my head what the perfect Hitchhiker’s movie would be like. Of course what was on the screen wasn’t the same as what I imagined, so it could never compare. However, I think it helped me significantly because I got all the in-jokes and understood where the movie was going. I’d be willing to bet that the off the wall humor may throw many American audiences off if they’re not expecting it. Also, having read the book, I was able to spot where the movie departed from it. There’s a side trip to the Vogon’s bureaucratic home planet, a brief adventure with Zaphod’s political rival and cult leader Humma Kavula, and a romance between Arthur and Trillian that was not really prevalent in the book. These additions were hit and miss, but they helped fill in the gaps in the novel. Despite the additions, the movie hits on all the key scenes that a Hitchhiker’s fan would want to see on the big screen. You see the whale fall out of the sky, the dolphins trying to warn the humans the world is about to end, Vogon poetry, Deep Thought, a Babelfish, and more.
The real star of the show was Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox. He stole every single scene he was in and his energy really helped pick up the film. I don’t think I’ve seen a standout character like this since Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribbean. Rockwell does the character with some sort of hybrid impersonation of Elvis, a hippie, and George W. Bush. The end result is hilarious. And believe it or not, rapper Mos Def is quite good as Ford Prefect. He’s kind of pushed aside when Zaphod comes on the scene, but up until then he has some of the best moments in the film. His casual revelation of the end of the world is amusing and memorable. Stephen Fry is also great as the narrator or the voice of the guide. In fact, the scenes where the guide describes the universe were some of the funniest moments in the film. There probably should have been more of them.
The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as spectacular as Def and Rockwell, but they get the job done with their performances. Martin Freeman is a pretty good everyman as Arthur Dent. Zooey Deschanel is cute and spirited as Trillian. Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman make a good team to bring the chronically depressed Marvin to life.
The special effects are generally mediocre. The ships, planets, and everything else weren’t particularly noteworthy. However, the Vogon puppets were superb. Even in extreme close-ups, you could see incredible detail in their hideous faces. The Jim Henson Creature Workshop did a stunning job with them. They were better than any CG they could have used in the movie.
What Didn’t Work:
I think my expectations were way too high for this movie. I was hoping for a hilarious adventure filled with spectacular effects. Instead I got an OK movie that generated a few chuckles and seemed to use a lot of stock footage. I may enjoy it more upon later viewings, but I wasn’t initially blown away.
I think Hitchhiker’s lost a couple of key things that made the book appealing. First of all, it lost a lot of the British influence. Pretty much every character except for Arthur and Marvin are now American. The sly British sense of humor seemed to be lost as well. The other amusing thing about the book was the hilarious commentary by the narrator of the guide. The movie needed more of it. I suppose they got in as much as they could, but it wasn’t quite enough.
As much as I liked Zaphod, I hated the way they did his two heads. It would have been better to drop the second head concept altogether rather than do what they did. And when Rockwell did the dialogue for the second head, it was the weakest part of his performance.
I also thought the idea of more of a love triangle between Trillian, Arthur, and Zaphod was a great idea, but it simply didn’t work in the movie. It seemed a little forced, even if they were the last two humans in the universe.
And that brings me to the last point and a potential spoiler. Quit reading now if you don’t want to see it. I really hated the fact that they restored the Earth and all its inhabitants. It seemed to take away from the impact of the Earth being destroyed not to mention that everyone on the planet is simply a copy of the original.
The Bottom Line:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a fun and entertaining film well worth checking out, but I’m not sure it will live up to the expectations of the fans of the books and it may be too weird for non-fans.