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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Movies | This movie captures some of the book's easy-going goofiness, but relies too much on action to move the plot forward

Issue: "Senate wars over judges," May 14, 2005

Douglas Adams was hard at work on the screenplay for the new movie based on his novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when he died of a heart attack in 2001. For fans of the book, this is important. Adams was both erudite and ordinary, his droll humor communicating both a natural skepticism and a (sadly unrealized) longing for truth.

Despite an imperfect result, Adams's influence is definitely present in the movie. Although it contains elements of both, there are two things Hitchhiker is resolutely not, but easily could have become in the transition from page to screen: either straightforward space adventure or a parody of space adventures.

To quickly encapsulate a plot not easily encapsulated: Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is a Brit in a bathrobe wandering through the galaxy. This comes as the result of first the destruction of Arthur's home to make way for a local bypass, followed quickly by the destruction of the entire Earth, by a bureaucratic race known as Volgons, to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur (perhaps the only human left alive) was rescued by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), a not really human writer working on an updated version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the repository of all knowledge).

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Arthur's quest, if it can be described as such, involves President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), love-interest Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), a depressed robot named Marvin (the wonderful voice of Alan Rickman), and the search for the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. (The answer is 42; it's the question that remains a mystery.)

The movie captures some of the book's easy-going goofiness, but relies too much on action to move the plot forward, which is not Adams' strong suit, nor is it the point of the novel. As a result, there are some painfully slow sections that drag the film down, intermixed with a few delightful realizations of Adams's fertile imagination.

The film sparkles, however, when narrator Stephen Fry reads directly from Adams's entries in the Guide, accompanied by agreeably silly animated illustrations. Here, the film captures some of the skill of Adams's wordplay and wit-and exposes what's lacking in the rest of the movie.

Adams was an atheist, and Hitchhiker contains digs at Christianity. These appear even more breezily offensive outside of the context of the book, which plainly did care, at its heart, about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

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