Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" is Inventive, Odd, and Relaxed (Remembering Douglas Adams)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 146 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Running time: 109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
MPAA – PG for thematic elements, action, and mild language
DIRECTOR: Garth Jennings
WRITERS: Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick (based upon the novel by Douglas Adams)
PRODUCERS: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Nick Goldsmith, Jay Roach, and Jonathan Glickman
EDITOR: Niven Howie
COMPOSER: Joby Talbot


Starring: Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Warwick Davis, Anna Chancellor and John Malkovich, with the voices of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, Richard Griffiths, and Thomas Lennon

The subject of this movie review is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a 2005 British-American comic science fiction and adventure film. It is based on the 1979 novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was written by the late author, Douglas Adams. The film follows the adventures of a man from Earth and his alien companion who is writing a new edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Arthur Dent (Sam Rockwell) is an ordinary guy having what looks like another bad day, when he discovers that his house is scheduled for demolition to make way for an expressway. Then, his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), shows up and tells him that Earth is also scheduled for demolition by aliens to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Ford later whisks Arthur into space where they eventually end up on the super space ship, the Heart of Gold, captained by the dim-witted President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell).

Arthur actually encountered Zaphod on Earth before, when the President stole the girl with whom Arthur had just fallen in love, Tricia (Zooey Deschanel). Tricia, now known as Trillian, is also on board, as is a chronically depressed android named Marvin (Warwick Davis with the voice by Alan Rickman). The unusual quintet search for the answers (and the questions) to the mystery of Life, the Universe, and Everything – with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) as their… well, guide.

First published in 1979, Douglas Adams’ (1952-2001) novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is one of the all-time best selling science fiction novels every published, and perhaps the most popular sci-fi humor book ever. The book became a cycle first known as “The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy,” after the publication of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) and Life, the Universe and Everything (1982); two more books followed, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began as a radio sci-fi comedy series, and the book series is a non-literal adaptation of the radio series. Hitchhiker’s has also been a British TV mini-series, a stage play, a comic book/graphic novel, record albums, and a computer game. A major motion picture had long been in the planning stages at various times over 20 years with such names as actors Jim Carrey and Bill Murray and directors Jay Roach and Spike Jonze attached to the project.

Finally, in mid-spring of 2005, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy debuted in theatres with director Garth Jennings and co-producer Nick Goldsmith as its filmmaking creative center. Jennings and Goldsmith are the music video directing team known as “Hammer and Tongs.” They directed videos for such musical acts as R.E.M. (“Imitation of Life,” one of my personal favorites as an all-time great music video), Fatboy Slim (“Right Here, Right Now”), and Blur (“Coffee and T.V.”).

Before he died, Douglas Adams wrote the script (a non-literal translation of the books as the books were also not literal translations the original radio show) and added new characters (Humma Kavula played by John Malkovich). Co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick (James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run) came on to improve the script’s structure and make it more coherent. Not having seen any of Adams’ original script drafts, I can’t say how much or if Kirkpatrick improved on Adams’ work. The film does seem to lack organization and focus, and its plot seems rather inconsequential, but The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is about eccentric characters in odd settings and situations, not so much about plot. A viewer doesn’t have to have read the books, but being familiar with the various source materials may make him and her more open to the film. Hitchhiker’s is basically a film about a great big sci-fi/fantasy misadventure set in a universe of oddities and abnormal beings (except Arthur Dent).

The cast and crew so obviously love what they’re doing and really buy into the little world that they created, and that passes on to the audience. Martin Freeman makes a great Arthur Dent, playing him as a flustered man frustrated with his world being destroyed and not having the girl who is “the one” loving him back. Sam Rockwell and Mos Def make a great alien combo, with the former as a cocky and kooky, gun-slinging lothario and the latter as the best-dressed straight man/wise man in the galaxy. I enjoyed watching them and the rest of the cast, and while the voice actors don’t seem to be straining themselves to perform, they are oddly appealing.

Part Monty Python, part Jim Henson, part Mel Brooks’ Space Balls (with a much bigger budget), and part David Lynch, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not an interstellar homerun, but it’s the most visually and conceptually daring sci-fi comedy – probably ever. And I really enjoy how unpredictable this film remains, even through repeated viewings.

6 of 10


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