The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

reviewed by
Matt Noller

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy A review by Matt Noller ( Rating: *** (out of ****)

If you're a fan of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels, ignore the ignorant, unread critics; ignore the diehard literalists who don't seem to realize that it would be impossible to give a character two constantly visible heads and have it work; ignore your own reasonable doubts. The Hitchhiker's Guide adaptation should serve you just fine. On the other hand, however, if you (1) are not a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels or (2) have never read them, move along - there's nothing to see here.

Oh, but you're staying, I see. You want a plot summary? I'm telling you, you're not going to like it, because there really isn't much of one. Here it is in a nutshell: Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) wakes up one morning to find that his home is being steamrolled, his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), is an alien and the earth is going to be destroyed to make way for an intergalactic superhighway. Dent and Prefect hitch a ride on a spaceship and meet up with two-headed President of the Universe Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), the last surviving Earth female. They go on a wacky adventure. The end.

Well, no, not really. There's also Marvin, a manic-depressive robot (brilliantly voiced by Alan Rickman); Humma Kavula (John Malkovich), Zaphod's political rival and a character Adams invented just for the movie; Slartibartfast (the great Bill Nighy), who builds planets; and the titular Guide, a book with encyclopedic knowledge of nearly everything in the universe (voiced by Stephen Fry).

Of course, the novels themselves were always more about tone than plot, anyway, and that hasn't really changed in the transition to the big screen. Because this is not, in the most literal sense, a good movie. It meanders, it has holes, it feels terribly rushed. But what it is is the spirit of author Douglas Adams transferred to the movie screen; the novels have been pared significantly, stuff has been changed or added, but in the end none of it matters, because you can feel Adams' hand guiding the project, summed up by the touching "For Douglas" dedication that ends the film (Adams died in 2001 of a heart attack at the far-too-young age of 49).

Adams' influence is even present in the performances, which are strong across the board. Martin Freeman, so perfect in Britain's The Office, is a great choice for the befuddled, bathrobed Arthur. The attempt to create a romance between Arthur and Trillian is misguided, but Freeman and the lovely, sardonic Zooey Deschanel - who I, incidentally, have quite the crush on - still manage to invest it with occasional weight. The casting of Mos Def was a strange choice, but ultimately an inspired one, his off-beat performance perfectly fitting the character of Ford. And then there's Sam Rockwell. His performance is over the top, ostentatious to the point of being irritating, and absolutely awe-inspiring; I can't imagine anyone being a better fit for Zaphod.

The reactions to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy have been, and I suspect will continue to be, divided. There are those who have never read the books and don't get the movie. There are fans who can't get over the changes, that it isn't a literal adaptation. But Adams fought for over 20 years to get this movie made, and, knowing what I do about him, he would likely just be glad that it was finally released.

I sure know I am.

(c) 2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal this

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