Decades in the making, Guide has been embroiled in controversy since the very beginning. The most recent round of complaints have covered pretty much the entire film, from casting (Mos Def taking a role commonly envisioned as a sort of British dandy) to directing (Garth Jennings is a music video veteran), to choice of writer Karey Kirkpatrick (a kiddie flick screenwriter best known for Chicken Run but also the writer of disastrous flicks The Little Vampire and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves). Out of this, we've all been promised, genius would spring.
Ironically, that's in keeping with the Douglas Adams legacy: That which is the most improbable tends to be what actually occurs. Here's how it really turned out:
The film opens with a montage of the dolphins leaving earth (for reasons which will soon become apparent), then segueing into the opening scenes of the first book, wherein our heroes are introduced. Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) finds his house about to be bulldozed when best friend Ford Prefect (Def) arrives with instructions to drink beer and eat peanuts, for the world is about to end. Things degenerate pretty quickly after that, as Ford reveals himself to be an alien, they hitchhike a ride aboard one of the spaceships coming to destroy the earth, get jettisoned into the vacuum of space, and get picked up by another ship, piloted by Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and, coincidentally, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), an earth girl Arthur met at a party before that whole apocalypse business. Eventually, secrets about the earth are revealed that drive the plot toward its finale (which I'll try not to spoil for non-book readers, who probably won't understand a lick of this anyway).
Fans of the book series will find plenty of familiar elements here, from Vogon poetry to the babel fish to the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (the universe's most powerful cocktail). Marvin the Paranoid Android is deliciously realized, with enormous head and voice by Alan Rickman, and the ultimate visit to the planet Magrathea is a highlight of the film.
The biggest problems with the film come with the liberties that Kirkpatrick has taken with the source material in an attempt to build a more traditional plot structure, introducing to the movie a John Malkovich-played character (Humma Kavula, who Zaphod beat in the presidential elections), who tasks the gang with retrieving a "Point of View Gun" -- a gun which makes the shootee see the shooter's point of view. It's so not funny, and it smacks of trying too hard and comes across as extremely limp versus the rest of the movie, which is generally faithful to the books. (If you want to be anal about it, Adams did create Kavula in an early draft of the script -- hence his screenplay credit -- but the extent of Kirkpatrick's involvement is unclear.)
Expressing my other major complaint -- er, not really a complaint, but a concern -- is tricky, but I'm going to try. Kirkpatrick has obviously read and loved the books, but his desire to get as much of the story across in 2 hours -- and Jennings' history as a commercial and video director -- lends the movie an almost ridiculously scattered feel, as if it's being told in quick bursts -- I daresay, like watching 30 music videos back to back.
Now this would normally be a terrible thing, but the random nature and the constant revisionism in the Hitchhiker's universe actually makes it sort-of work. After fretting over missing plot elements, stupid sidetracks, and over-the-top acting from Rockwell, I sat back in my chair and gave up. Hitchhiker's Guide is theater of the absurd, a Buñuel film for the zeroes. Stop worrying about it, and enjoy the spectacle, from Def and Deschanel's show-stealing performances to the fun sets to the Guide itself, which, in keeping with history, narrates and offers clever asides throughout the film.
Above all: Don't panic.
DVD extras include deleted scenes (plus silly, phony deleted scenes), a sing-along, and the good old making-of featurette.
Don't forget to wear your towel.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 29th April 2005
Box Office Worldwide: $104.5M
Distributed by: Vanguard
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Everyman Pictures, Hammer & Tongs
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Garth Jennings
Starring: Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Mos Def as Ford Prefect, John Malkovich as Humma Kavula, Helen Mirren as Deep Thought, Anna Chancellor as Questular Rontok, Bill Bailey as The Whale, Dominique Jackson as Fook, Thomas Lennon as Eddie the Computer, Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast, Alan Rickman as Marvin, Steve Pemberton as Mr. Prosser, Albie Woodington as Barman, Warwick Davis as Marvin, José Wilker as Narrator version Brazil