The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
directed by Garth Jennings
starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Alan Rickman
Watching the end of the world was never so much fun. Attending the advance screening of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was akin to buzzing on Percodan while watching Soylent Green‘s government-sponsored suicide scene. Pure bliss, with a lot ironic head-shaking along the way.
The theatre was jam-packed with Hitchhiker fans who, judging by frequent bursts of laughter and cheers, wholeheartedly approved of director Garth Jennings’ vision of Douglas Adams’ books (which in turn were based on Adams’ 1970s BBC radio serials).
When the first Hitchhiker’s novel hit the shelves in 1979, intellectual ex-hippies, college students and other free thinkers latched onto it like the tome was a lost Testament. For quite a few folks, it was; Adams’ legendary cult status was elevated to immortality when he left this planet in 2001, at age 49.
Though I’ve had plenty of opportunities to read HGTTG since middle school (for starters, it was next to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on my dad’s bookshelf), I never have. I was tempted to breeze through it before the film screening, but really didn’t have the time. Besides, watching it with a newcomer’s eyes allowed me to judge Hitchhiker on its theatrical merits, and avoid comparisons to the books or the subsequent TV series.
I soon discovered HGTTG has merits to spare. From the hilarious, visually stunning, cheer-inducing opening sequence (involving performing dolphins thanking humans for the fish) onward, HGTTG is a semi-psychedelic, thoroughly enjoyable ride through the cosmos, marrying Adams’ satire-rich, absurdist philosophies with eye-candy cinematography.
HGTTG, an amalgamation of several of Adams’ novels, begins with researcher Ford Prefect (Mos Def) rescuing ordinary, heartbroken Englishman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman, The Office) from Earth moments before its destruction by an alien “road crew” creating a galactic expressway. The aliens’ warnings to vacate went unheeded by the oblivious humans, but dolphins, superior extra-terrestrials themselves, had already split town by the time the globe imploded.
Prefect is a cosmic hitchhiker, complete with a “Beam me up, Scotty” thumb ring; the pair’s first effort lands them in the hold of a spaceship commanded by a disgusting, overly bureaucratic species (one of Adams’ many attacks on British government). The stowaways escape by hitching a ride on another craft, commandeered by roguish, two-headed Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). It turns out that Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) the restless lass who had just broken Dent’s heart, has been hitching a ride of sorts, as well — she’s now Beeblebrox’ girlfriend and pilot. Together with the clinically depressed robot Marvin (eternally droll Alan Rickman’s voice steals the show), the quintet — with bureaucrats in dogged pursuit — bounce around the galaxy in search of the answer to life, or at least the question to the answer.
HGTTG doesn’t have much of a plot. However, I am told Adams’ novels didn’t have much of a storyline, either; rather, they were a series of adventures laced with some pretty profound — and pretty funny — concepts about life and the universe.
Given that premise, the film seems to mirror Adams’ ideas pretty well; while Mos Def, Rockwell and Rickman in particular give outstanding comedic performances (John Malkovich also appears briefly as Beeblebrox’ arch-enemy), the characters play second fiddle to the sequel-prodding film’s amazing, thought-provoking journey.
You don’t have to be an Adams aficionado, a BBC lover or even a sci-fi nut in order to appreciate this cinematic achievement; those who might be put off by the relative inaccessibility of Red Dwarf or Doctor Who will have no trouble absorbing HGTTG.
However, I do recommend that Hitchhiker’s novices wait a week or so to buy a ticket, to allow for all that distracting, reference-induced cheering and laughter by diehard fans to die down a bit. See it on opening weekend, and you’ll feel like a designated driver at an Irish wake for someone you didn’t know.
I’m off to buy the book.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Movie: hitchhikersmovie.com