The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is going to seem very strange to anyone who is completely unfamiliar with the books and since the original book that this story is based on is starting to get some age, I suspect that there will be an awful lot of confused viewers out there.
Fortunately the film is pleasing enough for those who haven’t read the books assuming you enjoy cheeky British dry humor, space travel adventures, and a general good time poking fun at people less intelligent than you.
My favorite parts dealt with the Vogons, the giant, fat, beetlike creatures who are the “middle managers of the universe”. In one scene our intrepid heroes are attempting to rescue a girl from being dropped into a pit with a meat eating creature by waiting in line and filling out forms in triplicate in a room making fun of dmv’s and other wasteful government offices. Unfortunately they get the wrong form the first time, and then have trouble figuring how to fill out the new one afterwards as the girl is slowly being lowered into the pit, hilarity ensues.
There’s just so much to take in at one time from this movie with all the weird characters and locations and dry voice over readings from the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy book voiced over by a narrator with a rather droll sense of humor that sounds like he’s reading a joke that he’s hoping you will get. There’s one entire sequence devoted to the spontaneous creation of a sperm whale in mid air created by the improbability drive on the ship that Zaphod Beeblebrox has stolen. We get to hear all the thoughts that this newly created creature has, which are all about discovering his new body and that whooshing sound made by his body falling through the air. It all ends quite suddenly with a splat as he lands on the surface of the planet that he was created over, but I doubt the cgi whale will cause any great consternation in animal rights activists due to the overwhelmingly sarcastic nature of the film and the humor that this scene evinces.
But don’t worry about the CGI, most of the alien type characters in this movie are good old fashioned people in rubber suits with the notable exception of Marvin the Paranoid Robot who is voiced by the always bored sounding Alan Rickman but the person in the suit is Warwick Davis of Leprechaun infamy. Marvin provides a great deal of the laughs in this movie as sort of a more suicidal version of C-3P0 always providing a downer line to hilarious comic effect when the cast looks like they’re in a tight spot.
There was some criticism of this film because it is essentially a mishmash of several of the books and also because John Malkovich’s character does not appear in the books. However, in a series that has appeared in numerous incarnations from radio series to video games; I don’t feel that purists stand on much of a high ground here. Additionally the late Douglas Adams approved the movie script and the Malkovich character whose appearance is another comic masterpiece in a movie littered with “smart comedy” and witty in-jokes.
Surprisingly, for a movie that looks as if it has an actual budget the main actors are relative unknowns to movie audiences. Martin Freeman from the British version of the Office does an excellent job as the Earthling, Arthur Dent, whose role it is to look bewildered for much of the movie and be the awkward hero. Mos Def, a socially inclined rapper of some renown, is also equally adept here as his best friend, Ford Prefect, an alien living on Earth who reveals to Arthur that his world is about to be destroyed to make way for an interstellar highway. Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod Beeblebrox is pretty much a full blown imitation of a what a crazy rock star starring in a reality show would do if given control of the universe and had access to a spaceship.
In the end, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is light-hearted fun and feels so much like an 80’s comedy that I kept waiting for Rick Moranis or Martin Short to show up.