This morning, we sat down to enjoy the funny and very entertaining film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s flawed, but I’ve always liked it very much. It’s true that it occasionally feels like the work of a talented repertory company doing a speed-read of the original, but I was still impressed by just how much of the original that they kept in, even when it wasn’t necessary. I mean, if you’re going for a lean and compact 100-odd minute movie, then the sperm whale bit is really not needed. But since Hitchhiker’s Guide was never meant to be a 100-minute movie, it was always going to feel a little odd, no matter what they included or chopped out.
I try to believe in judging things on their own merits, rather than against what came before. With that in mind, I’m perfectly pleased with what Hitchhiker’s Guide accomplishes. I think Ford Prefect is badly underwritten, and that’s the movie’s biggest mistake. Everything else is charming and fun, just a bit rushed.
So this time out, Arthur Dent is played by Martin Freeman (fourth billed!), with Mos Def as Ford, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod, and Zooey Deschanel as Trillian. Guest voices are provided by Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, and Helen Mirren, and Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast. The story is largely much the same as episodes 1-4 of the TV series, and most of the first book, with a radically different ending, two huge detours, a lot more Vogons, and a gigantic change that actually makes a huge amount of sense: the order to demolish the Earth was signed off by Zaphod, who, idiotically, thought somebody was asking for his autograph. It helps get Arthur and Trillian together a whole lot faster, for those of you hoping Earth’s last survivors would become a couple.
The movie kind of signaled the beginning of Zooey Deschanel’s Imperial phase, where she spent the mid-2000s as the It Girl of pretty much everything I was interested in. The records she did with M. Ward as She & Him were everywhere, and she was on TV in Tin Man and breaking my heart in (500) Days of Summer. I didn’t watch everything she did, but I adored what I had a chance to see, and she’s perfect as Trillian.
She’s so perfect that the rescue scene makes all kinds of sense, while I think that if the TV Trillian were to get abducted by Vogons, I’d just shrug a little. This leads to the movie’s greatest moment: the Vogon planet’s defense system, keeping anybody on the surface from having any kind of original thought. Our son liked the film very much, but he and I howled the loudest here. The Vogons are particularly amusing. Their design is terrific and I think there’s a little sensible magic in making the guard’s “Resistance is useless!” such a dull afterthought of a catchphrase. They’re bad-tempered but really lazy, after all.
Hitchhiker’s Guide was one of those unfortunate movies that made a little money, but not enough to justify a sequel. It’s a shame this team couldn’t have taken the story to Milliways and places further on. Maybe we’d have got the Krikkitmen and Fenchurch and the Grebulons… well, probably not Fenchurch. It’s a funny, clever movie with some great visuals, “Journey of the Sorcerer,” John Malkovich, the original BBC Marvin costume, and the beautiful sight of all those bad-tempered and lazy Vogons all becoming incredibly depressed as well.
Plus, now that we’ve seen this movie, Marie can go ahead and read Life, the Universe, and Everything to our son. Just as soon as she finishes the Target novelization of “The Wheel in Space,” anyway.