Mark Reviews Movies

THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Garth Jennings

Cast: Martin Freeman, Mos Def , Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, John Malkovich, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, Alan Rickman

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements, action and mild language)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 4/29/05


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Review by Mark Dujsik

They mostly get it right, and that's enough for me. Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of novels has an intense cult following. The Hitchhiker universe has been incarnated in so many forms, from the original radio series, to the books, to a BBC television mini-series, to a fairly frustrating text-based computer game, and now a film, that even the creator of the universe seemed to have a hard time determining what version is the definitive one. It's with that understanding that director Garth Jennings' film adaptation succeeds, perhaps not in entirely keeping to the events of the story but most certainly in honoring the spirit of Adams ' vision. Purists of the text will scoff at the alterations (as purists of texts are prone to do), casual moviegoers will be baffled by the plot's carefree structure, but relaxed fans are likely to overlook these elements and discover a variation that at least has the guts to follow the first and final thoughts of a sperm whale as it makes its quick descent toward theóas it turns outónot-so-friendly ground.

On a day like any other, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) awakens in his home only to hear the sounds of a construction crew outside. His house has been scheduled for demolition today to make way for a bypass. Shortly after lying down in front of a bulldozer, Arthur's friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) arrives with some news of his own. As it turns out, Ford is not of this world, and he has found out that, by some strange coincidence, the planet Earth is also scheduled for demolition today to make way for an intergalactic bypass. Just before an array of Vogon crafts destroys the planet, Arthur and Ford manage to hitch a ride on one of the ships. The Vogons don't take too kindly to hitchhikers, and after the torture of enduring their leader's poetry, the two cosmic ramblers are sent out into the void of space only, by yet another strange coincidence, to be picked up by the President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) aboard the recently hijacked ship the Heart of Gold. Along for the ride are Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), who left Arthur at a party for Zaphod, and Marvin (voice of Alan Rickman), a chronically depressed android.

Also fitting into the tale are a religious leader whose followers believe the universe was sneezed into existence, a giant computer named Deep Thought built by a group of philosophers looking for the answer to "life, the universe, and everything," and the number 42. You see, Deep Thought determined that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question, but the problem is that no one thought to ask what the question was in the first place. It's that kind of roundabout humor in the face of significant issues that makes the backbone of Adams ' book. Take the destruction of the earth as a point of reference. In the scene here, there's an overly dramatic pull out accompanied by an equally overly dramatic music cue that goes on to the point that it's funny in and of itself. The punchline, though, is that the resulting implosion is so comparatively miniscule to our expectations after the build up. Adams envisions the universe and all its mysteries as something mundane and of little consequence. The entire story is driven by Zaphod's search for the question to the ultimate answer, but in a similar spirit, he really has no understanding of why he wants to find it in the first place.

Even the villains are slaves to routine. The Vogons are not evil because they can so nonchalantly destroy a planet, but because they have to file loads of paperwork to do even the most obvious act. In an amusing bit, the Vogon leader commands his troops to immediately pursue Zaphod and his crew but has to hold off when the lunch whistle blows. We learn all of this through segments that visualize the Hitchhiker's Guide. It is in these sections that Adams ' voice comes through most clearly, mainly because they are taken directly from the book. The screenplay was written by Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, and perhaps it tries too hard to maintain the spirit of the book at the expense of story content. Important plot points are thrown out quickly, and by a certain point, what these characters are doing becomes almost incoherent. Of course, one could argue that what they are doing is inconsequential in the first place, and that it is how Adams views everything around them that is important. The final act tries to sentimentalize and give meaning in the form of the relationship between Arthur and Trillian, and while it goes against the tone of everything that precedes it, I'm a sucker for people saying that the only question that matters is if she's "the one" and that the answer is yes.

I'm also a sucker for wonders, and there's a scene where Arthur tours the manufacturing floor of a company that makes planets which is stunning. That moment is a nice change of pace from the rest of film, which follows Adams ' lead and sees every wonder in the universe as something quite ordinary. In spite of its flaws, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy works because it does what good satire does best: It makes us humble in the sight of our own flaws.

Copyright © 2005 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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