Movie Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
A recent lesson to 6th grade students had them analyzing the differences between versions, both printed and film versions, of works of literature. Said exercise was performed on Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, but this is more than relevant when taking another look at Garth Jennings’ terribly overlooked and oft poorly reviewed 2005 take on modern classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While going through this, it’s important to note that the idea that Hollywood has long since run out of ideas (rumors of another version of Romeo and Juliet and even elements of The Force Awakens attest to this)—and it’s a fact that will come up again shortly and that was mentioned to students as well. For those enamored of Douglas Adams’ work, and those that always know where their towel is, this iteration may very well be for you if you haven’t tried it out yet. Just be mentally prepared for some of the changes made to the story that you may already be used to from its other form(s) (shaking fist at those responsible). Overall, I give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the rating: Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to history…
For those that haven’t the Anglophile tendencies of some of us, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (hereto forth shortened to H2G2) was originally a radio drama in 1978—which was my first foray into the property, thanks to 1980s public radio broadcasts of it as well as the Star Wars radio drama and Agatha Christie works, etc. (thanks for that WLRN—I believe it was). This was enough to pique an interest in the book series and BBC TV series as well. So, when the initial rumblings that a Hollywood version of it was in the works it was with some trepidation that one might embrace it. The film industry isn’t always known for its reverence to the core material. Despite a personal affinity for David Lynch’s take on Frank Herbert’s Dune, most people would likely strongly disagree with that personal affinity. This would very much hold true for H2G2 as well. There is as much gray area with regard to enjoying this film as there would be a vibrant sense of color in a dog’s eyesight. One will either LOVE this film or LOATHE it, dependent on their personal tastes and sense of humour (or lack thereof).
One will either LOVE this film or LOATHE it
Ultimately, H2G2 boils down to a story of the everyman Arthur Dent, as played by Martin Freeman, and how it is that he will end up defining himself. Standard SPOILER warning here: The Earth is destroyed within minutes of setting it up as the locale of the film. Boom, gone. No presidents making glorious speeches to rally all of humanity against its Vogon oppressors, no hot shot Air Force pilots dogfighting invaders punching out an alien in order to make it feel “welcome” on “Erf.” No world class singer to be sacrificed in the midst of a Michael Bay-ian explosion fest. Just gone. Much in the same way that some sci-fi blockbusters are not, H2G2 is very much a human story. Not epic in the way that Homer’s Odyssey might be, since Arthur has no home to return to. Where it does falter a bit seems to be the influence of producers calling for a romance, a damsel in distress—despite the fact that Trillian as played by Zooey Deschanel doesn’t really fit the bill. She’s every bit as competent, if not more so, than her male counterparts. The level of her intelligence from the books isn’t really touched upon here which is a shame. Except for Anna Chancellor’s VP Questular and John Malkovich’s Humma Kavula—sorry, just didn’t get into their roles—every one throws in a great turn. Sam Rockwell slams his take of Zaphod Beeblebrox down your throat so far that you’ll likely twitch as if you’ve just downed a Pan Galactic Garble Blaster. Warwick Davis’ Marvin, voiced by the late Alan Rickman hit exactly the right depressing notes. Of all of them, Mos Def really shines as an understated Ford Prefect/Ix. Just as the performances really make the film, the photography and practical effects and CGI really are top notch. The only thing that keeps this from being on everyone’s must see classic list is that it seems to lack some soul. Overall the sum of its parts probably could have launched this into a poorly named trilogy, but sadly did not. Part of this could have been the death of Douglas Adams, though the books have been written but most likely box office returns has kept producers from venturing forth with. Which is a shame, as is the fact that so many folks haven’t given this decently made, entertaining flick a chance. If you fall into that group, give this a chance. While it’s likely too late to register with Touchstone Pictures so that they’ll move forward with the rest, you’ll at least have an enjoyable hour and a half with it.