It’s hard to think of material that has been revised and re-interpreted as much as The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It’s even harder to think of something that has gone through so many mediums and retained an essence of quality that has kept loyal fans so, well, loyal. Radio shows, books, TV shows, comics, towels, computer games and now this full film feature. Director Garth Jennings must have known that he would never be able to please everyone but he makes a good attempt and is helped immensely by the screenplay co-written by the originator of the whole concept, Douglas Adams.
If you don’t know the basic story of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy then you’re either far too young to have been aware of any previous incarnation or possibly have no sense of humour. It’s the story of the titular book, an Earth man named Arthur Dent (played here by Martin Freeman), his friend named Ford Prefect who Arthur doesn’t realise is an alien (Mos Def gets that role) and the fact that Arthur’s home is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass. And by his home I mean both his house and, unfortunately, the planet that he lives on. But “DON’T PANIC” is the advice that Arthur must remember as Ford tries his best to help the both of them get to safety, with nothing special needed but the trusty guide to the galaxy and a towel. The fact that Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) has stolen the Heart Of Gold, a spaceship equipped with an infinite improbability drive, and is cruising around space with the lovely Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) and a paranoid android named Marvin (played by Warwick Davis in a big suit and voiced by Alan Rickman) should guarantee that unexpected things can happen. Unexpected things that may or may not include Vogon poetry, transfiguration from human to pretty sofa form, the quest for the question that leads to the answer “42” and the revelation that dolphins are very, very smart creatures indeed.
There’s a hell of a lot that is just right in this adaptation of, arguably (inarguably?), the most popular sci-fi comedy creation of the 21st century (and I say that as a huge fan of Red Dwarf). First and foremost, there’s a great cast. Martin Freeman is a great everyman actor and does well in the role of leading man who would just love a nice cup of tea. Mos Def may not seem like a great casting choice but he’s actually very good as Ford and puts a nice spin on the role. And Stephen Fry as the voice of the guide itself is perhaps the best piece of casting in the whole movie. Tough decision though, especially when you consider that Sam Rockwell gets to play a character with an ego the size of the universe who is gallavanting through space with the lovely Zooey Deschanel, Bill Bailey voices a confused whale, Helen Mirren is a supercomputer and John Malkovich gets to appear in the guise of a whole new character written in specifically by Douglas Adams. The always wonderful Bill Nighy is also, well, wonderful as the great Slartibartfast.
Sly nods and references to the previous incarnations, and also the creator of the whole thing, abound and it has to be said that The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is probably a perfect “how to…” guide for those wishing to update greatly beloved material while keeping enough in there to satisfy those who have been fans from the very beginning. But it also has to be said that, in the opinion of this viewer at least, this is material that was always best displayed in book form, complete with over-elaborate prose and lengthy footnotes. That’s what holds the film back from being a great take on the material, the medium itself.
If you’re a fan you should love it and if you’re a newcomer then there’s plenty here to enjoy. Any film that starts off with a big dolphin-centric musical number and ends on a note reminding people of the majesty and beauty of the universe is something worth seeing.
DIRECTOR: GARTH JENNINGS
WRITER: DOUGLAS ADAMS, KAREY KIRKPATRICK
STARS: MARTIN FREEMAN, MOS DEF, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, SAM ROCKWELL, JOHN MALKOVICH, WARWICK DAVIS, BILL NIGHY, THE VOICES OF STEPHEN FRY AND ALAN RICKMAN
RUNTIME: 109 MINS APPROX