HOW did we get into this movie?
photo: Saturn Entertainment
Starring:Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Warwick Davis
Directed by:Garth Jennings
Running time:109 min
Rating:5 out of 10
CERTAIN pop cultural phenomena inspire cults so great that they couldn't possibly live up to expectations. Novels, comics, plays, television shows, and old movies sometimes have such fanatical, devoted followings that any movie based on them is practically doomed to disappoint. Douglas Adams' widely loved book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (itself an adaptation of his BBC radio serial) is certainly no stranger to cult-like fanaticism; thus, it couldn't possibly have fully satisfied its devotees.
What's surprising is how much it actually exceeds expectations - just not as it intends. All of the elements are certainly in place for a thoroughly enjoyable movie: Adams himself on screenplay duty, a promising young director, and an excellent ensemble cast. Despite all of these, one could reasonably expect the movie to fail to capture the essence that makes Adams' tale so beloved. Presumably, it has: The Hitchhiker's Guide surely did not achieve its cult status by being boring and aimless.
Perhaps this is a bit harsh, as the film is not awful: It has moments in which the humour and absurd science fiction blend together successfully, but not frequently enough to make up for the flat and often tiresome remainder. Adams, director Garth Jennings, and the performers certainly try to make it all a good time. Too often, however, they seem as confused and clueless as the film's hero, Arthur Dent. Consequently, they stumble from one setup to the next, giving the impression they're unsure of how they got there or what they're supposed to be doing.
The performances aren't inherently bad; they just seem almost uniformly marred or hindered by something impossible to ignore. This isn't always in the actors' control, as evidenced by the terrible dialogue of the central love story between Arthur (Martin Freeman) and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), the only humans remaining after Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
As the galaxy's president, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Sam Rockwell begins as a manic burst of comic energy - think George Bush as a stoned pretty boy - but his shtick eventually wears off and becomes annoying. Similarly, Alan Rickman's turn as the voice of Marvin, a chronically depressed robot, is an initially funny joke with no variation.
Of the main cast, Mos Def fares best as Ford Prefect, a hitchhiking alien who saves Arthur from dying along with his home planet. As Ford, Def certainly isn't offensive, but he's not exactly extraordinary either. Rather, he's an amalgam of occasionally funny quirks. Ultimately, it's the cameo performances that most succeed: John Malkovich as a guru-like cult leader and Bill Nighy as a flamboyantly clad planet architect.
All these characters add up to a very strange world indeed, but one that seems interesting only at first glance. Arthur and his cohorts may embark on different adventures, but it's never particularly clear why they or we should care. The basic plot is that President Beeblebrox picks up the intergalactic hitchhikers Arthur and Ford shortly after unwittingly saving Trillian from dying in the Earth's destruction. Arthur loves Trillian and therefore goes along for the ride as Beeblebrox attempts to find a computer that has been calculated to ask the Big Question of Life.
They have mishaps and meet some zany characters along the way. And that's about it; the connection between scenes often feels arbitrary. To a degree this makes sense, as it is a story about wanderers, after all. But the individual scenes rarely prove engaging enough to keep the audience hungry for more. It's not so bad that it will turn off any of Adams' loyal following. But it probably won't win over any converts either.
6. Jun 2005 at 0:00 | Jonathan Knapp