To me Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is many things; it is my favourite book of all time, it is an amusing and nostalgic BBC-miniseries and it is a greatly disappointing film.
Indeed, the 2005 film adaptation by Garth Jennings is a large disappointment to many fans of the book. What truly made The Hitchhiker’s Guide so eminently brilliant in the first place was not only its very British sense of humour, but also the way it was narrated, and the film adaptation has very little narration and it doesn’t exactly have a Monty Python-esque sense of humour, so to speak. It’s beginning to look rather unpromising already, isn’t it?
The film opens by showing us something that was only mentioned at one point in the book, namely the disappearence of all the world’s dolphins shortly before the end of the world. What was a brief and actually rather amusing joke in the book, is turned into a musical number in the film, where dolphins swim around in the sea singing “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”. I’m not kidding. I understand that maybe it was done to give the film that British-comedy feel I mentioned (it does sound like something out of a Python-film, after all), but it didn’t quite work for me.
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is the main character of the film, as expected, and on the day on which his small house is scheduled to be demolished, he encounters his good friend Ford Prefect – who, for no good reason in the least, is played by rapper Mos Def – who informs him that he is actually an alien from a planet near Betelgeuse. He claims the world is about to end. And so it does, soon after the Vogons appear, informing the people of Earth that our planet was chosen for demolition, in order to make way for an intergalactic highway. Arthur and Ford sneak aboard (“hitch a lift”) onto the Vogon ship at the last minute. They are thrown out after being discovered, and having horrid Vogon poetry read to them, but are amazingly enough saved shortly after by a ship known as The Heart of Gold.
Aboard The Heart of Gold they meet Tricia McMillan (Zooey Deschanel), whom Arthur met at a masquerade once, Galactic President Zaphod Beebelbrox (Sam Rockwell), who was also at the party and happens to be a friend of Ford, and Marvin The Paranoid Android (Warwick Davis wears the horrible costume and Alan Rickman is the voice), a robot who’s quite simply very (and I do mean VERY) depressed. What are the odds these people would meet each other right here? Well, the ship’s Improbablity Drive made it happen, of course. I’m too lazy to explain what the Improbability Drive is.
The rest of the film focuses on them running into Vogons some more times for some reason, encountering the evil Humma Kavula (John Malkovich), a new character added somewhat pointlessly by Adams himself (who wrote the screenplay, apparently), trying to find ‘The Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, The Universe and Everything’ (the Answer is, of course, 42 but what is the real question?), meeting hyper-intelligent mice and encountering Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), the one really good character in the film, who is rebuilding Earth, it seems. Marvin is depressed all the way through.
There are some things that Hollywood sadly find necessary. Stephen Fry was well-chosen for the voice of The Guide, but due to Hollywood’s dislike towards too much voice-over, there are tremendously few of the brilliant lines from the book in this movie. Instead they enjoy toilet humour and the occassional slapstick; there is plenty of both in the film. Humour that works best through words has been replaced with humour that works best on film. Why even try to adapt a great book into a film in the first place, I wonder?! Hollywood loves sappy love stories too, and so one between Arthur and Trillian was added into the movie. *Sigh*
Now, as for the characters, I think Arthur, Trillian and Zaphod work just fine – except Zaphod is a bit too irritating at times – but I must ask, no racism intended, was Ford prefect ever described in the book as being a black man? Was his skin colour ever mentioned? Either way, when I think of Ford Prefect, a sleepy-looking rapper is probably the last thing that comes to mind. An actor like David Dixon, who portrayed Ford wonderfully in the mini-series, would’ve worked better – very much so. And then there’s Marvin; oh dear Marvin, what have they done to you? A giant egg on the body of Willow if he were a Stormtrooper? No wonder you’re so depressed.
You might have noticed that I don’t find the film particularly superb. It really isn’t, although I don’t think it is the kind of film that would make the author of the source material spin in his grave – Douglas Adams did write the screenplay, after all – but it is undeniably a great disappointment to fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It still does have some nice things about it though; the special effects aren’t too bad, I like how the bureaucratic nature of the Vogons is shown much more clearly in the movie, I like the Point-Of-View-gun and a few of the jokes do work. I could never rate this film any higher than 2/5, however. Too many changes were made, some greatly otiose and stupid.
As much as I loved the BBC-version with Simon Jones, David Dixon, Stephen Moore and Peter Jones as The Guide, this movie shows us clearly that The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy is at its most delightful on paper, even if BBC took a good shot. Can’t say much else about the film so, so long and thanks for all the reading. Remember: don’t panic, and always know where your towel is. (I just love how baffled non-fans of Adams’ book will be when reading that last bit!)