The Barenaked Archives – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe books are always better than the movies. That’s usually my stance on watching adapted films. While director Garth Jennings doesn’t change it with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he still manages to come out with a movie that’s pretty entertaining and at least tries to stay true to the spirit of the novel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is about the misadventures of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) once Earth is blown to smithereens to make way for an interstellar bypass. Arthur’s rescued by his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who’s actually an alien, and they wind up on a stolen spaceship commanded by the president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and his girlfriend, Tricia McMillen, a.k.a. Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Now, they’re bouncing across the galaxy while searching for the question to Life, the Universe, and Everything, and trying to avoid capture by the Vogons, a nasty race of bureaucratic aliens.

If the movie sounds like it’s a little crazy and off the wall, that’s because it is. Douglas Adams came up with some of the most random things in the world for the books, and quite a bit of them made it into the movie. The opening song, “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish,” the final adieu the dolphins bid the humans before leaving Earth, is absolutely hilarious and so catchy you may be humming it on your way out of the theater.

Interspersed throughout the film are little asides from the Guide (voiced beautifully by Stephen Fry), explaining things such as the most intelligent beings on Earth, the worst poetry in the universe, and exactly what Vogons are. The calm explanations, and the little animations that often accompany them, are funny and spot-on. Although there aren’t nearly as many asides in the movie as there are in the book (that would be impossible), there are enough for you to get the idea of how utterly useful the Guide is.

When it comes to the characters, they really did a great job in the casting department. Martin Freeman is great as Arthur, a confused Everyman who just wants to know how he went from having his morning coffee to having his planet demolished and what he’s doing on a spaceship. A lot of people were up in arms about Mos Def being cast as Ford Prefect, but he does a great job as well, embodying Ford’s whole attitude of calm, cool, and collected.

The standout is easily Sam Rockwell, a president who’s a few tacos short of a combination plate, and has one of the best lines in the movie: “If there’s anything on this ship that’s more important than my ego, I want it caught and shot!”

It seems that only Zooey Deschanel as Trillian is the weak link. She didn’t have a lot to do in the books, and though they tried to give her more in the movie, it just doesn’t quite come together. In fact, the weakest part of the film seems to be the love story between Arthur and Trillian. Not to say that they couldn’t have pulled it off, but it just seems too conventional amidst all the weirdness that passes for normality in this movie.

Visually, they really did a lot of great things with this film. The Heart of Gold spaceship, the icy surface of Magrathea, the factory floor where they construct planets (my favorite), Vogsphere…I could go on. They absolutely nailed the Vogons, who are so vile-looking it seems like you should be able to smell them from the theater. Marvin the Paranoid Android (played by Warwick Davis and voiced by Alan Rickman) is perfect, round and waddling and constantly depressed.

Although it’s not the best book-to-movie adaptation on the market, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy retains enough of the spirit of the books to make it entertaining. Ignore the whining of the diehard purists and take a chance on this film.

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