Director: Garth Jennings
With: Martin Freeman, Mos Def
Runtime: 110 min
In 1971 a young hitch-hiker lying in a field in Innsbruck, hideously drunk, looking up at the stars, had an idea. This idea was to spawn a classic radio series, a slew of bestselling novels, a hit television series and now a big budget blockbuster. The hitchiker was Douglas Adams and the idea was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide follows put-upon English everyman Arthur Dent. Dragged screaming from the Earth, moments before its destruction to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Arthur is condemned to wander the cosmos with only his best friend Ford (revealed to be not from Guilford, but from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse), a towel and the titular intergalactic Rough Guide for company.
To give director Garth Jennings his due, this movie was a sticky proposition.To strike a balance between making an audience-friendly movie and appeasing the baying hordes of hardcore fans is no easy task but he pulls it off with flying colours. All of the old familiar touches are there but bigger, louder and much much glossier. The same theme music is reatined but with orchestral backing, the same planets are there but in jaw-dropping CGI and the same characters are there but in haute couture (or an old dressing gown). And this is the key to the movie’s success. By not allowing the big budget to overwhelm the essential spirit of the movie it becomes exactly what is should be: an grand realisation of a world previously only seen on a BBC budget.
Obviously some concessions have been made. The plot is not entirely faithful to the book but most points that have been added sit fairly comfortably and overall the storyline keeps the audience engaged with very little effort. Also, the casting is a slight mish-mash. Most parts are cast excellently (Martin Freeman is great as Arthur) but there are a couple of misfires. Mos Def manages the essential weirdness of Ford Prefect very well but there are times when he’s just a little blank. At the same time, Sam Rockwell’s take on Zaphod Beeblebrox as a kind of galactic rock star is perfect but there are times when he is just simply too annoying. Thankfully though, this problem is solved after not too long and so is not a major issue.
But it’s not all perfect. There are one or two farily important criticisms to be made. For a start, though most of the new plot points fit in quite happily, a love story angle is introduced which jars with the overall mood of the film and makes Freeman look extremely uncomfortable and unconvincing.
However, the main problem is that, with so much plot to fit in and only an hour and a half to do it, the film moves at a rocketing pace meaning that there are moments where the casual watcher may be bemused. This is easily solved if you’ve heard the story before but may well affect it’s box office success.
This is a well made and consistently enjoyable movie. It should be five stars but there are just a few too many niggling little complaints. Don’t Panic, don’t expect perfection either but definitely do go and see it.