Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Dir. Garth Jennings

Touchstone Pictures

Starring: Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Stephen Fry

Reviewed by Ixthus

This film was a long time coming. Ever since I first heard about the project—even though Douglas Adams was behind it—I had a sinking feeling. But what can you expect from someone who is irredeemably fused (for want of a better word) to the original two radio series. ‘The Primary Phase’ and ‘Secondary Phase’ are special directly because of the way that they came into being. They are funny and perverse and actually pretty dark at times, particularly the Secondary Phase. The fact that ‘Fit The Twelfth’ was raced across London to get to Broadcasting House a few minutes before it was to be transmitted feels very relevant here. Anything that came after the radio plays feels like it was allowed too much room. Like it was too intricately thought out.

  1. The album is a pale imitation on the radio plays. Why it was recorded almost entirely from scratch is beyond me. If a new release was deemed absolutely necessary, it should at most have been edited to cut out some of the material in order to fit the double-album format.
  2. The material was quite clearly not suited for books, and I am left with the sense that they were too well thought out. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is an example of a story that is meticulously worked out and works fantastically in its medium exactly because of that. But it is not based on prior work. I think this is what Adams' was aiming for in putting Hitchhikers into novel form, but it just didn't work. It's the wrong material.
  3. The TV series was okay. But again, it's the wrong medium. The main thing that was right about the TV series was The Book graphics. Probably due, again, to the amount of effort put in, and probably put in right down to the last possible minute. Each frame is intricately created by hand.
  4. The new radio series? I love them for the homage they paid to Douglas Adams. I love them for the fact that they reunited a whole bunch of people who were involved in the various versions and a whole bunch of people who should have been involved. I love them because they must have been so much fun for all of these people to make. But they are just not quite the same. They come from the books, and I think Douglas was allowed too many cups of tea and too many baths when writing them.
  5. What hope for a film, then?

The story is completely changed. There is precedent for this. In every incarnation something has been changed, from mere tinkering to replacement of whole sections. Perhaps not to this level, though. Intricately worked together, but completely different.

The acting, for the most part, made me cringe, and so many of the scenes feel like they are first masters of something that had not been rehearsed. It feels like the shooting was rushed through in about two days. Which is a shame, because I think Freeman, Nighy, and Rickman could do real justice to their parts, if they had just been given the time. As it turns out, Freeman's Arthur doesn't really have that mixture of "incensed Englishman" and complete disinterest that Simon Jones did so well in the radio show and the TV series. The casting of the American actors was poor, except possibly for the interesting choice of Mos Def for the part of Ford Prefect. The other roles fall equally flat.

The comic timing is totally off. Further than that, though, too often you feel you are about to see a new rendition of one of the classic gags from the radio or the TV versions, only to find that they are cut short. Like uttering the first line of a joke and just ignoring the second or the punchline. Even when you do get the full thing, it too often falls flat and the action continues almost as an embarrassed cover-up.

Stephen Fry does do an excellent job voicing The Book, and while The Book graphics are not a patch on the job that was done for the TV series, they retain the quirky, inventive feel, and are occasionally genuinely funny. The Vogons, however, which should be the ultimate in terminal frustration and ghastly poetry, just seem a little damp.

There are a number of little things that I did like. When the Heart of Gold escapes from the Vogon fleet, a subordinate is asked "Did they have proper hyperspace authorisation?" to which he replies with a gasp, "No, commander." When the Heart of Gold comes out of Infinite Improbability, there are a couple of very inventive quirks. The Point of View gun is interesting too, and particularly well mixed with another element of Hitchhikers, but I won't give that away. The Vogsphere section is original, imaginative, and I feel one of the best parts of the film. It is also really nice to see the original Marvin costume from the TV series popping up in a couple of the shots from this segment.

But instead of taking the best bits from the previous versions, some of the material that could so easily have been incorporated to keep the audience amused is sadly missing. When Deep Thought is discussing the time required to find the ultimate answer, a missed opportunity from the TV series: "Seven and a half..." "What, not till next week?" "...Million...years." Which leaves that scene, like so many others, looking like it’s an afterthought to explain the story rather than a one that is amusing in its own right. Another example is the Nutrimat: "almost, but not quite entirely, unlike tea" from the radio series is MIA, even though the opening for it is there. There are many other omissions like this. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The Book is key, and is the transport for much of the humour, but this film makes it a second class citizen to the story and the action.

Overall? Take a decent idea, think about it too much, add a few interesting points and some casting quirks, spend too little time on the shooting, spend the time you "saved" on adding flash special effects, and blend it into a farcical love story. Hey presto. There is, perhaps surprisingly, the occasional laugh-out-loud moment, and there are a number of things which I find I genuinely admire the film for. For Douglas Adams fans, there is enough to make you feel that it is at least a genuine attempt at a tribute to an intellect sadly taken from us. For people new to Hitchhikers, I would hope that it would be an inspiration to listen to the original radio series.

Buy this DVD from Amazon.co.uk

Buy this DVD from Amazon.com

Home Current Back Issues Guidelines Contact About Fiction Artists Non-fiction Support Links Reviews News