Toon Talk: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galazy
Arthur Dent is having a bad day ... his house is scheduled for demolition to make way for a redundant by-pass, the cute girl he fancies has yet to ring him up ... and, oh yeah, the Earth will be destroyed in twelve minutes.
Avid readers of the late Douglas Adams' seminal science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy are quite familiar with this set-up. In fact, they have been clamoring for a big screen take on the tales of the befuddled Earthling Dent and his extra-terrestrial mate Ford Prefect for decades now. Originally a British radio play that was then transformed into book form in 1979, the Guide has also had incarnations on television (a low-budget BBC miniseries), computer games and several other books, but nothing would quite appease the hordes of towel-wielding fans like a major motion picture would.
The filmmakers, lead by former commercial/music video director Garth Jennings (in his feature film debut), must have known this, as the new film version is slavish to the source material ... to a fault (no surprise, as Adams worked on the adaptation himself prior to his untimely death). The action barrels along at a breakneck pace, lest any smidgen of plot be sacrificed, leaving anyone not already well versed in the goings-on (i.e.: anyone who has not committed the book to memory) in the dust. Motivations are muddled, characterization is on the fly, and the novice is left wondering what all the fuss about Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, Infinite Improbability Drives and the number 42 is all about.
When the bureaucratic alien race known as the Vogons (created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop - think a Dark Crystal Skekses crossed with a Pink Floydian monstrosity this side of The Wall) blow up terra firma to clear the way for an interstellar highway, Ford (hip-hopper/actor Mos Def) rescues Arthur (Martin Freeman, BBC's The Office's king of the deadpan) by "hitchingâ€? a ride on the alien's spaceship, where he explains to his increasingly perplexed friend that he is a writer for "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxyâ€?, a computerized tome that is a sort-of suped-up PDA that combines all the resources of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the World Wide Web and a Zagat's, with Adams' particular brand of whimsical irreverence and quirky philosophies laced throughout.
The unlikely duo narrowly escape execution by poetry reading (the Vogons are notoriously bad poets) by being blasted into the vacuum of space, only to land on the stolen spaceship, the Heart of Gold, piloted by the renegade superstar President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeeblebrox, played to the hilt by Sam Rockwell, whipping his blonde locks about like a refugee from an 80s hair band. Like every good politician, he's two-faced ... taken one step further, as he actually has two heads, one embedded in his throat that pops out periodically, forcing his normal head back like a life-size PEZ dispenser.
Also on board is another surviving Earthling, Trillian (a winsome Zooey Deschanel), who is not only Arthur's crush but also an astrophysicist (how convenient on both counts; their romantic subplot has been expanded from the original story's), and Marvin the Paranoid Android (body by Willow's Warwick Davis, voice by Harry Potter's Alan Rickman), a chronically depressed robot with the personality of Eeyore in the form of an Imperial Stormtropper - as imagined by LEGO. Ford and Arthur join this ragtag band on their quest for the "Ultimate Answerâ€? (as is, "What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?â€?), an adventure that takes them across the galaxy, encountering such beings as Humma Kavula (a new character created by Adams for the film, played by the ever-increasingly loony John Malkovich), leader of a nose fetish cult, and Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), an "award-winningâ€? designer of custom-built planets, all the way to Deep Thought, a giant super computer that has the good sense to be voiced by the impeccable Helen Mirren.