The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Review
It’s been over twenty years arriving. But The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie has finally landed. And it’s great – a quirky British sci-fi-comedy with Hollywood production values.
Douglas Adams’ space oddity has had various incarnations: a radio play, television adaptation, a series of novels and even a towel. The film rights were snapped up by Columbia Pictures as early as 1982. Yet the script languished in development limbo for decades, Ghostbusters helmer Ivan Reitman and Austin Powers’ Jay Roach sometime attachment to the project amounting to about 42 less than the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
That is until Adams’ final script draft, retrieved from the writer’s laptop after his death in 2001 was passed by Roach to Spike Jonze. Jonze also declined the director’s chair but suggested the services of music video duo Hammer and Tongs, aka British director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith. They approached distributor Disney with their interpretation of the project, got the green light and entrusted screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) to polish Adams’ prematurely abandoned work.
Visually, Hitchhiker’s is stunning. The BBC television series’ limited budget may be affectionately referenced with comically chunky spaceship controls and hilarious use of stock footage. But Adams’ massive imagination demands a sizeable special effects budget to do it justice and that’s what it’s received. Beginning with the destruction of Earth to make way for an intergalactic bypass, the unlikely adventures of permanently dressing gowned Arthur Dent (a suitably bleary-eyed Martin Freeman) are lavished with some memorable set pieces, culminating in an impressive series of visuals conducted by Bill Nighy as planet builder Slartibartfast. Throughout there’s a silliness and sense of sitcom that feels cosily domestic, yet it’s distinct from a film like Shaun of the Dead, in that it rarely feels like a sitcom overstretched. True, there are moments where the narrative drags: John Malkovich’s appearance as religious leader Humma Kavula, in a role Adams wrote specifically for the film, pointlessly slows the plot, weighing it down with a tedious Star Wars prequel-style backstory.
Dent’s newly added love interest fares slightly better. As Trillian, Zoeey Deschanel’s lovely kookiness and kidnapping hardly sets up an original story arc. She’s watchable enough and her inclusion is undoubtedly necessary for Hitchhiker’s’ commercial prospects. But her love triangle with Arthur and Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) feels shoehorned and never once convinces. Rockwell is a charismatic actor and Beeblebrox is an intergalactic arsehole but the American actor overplays the two-headed, three-armed president of the galaxy’s brashness, making Trillian’s interest in him inexplicable. Showing greater restraint and the funnier for it is Mos Def as the slightly tripped out Ford Prefect, surely one of the better turns from a rapper turned actor.
Stephen Fry’s mellifluous tones lend themselves deliciously to the narration of the eponymous guide but it’s Alan Rickman, as the voice of Marvin the depressed robot, who ironically brightens every scene he’s in.
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