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Sam Rockwell is President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox.

John Malkovich, as Humma Kavula, makes a shrewd bargain with Zaphod Beeblebrox.
 
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All it has to do is make everybody happy.

by Craig Froehlich   
 
 
 

Not a damsel in distress. Zooey Deschanel is Tricia McMillan, er, 'Trillian.'
 

"The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy"
Touchstone Pictures
Directed by Garth Jennings
Screenplay by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, based on the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Produced by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Nick Goldsmith, Jay Roach, Jonathan Glickman
Starring Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, John Malkovich, Warwick Davis, Alan Rickman, and Stephen Fry (voice)
Rated PG

(out of four)


“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
needs to satisfy towel-toting fans without frightening away neophytes. It needs to produce ample laughs while satiating those wanting special effects and story line.

As an exercise in placation, the big screen version of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” franchise succeeds.

       
       
    "The Hollywood process is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.”  
    - Douglas Adams  
       

It’s your typical story.
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is having a wretched Thursday. Both his house and his planet are being demolished to make way for highway bypasses. Luckily, his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), is actually a space-trotting hitchhiker. He carries a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a galactic best-seller and repository for everything a space traveler needs to know. (The guide provides the film’s narrative through the voice of Stephen Fry.) The pair escapes certain death from Earth’s destruction only to land in the clutches of Vogons, an ugly, mean, poet-reciting race of aliens. They again escape certain death with the help of a logic-defying space ship commandeered by Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), a self-serving hedonist who is also President of the Galaxy. Accompanying him is Tricia AKA Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), a fellow earthling who had earlier stolen Dent’s heart at a cocktail party before running off with Beeblebrox. Tending to the ship and his human masters’ needs is a clinically depressed robot (Voice by Alan Rickman) who constantly vocalizes his misery. The movie’s plot revolves around Beeblebrox’s mission to find the question to “life, the universe and everything.” You see, they already know the answer. It’s 42.

That just about sums up the movie that fans have been anticipating for more than 20 years. (Oh, also appearing midway through the film is John Malkovich as Humma Kavula, in a prolonged snot joke.)

The story about the end of the world and the ensuing interplanetary hilarity began in 1978 as a BBC radio series. It eventually became a five-part book ‘trilogy’ and a low-tech television venture — all very successful. “Hitchhiker’s” creator, Douglas Adams, toiled for decades developing a film version. "The Hollywood process is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it,” he said. He then died in 2001 from causes presumably unrelated to that comment. However, untimely demise didn’t stop a music video director, the writer responsible for the“Chicken Run” screen play, and Disney Studios from continuing to exhale on Adams’ prized sirloin.

“Almost, but not quite, exactly unlike tea.”
Pretty much all the unremarkable Dent wants in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” book is a decent cup of tea and when he gets the synthesized galactic version it is described in the above quote. In the movie the concoction simply “resembles tea.” Also, Dent’s aspirations now go beyond pining for the simple trappings of his pre-worldwide apocalypse life. Now, he seeks a more opulent treasure — true, eternal love. (Sigh.) Herein lie the new movie’s major flaws. The writers forgo much of the wordplay and wit which stood out in print, radio and television versions. Also lacking is the irreverence for all things conventional that Adams managed to impart into his story. In fact, the film kind of grabs convention by the hand and makes out with it.

While one imagines Adams being annoyed by the phrase “a good natured romp that’s fun for the whole family” it appears to be the battle cry for those behind the movie. The satire is weakened and the special effects are amped up. The filmmakers seem to miss the point—“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is less a Science Fiction fantasy in which characters have hopes and dreams than an insolent commentary on the absurdity of humankind and its cultural pretensions. In a move that seems guided by a keen awareness of merchandising sales, “Hitchhiker’s Guide” is robbed of its religion, politics and sex. Instead of commentary we are given a story — a nice, wacky story that’s fun for the whole family, the same family that wanted to see “The Pacifier.”

“Hitchhiker’s Guide” is not a waste of time. It is aptly cast. Rickman as the voice of sulking Marvin stands out as a success. The film’s excerpts from the actual “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” a pocket-sized computer filled with information about everything, add well to the humor and narrative. The special effects are competent, with the non-digital rendering of the ‘Vogon’ antagonists nearing perfection. It’s not rife with inside jokes nor does it follow previous storylines religiously, yet it won’t cause rioting among “Hitchhiker’s Guide” enthusiasts. The film evokes more than a few chuckles. It is an okay movie and in the end is reminiscent of the very brief entry describing Earth in the interstellar travel guide —“Harmless.”

Well, “Mostly harmless.”

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