The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

3 stars


16th May 2005

University has taught me well. One educational pearl that has been bestowed upon me by my journalism course thus far is this: before you start anything, plan what you're going to do first by writing down a few key words and phrases. Thank you very much higher education, I'd never have figured that out myself. Nonetheless, it's still relevant to this picture. Before I write a review, I'll jot down a couple of points to touch upon and work from there. But with Hitchhiker's Guide, all I had was a Word document staring at me, blank but for the word 'funny'. It's certainly an odd feeling - I laughed at it and enjoyed myself, but I'm not quite sure if I know why.

Seems like recently, unless you have a degree in religious history, a huge comic book collection or an astute knowledge of 1970's horror movies, you won't be able to understand everything a lot of new movies have to offer. I'm not familiar with the original Douglas Adams books, nor am I familiar with the radio serial or the TV series. Therefore, this review comes from the point of someone with no frame of reference and no weighty expectations. And you know what? Despite all the hype and frothing fanboy rage that surrounds it, I dug it for what it was and not what it wasn't.

Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) just wants a decent cup of tea, but there's the small matter of people demolishing his house to deal with first. That, and the fact that his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) is actually an alien and the Earth is about to be destroyed by bureaucratic creatures looking to build a bypass over its smouldering ashes. Transported aboard the marauding Vogon ship by Ford (cue a tongue-in-cheek reveal shot of the entire fleet), Arthur barely has time to adjust his dressing gown before he's whisked upon an adventure encompassing inter-dimensional space travel, planet-building corporations and the meaning of life. He never could get the hang of Thursdays.

Right from the start it was clear that sacrifices had been made to shoehorn the entire TV series into a two-hour movie. The destruction of planet Earth and its inhabitants is all but forgotten after the first twenty minutes, as characters hop from planet to planet in a desperate attempt to bring some sort of structure to the sprawling mess of a story. The addition of love interest Trillion (Zooey Deschanel) may or may not have been a good idea, but to be honest, I didn't find it too intrusive and it didn't detract from the overall silliness that unfolds around it. Lunacy is something HHGTTG doesn't shy away from - there are aliens who use poetry as a form of torture, species who invented underarm deodorant before the wheel, and the ship's Improbability Drive, which in order to cover vast amounts of space in a short time cycles through every available outcome possible before restoring to normal. Don't be surprised to see such ridiculous sights as talking sofas, woollen heroes and a friendly whale about to be introduced to his new friend, the ground. It's all deliriously silly, but a lot of it left me scratching my head. What's the big deal with towels? Why is Belgium considered a swear word? Frankly, half the time I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

Freeman is perfectly fine in the role of Dent, although his laid-back persona doesn't do much for his 'Tim from The Office' image problem. Considering that it's his first real starring role he copes admirably, but you get the feeling that the movie's been tightly edited to make Sam Rockwell's Zaphod Beeblebrox the real star of the show. The two-headed, three-armed President of the Universe is an absolute riot and anyone foolish enough to step on screen with him is promptly trampled on. Mos Def was always going to cause a few raised eyebrows amongst die hard Guide fans (seeing as he's a black rapper and the character was originally played by a white middle class actor) but he brings his own charm to the role and reveals a previously unseen talent for comic timing. Occasionally it seems that a great deal of material has been cut, along with screen time for some of the lesser parts (John Malkovich's new character Humma Kavula is almost entirely pointless) and my overall feeling was that there'll be a whole bundle of extra scenes on the DVD that were forced out of the cinematic release.

When it's not diving head first into a barrel of absolute absurdity, HHGTTG still has time to be one of the most visually spectacular films of recent memory. The unveiling of Slartibartfast's planet-constructing building site is just about as incredible as any shot you'll see in Revenge of the Sith, and unlike Lucas's space opera, Hitchhiker's Guide is quite aware of just how ludicrous it is. I don't imagine any hardcore fans will be disappointed with how the movie looks; they'll probably be too busy bitching about the colour of Arthur's dressing gown or something. Elsewhere, there's a distinctly lo-fi feel about HHGTTG (many of the aliens look like Outer Limits rejects), but when it needs to impress, it never fails to deliver the goods.

Quietly respectful to its predecessors without toadying to them, the movie version is also bold enough to add new elements and try new things, and that's something director Garth Jennings should be proud of. It's a refreshingly offbeat, occasionally meandering, undemanding British sci-fi comedy that should please fans of the source material as well as southern-fried country rubes like myself that wouldn't know a book if it bit them on the arse. And besides, who cares if you don't know what you're laughing at? At least you're laughing.

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