The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Making films from books has always been a tricky proposition. For every film adaptation that hits it big such as Jaws, Lord of the Rings and The Silence of the Lambs, there are several that fail to work or are downright disasters such as The Bonfire of the Vanities.

In the film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the late Douglas Adams first book in his classic series has finally arrived on the big screen after many delays getting started and a successful version on PBS.

The film stars Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, a simple, easy going fellow whose entire goal in life is to stop the demolition of his beloved home from those who want to put a new highway in its current location.

As Arthur attempts to block the demolition, his good friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), arrives and stalls the demolition with free beer for the work crew. Thinking he has been saved, Arthur is puzzled when Ford takes him to a local pub and buys rounds for the entire pub, saying the world is ending in a few minutes.

Ford in reality is an alien visiting the Earth and learns that the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a new galactic expressway. Before he knows what has happened, Arthur is whisked away seconds before the destruction of the Earth by Ford as they end up on a ship of the demolition fleet.

After a series of bizarre events and a narrow escape, Ford and Arthur end up on a passing ship that has been stolen by galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), who just happens to be the lady of Arthur’s dreams and who is also unaware that the Earth has been destroyed in the short amount of time since she left Earth to explore with Zaphod.

As if this was not enough, the ship also has a depressed android named Marvin (Warwick Davis and voiced by Allan Rickman).

It is at this point that the film goes horribly wrong as the amusing and interesting setup quickly goes nowhere. While the crew is sent on a series of quests, each becomes less interesting than the one before it, and the very bland production values of the film are exposed. The sets are very basic and look as if they were borrowed from many of the budget driven British Sci-Fi that frequents PBS. Somehow the idea of an alien room being nothing but a rusty wall and a slapped up sign just does not cut it for me. At times I thought I was watching a home video production done by fans or another late night B movie rather than a major studio summer release.

As bad as the sets were what is even more amazing was the at times laughable attempts at visual effects where it was obvious that the actors were standing in front of screens as the matting lines were visible.

I tried to put a lot of this off to the idea that the film was trying to be quirky in keeping with the book, but quirky is not an excuse for underwhelming effects, basic sets, and lousy costuming and make up effects as I half expected to see zippers on the costumes of many aliens that looked like they were cobbled from parts at a hardware store.

So now that I have covered my issues with the look of the film, let’s look at the story itself. In a word: boring. I could not believe how dull and lazy the film became, and how the staff seemed to be going through the motions. The cast has zero chemistry and Rockwell is so frantic that his character is annoying to watch. After five minutes of his rock star in the spotlight style shtick, I wanted to strangle the character or at least get him on some serious medication.

Director Garth Jennings also has many scenes that simply go nowhere or drag on only to cut at odd times resulting in a complete and utter lack of pacing.

I am a big fan of the book series and I had very high hopes for this film. Sadly the disaster that resulted may very well have Douglas Adams spinning in his grave as his classic work was destroyed. I have to wonder how much of his original draft for the script that was used as the basis for the film survived.

While extreme die hard fans may enjoy the film, even they are likely to be disappointed and I can only hope that if they try to make the next book in the series, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, they do a much better job then this effort, as this is one awful film adaptation.

1 star out of 5