Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Not being very familiar with the universe that author Douglas Adams created with his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of novels I had very few expectations for this film (although I tried to watch the BBC miniseries about 10 years ago and couldn't get through the first 20 minutes). I was pleasantly surprised by this big budget Hollywood version. It's funny, witty and entertaining for the most part.

The story follows everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) who learns that his best friend Ford (a very funny Mos Def) is an alien who has been researching Earth for a book titled “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”, and that the Earth is about to be destroyed by bureaucratic aliens who want to build a hyperspace bypass in it's place. He escapes just in time with Ford and is picked up by the President of the Universe, Zephod Beeblebrox (a hysterical Sam Rockwell, who can mug for the camera like no other) and another human survivor, the beautiful and brilliant Trillian (the lovely Zooey Deschanel). Together they try to find the meaning of the universe and partake in many goofy adventures.
The film is creative, not due to the filmmakers, but due to Douglas Adams' unique vision of life in outer space. It's not all about space battles, bad guys and guns. It's about the people, various cultures and ideas. Most of which are pretty humorous.

All the actors turn in very good performances. Zooey Deschanel looks a little lost once in a while, but who wouldn't in the situation the characters find themselves. Martin Freeman has charisma and is good as the straight man. Mos Def defies his usual rapper image to play the character of Ford Prefect as a loopy author who's seen it all. Sam Rockwell steals the film whenever he's on screen with his out-there performance as Zephod. But I have to say that the voice work that Alan Rickman performed for Marvin the Depressed Android was lackluster at best. It sounds like he was sitting in a room saying his dialogue and the sound editors just slapped it in there with little thought.
The FX range from excellent (the tour of the planet building facility) to so-so (the destruction of Earth scene). The direction can be pretty pedestrian at times and the script slows down in the middle and becomes a little tedious to sit through. But it is usually redeemed by a clever joke, reference or silly philosophical jab.

In the end I'd have to say that I enjoyed it, but it could have been more. It was a fun ride, but there were a lot of unanswered questions (what was the QUESTION?), it just kind of ends in order to make way for the sequels and it feels like the Arthur character didn't really come to accept his role in the galaxy, like he pretty much said, “Ehh, whatever” in the end.
I was told after leaving the theater that the movie was a lot different than the novels, but it's understandable when the book has been described as “convoluted” and “scattershot”. I thought that it made sense to a degree and worked well enough to be entertaining.

If you're a fan of British humor (Red Dwarf, Black Adder and such) and are looking for a different type of comedy then check it out. You'll most likely get a kick out of it like I did. If you want a typical cookie-cutter comedy then look elsewhere and go see The Honeymooners or something lame like that instead.

3.5 out of 5

*written 4/29/05

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