The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Review
By Joe Lozito
"Hitchhiker" is all thumbs
I read Douglas Adams' gleefully whimsical "trilogy in five parts" "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" when I was young. I don't remember distinct passages from it, I only recall the general feeling of wonder I got while I read it. Adams' imagination seemed boundless. He would make reference to a universe of strange planets and creatures and then never refer to them again. Of course, it was the dry, British wit that infused every sentence of his books that made them all the more amusing. He was never trying to be funny, he was just writing matter-of-factly, as if we were all along for the ride with him.
I don't envy the filmmakers saddled with bringing Adams' vision to the screen. The wizards (and you have to call them that), from Jim Henson Studios do a great job of injecting some good old-fashioned know-how into the creature effects, creating memorably expressive Vogons, but it's the writer and directing that aren't up to the challenge.
It would seem that the fact that the directing/producing team also goes by the name of Hammer and Tongs is a good sign. Alas, no. Working from a script started by Adams himself before his death and completed by Karey Kirkpatrick, director Garth Jennings manages somehow to strip the joy from Adams' text, and instead bombard the screen with as many noises as possible. The characters (if you can call them that, since none of them is fleshed out one iota) constantly speak at once, break into dances, and otherwise flail around for no discernible reason. The film feels like a first read-through of the script by a high school drama troupe, before the director has had a chance to work with the actors.
And these are actors in dire need of some direction. Sam Rockwell, taking the wonderfully-named role of Zaphod Beeblebrox has never been more over-the-top. Channeling equal parts Elvis and Bill Clinton, Mr. Rockwell whirls and gyrates his way into near incomprehension. Mos Def, woefully miscast as Ford Prefect, may have been ready to take a leading role in a film - just not this film. Ford needs to be the veteran traveler of the group, but he's played here like just another goofball. Alan Rickman is a good choice of voice for Marvin the paranoid android, but he is never developed beyond a one-joke character.
Martin Freeman (perfectly hysterical in "The Office" on BBC) fares slightly better in the role of hapless Arthur Dent, robe-clad, unwitting hero of the film, and Zooey Deschanel is suitably adorable in the much-padded role of his love interest, Trillian. But their love story plot is so thin that there's never a question of "will they or won't they" - it's more a question of "how long will it take to get there?"
The sad waste of this adaptation becomes all the more clear during the final act of the film when Slartibartfast, played with a perfectly arid dryness by Bill Nighy, takes Arthur on a tour of the planetary construction yards. This is a scene I remember quite well from the books and it is realized, more than any other moment in the film, with the proper degree of wonder and reverence. For the first time the filmmakers see that Adams' universe was as full of magic as it was gags. For this film, though, it's too little too late.