The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a sci-fi/British comedy series by Douglas Adams. It started out as a radio show on BBC Radio 4 in 1978 and was later adapted into other formats. The most popular of these formats is a set of five books that make up the “Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.” It has become a multimedia phenomenon; other adaptations include stage shows, comic books, a TV series, a computer game, and additional radio shows. Finally in 2005, a much anticipated movie was released with posthumous credit to Douglas Adams as a producer and screenplay writer. Hitchhiker’s Guide is a fun outer space romp, but seems to have been made more for existing fans than a means of indoctrinating newcomers on the usefulness of a Babel fish.
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is an ordinary man who is having an unusual day. He discovers that his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), is actually an alien. Ford tells him that the planet Earth is going to be destroyed so that other aliens can make room for a hyperspace bypass. Since Arthur accidentally saved Ford’s life years ago, Ford returns the favor by helping Arthur hitch a ride on a passing spaceship and then giving him a guidebook that tells a beginner everything he needs to know as he hitchhikes through outer space. They hitch a ride with the incompetent president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beebelbrox (Sam Rockwell), on his stolen spaceship, The Heart of Gold. Also on board is Tricia McMillan (Zooey Deschanel), an earth girl that Arthur had previously met and fallen in love with, and the perpetually glum robot, Marvin (Alan Rickman). They are being chased by a fleet of Vogons intent on bringing President Beebelbrox and The Heart of Gold home. Meanwhile Zaphod seeks the legendary computer that will tell him the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything (in the interest of fame and fortune, of course).
The story in Hitchhiker’s Guide is influenced by the first four original radio shows as well as the novel. It is full of ironic, dry British humor as well as some totally wacky randomness. For an action comedy, it’s not bad. But if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, some of the humor may be lost to you. It’s almost as if the script sometimes has only part of the joke; if you don’t already know what multi-functional towels actually are, then seeing Ford use one as a weapon or umbrella just won’t be as funny.
The movie captures the curious, quasi-spiritual nature of Douglas Adams’ philosophies and satirical opinions. There is a lot of unflattering commentary about the mundanity of life and the stupidity of human constructs, while also talking about the value of life and the happiness to be found therein. The Vogons seem to encapsulate all that is tedious, dull, and lifeless. The in-movie book (voiced by Stephen Fry) says this about Vogons. “Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious, and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the ravenous Bug-Blatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, lost, found, queried, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighter.” I can’t help but wonder what kind of experiences Adams had to get this kind of amusingly bleak view of the world.
One of the neat things about Hitchhikers Guide is the special effects. Sure there’s plenty of computer generated effects, but they use a lot of practical effects, too. All of the aliens are brilliantly constructed by the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop; this gives them a very realistic and organic quality to them. There is a difference when actors have something to actually interact with rather than being told where to look and having a digitally animated creature put in later. There are other puppets used when Ford and Arthur find themselves temporarily turned into sofas, and even a brief section of stop-motion animation when everyone is made of yarn. It gives the film more heart than if everything was done exclusively with CGI effects.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was a fun movie. It has a pretty good cast with brief appearances from John Malkovich and Bill Nighy. The effects were fun, and complemented the film well. The lighting and camera work was pretty impressive. The art design was diverse and stimulating to watch. But if you aren’t already a fan of either British comedy or the geeky Hitchhiker’s Guide cult following, you probably won’t enjoy it all that much. It’s not a film for the ages, but it seems to have become a cult classic. I own a copy and enjoy it from time to time.
What is your favorite cult classic movie? Comment below and tell me all about it!