The epic tale of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
begins, rather unassumingly, on Earth as dolphins, heralded by our humble narrator, The Guide (Stephen Fry
), as the second most intelligent creatures on the planet, decide to leave Earth before its impending destruction. Their attempts to warn humans of the danger are tragically misinterpreted as sophisticated tricks or amusing gimmicks for tidbits. Their last attempt to send a message is a suprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards sommersalt through a hoop while whistling the Star Spangled Banner, which is in fact their way of saying, "So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish."
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman
), an average man living in the English countryside, wakes one morning and dons a robe before running outside in response to the sounds of a construction crew surrounding his home. He lies down in front of a bulldozer to keep it from demolishing his house to make way for a bypass. The foreman (Mark Longhurst
) impatiently informs Arthur that the damage sustained to the bulldozer would be unnoticeable should it run over him. At that moment Arthur's best friend, Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey
), arrives with a shopping cart full of beer. He pulls Arthur from the ground and tells him that they need to leave and have little time to spare since his home is about to be destroyed. Arthur points knowingly to his house which confuses Ford for a second before he assures Arthur that they have some time to buy. He offers his loot of beer and peanuts to the construction crew and gives Arthur the confidence that the distraction will allow them enough time.
He takes Arthur to a local pub where he explains that he is not from Guildford as he'd once claimed. He is, in fact, from another planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and addresses Arthur's skepticism with a recounting of their first meeting (Arthur tackled Ford out of the way when he was trying to shake hands with an oncoming car (an actual Ford Prefect), having mistaken cars to be the dominant life form on the planet). As they share drinks, Arthur pulls out his phone and reminisces over a photo of himself and a young woman at a costume party. Drunk and distraught over the day's troubling start, he recalls when he, dressed as Sir Livingston, met Tricia McMillan (Zooey Deschanel
), dressed as Darwin. They hit it off from the start until Trisha suggested that they take a trip to Madagascar together. When he realized that she was serious, Arthur hesitated, stating that he couldn't just up and leave his job, which left Trisha feeling deflated. They were then interrupted by a blonde-haired man in fancy clothes who told Trisha that he was from another planet and asked if she'd like to see his spaceship. Trisha left with the man, leaving Arthur to wonder about the man's sanity and if he'd just missed a great opportunity.
Ford buys a round of drinks for everyone in the pub before stating that they only have minutes before the end of the world. Remembering his home, Arthur runs out the door. The bartender (Albie Woodington
) asks Ford if the world really is going to end and if they should cover their heads. Ford responds, "If you like", though he admits that it won't help in the slightest. Arthur returns home to find that the construction crew has already destroyed his house as a looming shadow covers the area. In his sorrow, he fails to see what the construction crew is already running from; an enormous, cubed spaceship from which a harsh voice emanates over loudspeaker. The alien introduces himself as Jeltz (Richard Griffiths
) of the planning council and explains that Earth has been scheduled for demolition and that its inhabitants shouldn't be the least surprised since the plans have been on display at the local galactic planning department for 50 years. He then makes the order to commence destruction as the whole world panics and the last of the pub's patrons (including Su Elliot
) places a bag over their heads.
Ford catches up to Arthur and takes a towel from what used to be his bathroom before grabbing hold of him. He explains to Arthur, now shockingly aware of the skyscraper-like ship above them, that a Vogon constructor fleet has descended on Earth to destroy it to make way for a hyperspace bypass and that he is going to hitchhike them off the planet. Ford extends his thumb from which a peculiar ring emits a yellow beam of light. From a far away view of Earth, we see that thousands of Vogon ships have surrounded the planet in precision formation and, all at once, vaporize it in a clean, fell swoop.
Our kindly narrator then returns with a proper introduction of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, probably the most successful, popular, and controversial book in existence. Containing countless bits of information on the universe, the book is a plethora of knowledge and assures any first-time reader with 'DONT PANIC printed in large, friendly letters on its cover'.
Ford and Arthur come to in a washroom on one of the Vogon ships. Arthur is given his towel by Ford who explains that a towel is one of the most important and useful items any hitchhiker can employ and that he must never lose it. He gives Arthur his copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy of which Ford is a writer and proceeds to use his towel to break a pipe through which he attempts to signal another ship with his hitchhiking ring. Meanwhile, Arthur educates himself on Vogons which are, as it turns out, not evil, but rather terribly structured and bureaucratic creatures. According to the Guide, "they wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Raveneous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. On no account should you ever allow a Vogon to read poetry to you."
In preparation for his future intergalactic travels, Ford fits Arthur with a small, yellow, slug-like creature which he shoves through his ear and into his brain. The creature, as the Guide explains, is a Babel Fish which consumes brainwave energy and excretes conscious frequencies, allowing the host to understand any language he hears. Before Arthur and Ford can figure a way to escape, the Vogons detect their presence and bring them further into the ship for interrogation. There, Jeltz reads to them a bit of poetry he's written, something that sends Ford into convulsions while Arthur is merely bewildered; apparently Vogon poetry is the third-worst in the galaxy. Arthur attempts to flatter Jeltz with what he thought of his poetry, but his words have no affect and Ford and Arthur are sentenced to expulsion from the ship.
They are thrown into the void of space where they hover for a split second before another ship emerges and picks them up, oddly morphing from one random object to another before settling on its original form. Inside, Ford and Arthur are horrified to discover they've been turned into sofas before they revert to their normal selves. At the command center the ship's computer (voice: Thomas Lennon
) alerts none other than Trisha that it has picked up two hitchhikers. She informs the news to the blonde man who had picked her up at the costume party, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell
) and tells him that, once the ship emerged out of hyperspace using the Improbability Drive, they picked up hitchhikers in the same vector that she came from. She then summons Marvin (Warwick Davis
, voice: Alan Rickman
), the ship's eternally depressed android whose condition is a result of a prototype personality program, and instructs him to bring the hitchhikers from the receiving bay to the command center. He does so begrudgingly and, as he ushers the guests through the halls, Trisha recognizes Arthur and runs off to put on some more conservative attire.
Zaphod is the first to greet them and recognizes Ford as his semi half-brother (they share three mothers) and reveals that he is the new president of the galaxy and commander of the ship, the prized Heart of Gold. However, it's revealed that the eccentric Zaphod kidnapped himself during his inauguration and stole the Heart of Gold immediately following its christening. A second head pops out from its nestled position under Zaphod's primary one, shouting insults and promptly slapping Arthur in the face with a third arm in Zaphod's chest. Keeping his extra limbs in check, Zaphod tells Ford that you can't be president with a whole brain. Trisha appears and happily greets Arthur, to Zaphod's jealousy, and offers to show him around the ship. Zaphod, now privy to the fate of Earth and not wanting Trisha upset, takes Arthur to the side for a moment and threatens him with disembowelment if he reveals to her what happened to their planet.
Trisha, now having changed her name to Trillian to sound more cosmic, introduces Arthur to the wonders of the ship while Zaphod and Ford share a drink together. When getting Aspirin for Arthur, who can't seem to accept the fact that he's in outer space and that it's a good thing, she knocks over her purse and two white mice emerge from it and scurry off.
Zaphod then calls everyone to the viewing deck where he plays a video recording. It documents that, millions of years ago, a super computer named Deep Thought (voice: Helen Mirren
) was constructed on the planet Magrathea by two pan-dimensional beings, Fook and Lunkwill (Dominique Jackson
and Jack Stanley
), to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. However, Deep Thought tells Fook and Lunkwill that to get the answer, they will need to come back in 7.5 million years.
Zaphod plays the reply video, showing Fook and Lunkwill coming up to Deep Thought on the red carpet in front of a large crowd, exactly 7.5 million years after the first video. Deep Thought reveals that the answer to the ultimate question is 42. Confused and irritated by the answer, Fook and Lunkwill are told that, to understand it, they must know what the ultimate question is, since they never properly asked it. To discover this, Deep Thought offers to construct a mind-bogglingly complex computer that will reveal the question. However, the rest of the footage is cut off. Ford asks Zaphod why this is all so important and Zaphod responds that it is his goal to discover the ultimate question, thinking that it will bring him fame and fortune, and has been using the ship's Improbability Drive to travel to random locations through time and space since he doesn't know the exact coordinates for the planet Magrathea.
Zaphod initiates the Drive again and the ship plummets into improbability, coming out at its destination as a ball of yarn. As normality returns, Trillian notes that they have arrived at planet Viltvodle VI, the home of Zaphod's presidential opponent Humma Kavula (John Malkovich
). Zaphod decides to pay a visit to his rival and the group leaves the ship to find Kavula presiding over a mass inside a church. The religious devotees pay respect to their beloved Arkleseizure, a deity from whom life sprang forth after a great sneeze. Kavula finishes his sermon with a 'bless you' as the congregation sneezes in unison. Kavula invites Zaphod and the others into his office where he boasts himself as a supremely intelligent being and admits that, apparently, good looks and charm are superior in elections over the ability to govern. After casually exposing the fact that he is a being comprised of a torso walking on metallic legs with no real eyes; rather with glasses with eyes superimposed on them, he deduces that Zaphod seeks the ultimate question and tells him that he has coordinates to Magrathea. He will give them to Zaphod on one condition; that Zaphod return with a special gun located on Magrathea at the base of Deep Thought. To ensure that Zaphod comes back, Kavula removes Zaphod's second head to keep.
As they leave, the group is suddenly surrounded by Vogons who have been commissioned by Galactic Vice President Questular Rontok (Anna Chancellor
) to rescue Zaphod from himself. Trillian threatens to kill Zaphod but her bluff is called and she is promptly taken into Vogon custody while the rest of the group escapes onto the Heart of Gold. Ford takes command since Zaphod, running on half a brain and unable to think coherently without the aid of a helmet that converts lemon juice into brainwaves, is useless. They follow the Vogon fleet to their home planet of Vogosphere where Trillian is forced into incarceration. Ford, Zaphod, Arthur, and Marvin dock the ship in the atmosphere before taking a pod ship to the planet surface. They crash land just a walk away from the Vogon ship's landing site and cross a wide expanse where they are tormented by shovel-like creatures that slap them in the face whenever they think of an idea. This proves conflicting since they need an idea to rescue Trillian so they decide on running for it. Arthur attempts to lead the fray, storming into one of the Vogon facilities using Marvin's arm as a gun, but the Vogon representative there merely forwards them to a nearby office where they can fill out a prisoner release form. This proves excruciating in itself with long lines and a mess of forms to choose from. However, with Zaphod's presidential approval, the proper form is submitted and Trillian is released.
While being held prisoner, Trillian learns that Earth was destroyed and that Zaphod himself had been the one to approve the plans, evidently having thought the paper to be a request for an autograph. She is sentenced to death and dangled over a cage containing a Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a very nasty creature with gnashing teeth), only to be released at the last moment. Exhausted, and with her clothes torn up, she yells at Zaphod for signing the form to destroy Earth and berates Arthur for not telling her earlier. They return to the ship and Trillian and Arthur reconcile. Though Kavula's coordinates have been installed, the group takes a rest until the Improbability Drive is activated by the two white mice seen earlier. The ship jumps through hyperspace and arrives at Magrathea. However, as the ship begins its descent, an automatic hologram message appears on the ship's screen (Simon Jones
) and issues an apology that the entire planet has been closed. Ignoring the message, Zaphod continues the landing procedures but the hologram appears again and announces that, since the ship will not adhere to its previous instructions, two thermo-nuclear missiles have been launched to intersect the ship. The ship quickly takes evasive maneuvers until Arthur, in desperation, hits the Improbability Drive. Instead of leaping through time and space elsewhere, they find that they've remained on Magrathea but, in an odd and highly improbably turn of events, the missiles have been transformed into a large, sperm whale and a bowl of petunias.
The poor whale, thrown unexplainably into existence, has very little time to ponder what's going on before he is forced to violently meet the Magrathean surface. The bowl of petunias, as it falls, merely says to itself, "Oh no, not again." Our Guide offers that, if we knew why the bowl of petunias thought that in the first place, we'd know a lot more about the universe than we do now.
Landing on the frozen planet surface, the group discovers three portals which offer no clue as to which one would definitively take them to Deep Thought. Tired of hearing the arguing between the men, Trillian takes a leap of faith and dives into the first activated one, followed closely by Zaphod and Ford. Uncertain and fearful of what would happen, Arthur hesitates until he makes the dive...and comes through the other side. The portal has closed on him, leaving him alone with Marvin to keep company. Marvin offers a depressing forecast of misery and Arthur can do nothing but wait.
Meanwhile, Zaphod, Ford, and Trillian find that they'd chosen the right portal and ascend the steps toward a very bored-looking Deep Thought, watching television. Zaphod asks if she's figured out the ultimate question yet, to which she says 'no'. She tells them she designed another computer to figure out the ultimate question, but that the computer was destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. She does give them the other item they seek, the gun that Kavula requested. It's the Point of View Gun, created by Deep Thought but commissioned by a group of intergalactic angry housewives, the gun is designed to make whomever the target is see the point of view of the person using the gun (the Guide states that those users were tired of ending arguments with their husbands with "You just don't get it, do you?"). When Trillian's agitation is questioned by Zaphod, she fires the gun at him and he realizes that she's on edge because her planet was destroyed and she is traveling with the man who signed the order and that she may have lost the opportunity to be with the one man who understands her: Arthur. They are then interrupted by the opening of a door at the back of the room from which Zaphod notices two white mice emerge.
Arthur remains waiting at the three empty portals when a figure clothed in a large fur coat emerges and attempts to threaten Arthur into coming with him. When that proves unsuccessful, the figure introduces himself as a Magrathean named Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy
) and tells Arthur that he has something to show him before activating one of the portals. It takes the two of them to a loading bay where Slartibartfast explains that he's an engineer and that he and his company create planets. He takes Arthur on a tour of the massive work floor where various planets are under construction, including Earth Mark 2.
Taking him in for a closer look, Arthur is amazed to see various parts of Earth being rebuilt and is stunned when he's delivered to a very familiar site, his home. He walks inside and finds Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod waiting for him, dining in one of the rooms with two speaking white mice. The mice kindly offer Arthur some tea before they explain to him their pursuit of the ultimate question and how they were nearly 5 billion years in the midst of their experimentation to find out what that was before it literally blew up in their faces. As such, they commissioned the reconstruction of Earth 2 to continue their trials but need Arthur's brain to complete it. As he's tied down in his chair and a circular saw is placed around his head, Arthur cries out to the others but finds they've been drugged by the food. In desperation, he attempts to provide a question to the answer 42 before stumbling on one that the mice appreciate. He advises them to take it but the only question and answer he's ever found any happiness from is if Trillian is the girl for him; he answers to himself 'yes', realizing that he loves her.
Confused by Arthur's love-babble, the mice decide to take his brain regardless, but Arthur manages to break free and takes a teapot, smashing the mice flat and revealing that they were actually the pan-dimensional beings who created Deep Thought in alternate form. Arthur gets the others to their feet and they leave the house to find that the Vogons have surrounded it, led by Rontok. The Vogons open fire and the group takes refuge behind a trailer while Marvin, having arrived and ambling slowly towards them, criticizes the Vogons for being the worst shots in the galaxy...that is until one shot hits the back of his head. He collapses as Rontok attempts to cease the Vogon's assault; she merely wants Zaphod safely back in office, not shot to death. Marvin then, miraculously, gets up and aims the Point-of-View gun (dropped earlier by Zaphod) at the Vogons. Rontok ducks as Marvin fires a concentrated blast at the Vogons and they all collapse to the ground, utterly depresed. They are all then seen being packed into a van and driven away.
Once everything has calmed, Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian come out of their drugged stupors and Slartibartfast arrives, asking Arthur if there's anything he'd like changed about the new Earth before it's released. Arthur says no and then asks Trillian if she'd like to go somewhere. Ford offers a good restaurant at the end of the universe and the group disembarks on the Heart of Gold once more, activating the Improbability Drive as they continue to tour the galaxy.