Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman, et al
Rated PG, 109 minutes

All I knew going in to this movie was that “Hitchhiker’s” was that series of books I saw other people quoting and snickering over, and nothing they said was particularly funny. I heard things here and there about this adaptation of it. My brother’s into the books and has the British take on this on VHS someplace. I had this strange feeling I might be seeing a movie where I do not laugh once.

The story goes like this. Arthur Dent (Freeman) is about to have his house demolished to make way for a superhighway. His friend Ford (Mos Def) takes him aside and reveals he’s really from another planet and he knows the Earth is about to be destroyed for the same reason Arthur’s house is going down. When they return from the pub to find the house gone, alien ships loom over them, and Ford sticks his thumb out and hitches a ride. What follows is a trip through space aided by the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the ultimate reference book that describes anything and everything you need to know about traveling in the great beyond. Eventually the two get picked up by President of the Universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Rockwell), who is trying to find the question which goes with the ultimate answer of life.

This movie started off in brutal fashion. Other than perhaps needing a primer on why I should be laughing at some of this stuff, there was also some very dated humor going on in the early scenes. The irony that earth was being plowed down for a galaxy-wide superhighway was only there in spirit. Then there was that alien race that was so bureaucratic that everything they did had to be on the correct forms, approved three times, filed away, lost, found again, yada yada yada. We get it, big government sucks. So did every comedian between now and the 1970s. And man, don’t let those empty-headed political types read you their poetry – it’s so devoid of feeling, it’ll make you want to read the “Hitchhiker” books! Okay, that last part was mine.

Thankfully it does get going after all that. The animation of the “Guide” in action is superb. The movie employs the book’s British flatness in delivery which makes things that much funnier. Y’know, absurd things being taken seriously? And the creativity in some of the gags and settings was a sight to see.

After seeing Mos Def’s 90-minute long Homey the Clown impression in “16 Blocks,” I was in fear of just seeing him in some bit role. When I figured out he was one half of the two lead characters, I was pleasantly surprised with his performance. Sam Rockwell is perhaps a bit over the top. Alan Rickman and Thomas Lennon’s voice work are highlights. And I reserve a little extra space here for Stephen Fry, whom I know from watching the British “Whose Line,” and he is a great choice for narrating The Book.


It’s obvious that the book has some good qualities. As me and my friends were watching though, we could imagine it being very long-winded and hard-to-follow. I’m almost certain it’d give us an exhaustive backstory on every character we saw. It’s odd, because at the same time, I want to see more of the book’s humor in movie form. Perhaps an entirely new adventure using some jokes leftover from the book would make a good sequel?

No comments: