Price matched - take your pick
After twenty years stuck in development (a mere blink compared to how long it takes to find the answer to life, the universe, and everything), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has finally been turned into a movie. Following the radio play, TV series, commemorative towel, and books, this latest installment in the sci-fi-comedy franchise is based on the screenplay and detailed notes by Douglas Adams.
For those unfamiliar with the story, everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman)wakes up one morning to discover that his house is set to be demolished to make room for a bypass. Little does he know the entire planet Earth is also set to be destroyed for an interplanetary bypass by the Vogons, a hideous and bureaucratic race of aliens realized in the film by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Whisked off the planet by his best friend, alien-in-disguise Ford Prefect (Mos Def), Dent embarks on a goofy jaunt across the galaxy accompanied by his trusty Hitchhiker's Guide, which looks like a really fancy PDA.
The guide itself provides some of the funniest bits of the movie, little animated shorts that explain the ludicrous life forms and extraterrestrial phenomena our heroes encounter. Along the way Arthur meets the two-headed party animal/president of the galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and develops an unrequited crush on fellow earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). The creatures and sets are inspired and answer to the sci-fi fan's primal need to see lots and lots of cool stuff. In particular, there's John Malkovich's creepy, CGI-enhanced Humma Kavula. He's a guru leading a religion that worships the gigantic nose that allegedly sneezed the universe into existence (naturally all their prayers end not with "Amen" but with "Bless you.") The aliens the team encounters are inspired creations, eminently worthy of action figure-ification, and the sets belie an attention to detail worthy of freeze-framing. Fans of the other Hitchhiker... manifestations, namely the British TV series, will be amused by a number of in-jokes sprinkled throughout the movie.
Where the story stumbles is in the telling--as books, the Hitchhiker's Guide... was foremost about goofy and brilliant ideas that raised questions about our place in the universe while getting a laugh. The cast seems at times bewildered, at least when Sam Rockwell isn't picking pieces of scenery out of his teeth, perhaps a natural reaction to an adaptation of a book with no traditional plot. The movie has enough trouble figuring out how to get the characters from one fantastical location to the next that Adams's funniest concepts often feel left in the dust. While the reverence the filmmakers felt toward Adams's legacy is apparent, one wonders what we could have expected had the creator of this science fiction universe lived to see it with his own eyes. --Ryan Boudinot