Douglas Adams beloved science fiction classic, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, finally makes it to the big screen after a decade in development. The film is an absolute must see for fans of the series. It’s a relatively faithful adaptation filled with the dry wit and sardonic humor that made the book so enjoyable. That being said, the average movie-goer should not expect a run-of-the-mill, “Star Wars” like special effects extravaganza. There’s a lot of crisp dialogue with subtle, but cheeky site gags. Adams sadly died from a heart attack while working on the script, but would have been very happy with the way the film turned out. The filmmakers were absolutely true to his ideals. Hitchhiker’s is a breath of fresh air. It’s an inventive escape from the recent batch of uncreative, dispassionate science fiction films.
The story begins with ubiquitous everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) lying in front of a bulldozer. His house is supposed to be demolished because of freeway construction. Running into the fray is his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def). He bribes the construction workers with a cart of free bar and whisks Arthur off to the local pub. He tells Arthur that he’s really an alien and came to Earth as part of his job. He’s a writer for ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, a travel guide that tells you everything you need to know to get around the galaxy. He then says that Vogon warships are stationed above the planet and will destroy Earth in five minutes to make way for an intergalactic freeway. Arthur’s laughter is short-lived when he finds himself on a Vogon ship, in his bathrobe, and Earth has been obliterated. What happens next is a whirlwind adventure aboard a very strange vessel with equally bizarre traveling companions. Arthur inexplicably runs into his lost love Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), the utterly wild, two-headed President of the Galaxy who stole Trillian from him in a bar on Earth, and a manically depressed robot named Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman).
There’s a lot of creative ingenuity displayed in the production design of this film. One thing I found particularly funny and well done was the Guide itself. It narrates the movie and pops up whenever the characters experience or go somewhere new. It’s represented in a very simple graphical way, but is absolutely hilarious. It would have been overblown if we were constantly bombarded with spectacular CGI images. The simplicity of it works and that’s a rarity in science fiction films today.
The characters are the benchmark of Hitchhiker’s and casting is key to the success of the film. There was an uproar in the fan world when Mos Def, a black actor and former rapper, was cast as Ford Prefect. He’s not spectacular, but does a better than average job realizing the character. The home run was casting British comedian Martin Freeman as the lead character Arthur Dent. Freeman perfectly captures the “everyman”, “average Joe” aspect of Arthur. Here’s a guy that’s running around the galaxy in his bathrobe and slippers. There are times when the camera just focuses on the dumbfounded, completely stupefied look on his face. You really empathize with the guy. It’s the most important part of the story and Martin Freeman really delivers. Another great character is Marvin the robot. Diminutive actor Warwick Davis (Willow, Leprechaun) plays Marvin, but legendary British actor Alan Rickman voices him. Marvin is beautifully realized, from his ho-hum lethargic movements to his self-deprecating dialogue. He’s pretty funny and fans will get a big kick out of him. Sam Rockwell and Zooey Deschanel do alright work as Zaphod and Trillian. Like Mos Def, they’re not great, but work well together as a cast and fit perfectly into the movie.
I am a big fan of the Douglas Adams book and believe other fans will really enjoy this film. The big question is whether audiences at large will like it too. Hitchhiker’s stands on its merits as being a good film. The thing to remember is that it’s not Star Wars. In fact, it’s the anti-Star Wars. It’s not about the action or special effects. See this film for its great humor, unique plot, and wonderful characters. You will not be disappointed if you do.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is out April 28, 2005.