Perhaps the strangest thing about the film version of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that the film opened at number one, beating XxX: State of the Union. That in itself is remarkable, considering howdirector Garth Jennings (working from Douglas Adams’ screenplay) seemed to do everything possible to make his film unpalatable to any audience.
Like Lord of the Rings, those who will most enjoy Hitchhiker’s are those who love the book. And isn’t that nearly everyone? Well, no. There are those of us out there who never read the book – who were stupidly turned off by all of its rabid fans foisting the book at us, telling us to read it, read it, it’s so great. This, before they inevitably disappeared for a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
So, if you’ve never read the book, you’re bound to be baffled by most of the film and not understand where it’s going or what it’s trying to say. In that case, you’ll be left with the special effects, which aren’t that great, the art direction and costumes, which seem to be ripping off the Star Wars films, and the acting – the best thing about it.
It has taken many years to finally bring the book to the big screen. After all is said and done it hardly seemed worth the effort as it proves, once again, as is so often the case, our own imaginations do it much better than even the most faithful fan of the book ever could.
The film opens, more or less, on Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman of The Office fame) who is still in his bathrobe and pajamas when he learns he the entire planet is about to be blown up by space aliens. He is saved by Ford Prefect (Mos Def) whose life he had saved earlier. Planet Earth is in the way of some new express route and thus is blown to bits in mere seconds.
Arthur then finds himself a hitchhiker in the galaxy. And for this one must follow a guide, the guide, that explains it all. What to do if you meet up with a Vogon, for instance (not much you can do except try to escape before they tie you up and force you to listen to their bad poetry).
Every film needs a love interest and here it’s another Earthling brought along for the ride, Trillian (stock “weird girl” Zooey Deschanel) who was saved by the Zaphod Beeblbrox aka The President of the Universe (the hilarious Sam Rockwell). Eventually, the foursome, Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian hook up with a maniacally depressed robot Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman), and travel the universe in search of the answers to the big questions, life, the universe and everything.
The story functions much like The Wizard of Oz, with one girl, a gaggle of misfits – one without a brain (Zaphod), one without a heart, or like the tin man (Marvin), one a bit adventurous like Dorothy (Trillian) and one lacking in courage, Arthur. By the end, they will, of course, realize that there’s no place like home and the wizard isn’t really a wizard at all but an oracle hooked on television.
Hitchhiker’s is a film that probably won’t be got by the vast majority of Americans who are used to visual payoffs like people dying and thing blowing up and may not be used to subtle, obscure British humor. Moreover, the film is a Brit’s-eye view of the universe in that there seem to be no other representations of the planet except those provided by the British.
Many Americans might walk out scratching their heads, unable to enjoy the film without being steeped in all things British, not to mention the novel itself.
But anyone who finds himself stuck seeing the film because it’s one of the few the whole family can enjoy (or not), might find Sam Rockwell’s impersonation of the President hilarious. An underrated actor and one who deserves, by this time in his career, to be better-known, Rockwell handily steals Hitchhiker’s from all of its other stars. He never falters in his portrayal, which seems to be commenting on our own current Texan President, the loveable idiot, George W. Bush.Despite the fact that the film probably has a lot more bad than good, it’s surprisingly entertaining in parts. And just watching an imaginary scenario where the Earth is destroyed forever makes our little blue planet seem suddenly the best place to be in the universe, hands down.