Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Warwick Davis, Alan Rickman, Thomas Lennon, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry and John Malkovich
Directed by Garth Jennings
Though I don’t consider myself a hardcore fan, I am at least somewhat familiar with all previous incarnations of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve read all five books, played the PC text-adventure, watched the television series, and used to listen to the radio version about once a year (and still would, if I had it on CD instead of cassette).
The versions are all different and all brimming with Adams’ unique sense of humor. Whatever he changed to suit each new medium, Adams always managed to keep the story smart, original and hilariously funny. It’s no surprise, then, that Adams’ script for the new big screen retelling would have new characters, locations and situations. The core elements remain, the ultimate quest is preserved, but — as with previous iterations — some of the particulars regarding the journey have changed.
Unfortunately, one core element seems to be largely missing: Douglas Adams’ quirky, intelligent humor. Somewhere in the midst of a sea of fairly impressive visual effects (the Magrathean factory floor is especially memorable), that eccentric, surreal wit is all but lost. The only remnants are familiar scenes that elicit a chuckle not on their own merits, but because I remember other, superior versions.
The movie falls flat on almost every front. The characters have very little depth (except for Bill Nighy’s surprisingly touching portrayal of Slarty Bartfast), the comic rhythm is off, and the new material simply doesn’t measure up to the old.
Ford Prefect and Trillian are nearly invisible for the bulk of the movie. Marvin the Paranoid Android is only spared from fading into the background by his gargatuan head and one of the best casting decisions in the film. Zaphod Beeblebrox is loud and boisterous, which is probably about as much as one could expect. And poor Arthur Dent is simply there. His quest for a decent cup of tea is so downplayed as to be inconsequential, and the love story between him and Trillian is like Splenda: artificially sweet.
I wanted to like Hitchhiker’s, I really did. I’ve enjoyed every other incarnation of the story, even the incredibly cheesy (but still very funny) BBC television series. Unfortunately, the movie turned out to be a huge letdown. It’s a mixture of old and new that manages to lose the charm of the old and fails to introduce anything exciting in the new.