The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

2006-03-30 13:11

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Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is having a very bad day. Not only is it Thursday, his least favourite day of the week, but he has woken up to discover his house is about to be demolished to make way for a new bypass. As he lies in his driveway blocking the bulldozers in protest, his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) arrives with incredible news - unbeknownst to Arthur, Ford is really an intergalactic hitchhiker visiting earth. To make matters worse the entire planet is about to be vaporised to make way for a hyperspace freeway. Now Arthur's only chance of survival is to hitch a ride with Ford on a passing spaceship. Blasting off into the complete unknown dressed in nothing but his pyjamas, Arthur is about to make some startling discoveries about the true nature of the universe.


After nearly 20 years of anticipation the big screen version of Douglas Adams' much-loved sci-fi comedy is finally here - and it was worth the wait, sort of. The movie is an odd combination of brilliance and mediocrity. Passages of perfection that capture the essence of Adams' unique sense of humour are interspersed with poorly conceived and confusing plot machinery, some of which seems totally pointless.

One area where the filmmakers do excel is in the visuals. The special effects and costumes are nothing short of brilliant - bringing to life a lot of Adams' most outlandish ideas in convincing detail. The deadly and bureaucratic Vogons are particularly delightful - their liver-spotted skin and flabby alien bodies are convincing enough to please even most fervent of fans. Marvin the paranoid android is also brilliantly conceived, as is the extraordinary set piece of Slartibartfast's planet building workshop.

Happily the narrated passages (or "entries" as they are known) from the eponymous electronic guidebook itself are some of the best bits of the movie (as they were in the radio play and the books that followed). The presentation of the entries is competently handled, capturing much of the kookiness of the original material, but it's Stephen Fry's narration that pushes them into the realms of classic. It's hard to think of a better voice for the job. Fry's performance arguably surpasses even the great Peter Jones who narrated the original radio series.

The acting is also a decidedly mixed affair. Martin Freeman, from TV's The Office does a great job as Arthur Dent. To go from minor TV and film roles to a big budget project with such aplomb is impressive. We can only hope he gets more roles like this one in future.

Alan Rickman is equally good as the voice of Marvin the paranoid android. Even though some of his best lines were trimmed or cut completely he still makes the most of the role. The rest of the cast range from acceptable to terrible. Mos Def manages Ford Prefect fairly well, but Sam Rockwell is appalling as Zaphod Beeblebrox - spending most of the time overacting and the rest looking slightly out of his depth. Zooey Deschanel is endearing as Trillian, but hardly brilliant. On the other hand Bill Nighy handles the small part of Slartibartfast (the talented planet designer who earned an award for the fjords of Norway) with his usual grace and style.

The film's biggest flaw is its substantially altered plot. While some of the alterations are very enjoyable (a visit to the Vogon planet is a real highlight) - others are poorly handled and downright irritating. Some may find the emphasis on the love story between Arthur and Trillian particularly vexing, as gentle as it may be. But the sojourn to Viltvodle VI to meet Zaphod's nemesis Humma Kavula (played by John Malkovich) could easily have been cut without harming the film one bit.

That said, arguing against plot changes from a purist point of view is ridiculous. Adams' himself changed the story for every new medium it entered and, although he died before the script was completed, conceived all the major changes found in this movie version. It's not that the additions and changes are inherently bad - it's that they interrupt the flow of the movie and take up time that could have been better used on exploring the quirks that earned Adams so many loyal fans.

Perhaps the film's greatest stumbling block is the nature of the source itself. Where a book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is ideal for film - concentrating as it does on colourful characters and constant action - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a far more obscure, meandering and cerebral affair. The original radio series and books are, in one sense, a series of footnotes - glorious, utterly hilarious footnotes - strung together into a plot.

Of course it's that sort of defeatist attitude that kept the film on hold for so long. There's no use in complaining, "They left out my favourite bits". The work was never destined to make a perfectly cohesive film. What we can be thankful for is that so much of the spirit of the work has made it onto the big screen. The film's flaws are far outweighed by the thrill of seeing Adams' quirky universe come to life in such grand style. Go and see it. Even if you're not a fan, I defy you not to fall in love with its loopy, tangential charm.

- Alistair Fairweather

Don't panic - the long awaited movie version is a treat for fans and newcomers alike.

francis law 2005/07/31 2:03 PM
Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy i really do think they skippen out the funny parts that were mentioned in the book but it still scores a perfect 10/10 with me Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy
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