Say “Slartibartfast” fast three times
Well, Earth is destroyed, but luckily our guy-next-door, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), is best friends with an alien, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who saves his life by thumbing a lift on a ginormous spaceship which has just played a rather big part in the Earth’s destruction. Obviously, Arthur is very confused. He proceeds on a journey around the Galaxy, accompanied by the Hitchhiker’s Guide, which will give him all the information he needs, and the Galactic President (Sam Rockwell) in search of the question to the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
It’s about time to throw in the towel (however useful it might be) on this whole Hitchhiker’s Guide saga. After taking form as a radio series, record album, five book trilogy, TV series, comic book and stage show, this film is surely the end of it all. It’s certainly the end of Earth. As soon as our lovely beautiful planet is wiped off the galactic map, Arthur is catapulted into unfamiliar and very, very strange territory. The alien creatures are very creatively devised, Vogons especially; looking exactly like the bureaucratic, suit-wearing miseries they are. Most of the jokes, like those in the books, are funny in that British-random sort of way that some people just don’t get.
On the other hand, maybe a spot of Earthly-patriotic randomness is just what we need. We can expect to be blown away watching Star Wars, Batman, and Sin City and wouldn’t we all prefer to do so whilst drinking a nice cup of tea? If Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy) is proud of our outdated little planet, then we should be too. We don’t need Gotham City or Coruscant, we have the chilly and familiarly dull British West Country.
Arthur Dent wanders through the Galaxy in his pyjamas and is as bewildered as we are. He is however, surprisingly chilled, really taking the Guide’s “Don’t Panic” suggestion to heart. He seems more concerned with his gal (Zooey Deschanel) and the dilemma as to whether he should call her Trisha or Trillian – oh the problems he faces! Sam Rockwell dazzles as the schizophrenic, alarming and mischievous – to say the least – Zaphod Beeblebrox. (Does having two heads preclude schizophrenia? Or is he the ultimate schizo prototype?) His irresponsibility as Galactic President is played perfectly by Rockwell whose gaudiness and flamboyance are just over-the-top enough to amuse and exasperate.
The screenplay crams in the overall gist of the five books quite neatly, although never really being sure of the plot, it drifts along like a hitchhiker languishing in passport control at a Vogon airport. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. We are allowed to watch all the weird and wonderful goings-on in a galaxy governed (or not) by Zaphod, without being particularly worried about the safety of the characters. The thing with comedies is that we know no-one we care about is going to die. Therefore, there is no opportunity to build suspense. Sadly, Hitchhiker’s Guide does try to build suspense when Trillian is being lowered towards the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, when to be honest, we’d much rather hear another rendition of the fabulous dolphin choral ode “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish” than Trillian’s half-hearted screams as it takes twenty minutes for her to be lowered three feet.
For many, the funniest moment of the books was discovering that the hugely anti-climactic answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. That’s just pure genius! However, the film downplays the momentousness of this revelation by condensing the story of the huge supercomputer into a couple of minutes of screentime – even less time than is given to Vogon poetry, which we all know is a very bad thing. Still, Hitchhiker’s Guide gets back on track when we get to Slartibartfast and his tour of Earth II, and when the mice show themselves for what they really are: annoying, devious and irritating – hmmm, not much change there then …
Overall, the film takes the same attitude of the novels, which relegates philosophical meanderings to comic parodies, taking a tongue-in-cheek look at life as we know it; blissfully ignorant of all the possibilities of infinite probability, and how lucky we are that we don’t quite know what’s out there. The jokes are old but luckily they are well-loved and still decently funny. For those people who read film reviews hoping for an elucidation of the deeper meaning of the film, it can safely be said that that meaning of the film is roughly, and completely, 42.