The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

on April 29, 2005 by L. J. Strom
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Douglas Adams' much loved, vastly quotable, ever-evolving science-fiction satire -- first a 1978 BBC radio play, then a five-book "trilogy" and a 1981 six-part television serial -- finally arrives in film form. This latest edition again chronicles the attempts of bewildered British everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) to cope when bureaucratic aliens destroy the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. He is rescued at the last moment by a "Guide" researcher (Mos Def) who hitches them a lift -- and that's all before lunchtime. Arthur also meets the enormously egoed President of the Galaxy (Sam Rockwell); gets a second chance with a very nice girl (Zooey Deschanel); faces the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything; and struggles to find a proper cup of tea.

Adams himself wrote much of the screenplay before his untimely death in 2001, and the filmmakers who finished the project obviously hold great affection for his work. Chunks of dialogue survive somewhat intact from the radio play; there are notable cameos from previous versions; and the Magrathean factory floor sequence is genuinely dazzling. The British cast members, too, are divinely spot-on, particularly Bill Nighy as a world-weary planet designer and Stephen Fry as the wise voice of the "Guide" itself. Most crucially, Freeman proves a perfect Arthur.

However, in their zeal to cram in as much original material as possible, alongside dubious new plot detours, a "character arc" for Arthur, and cool but gratuitous special effects, the filmmakers have revved up the pace to a manic rush. Jammed with quick laughs, the movie rarely takes a breather long enough to gain emotional traction, establish narrative coherence, or balance Adams' free-wheeling inventiveness with the quieter moments from earlier incarnations that gave his urbane absurdity some gentle, pensive grounding. Ultimately, the film is a clever, breakneck, slapstick cartoon that may leave non-fans wondering if there's anything more to "Hitchhiker" than superficial zaniness. There is, and sadly, the filmmakers appear to have missed the point. But the movie still showcases enough of Adams' sublime wit to be an amusing, if disjointed, ride. Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy and John Malkovich. Directed by Garth Jennings. Written by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatick. Produced by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Nick Goldsmith, Jay Roach and Jonathan Glickman. A Buena Vista release. Science-Fiction/Comedy. Rated PG for thematic elements, action and mild language. Running time: 110 min

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