Trying to write a cogent review of the movie The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a lot like trying to catch one's footing during a pebbly landslide. Being unsure where to begin, I grab for a thesaurus and look up confused. "Disorderly, muddled, jumbled," it tells me. Yes, yes, those are all quite fine. Oblivious yields "heedless, incognizant, unmindful." Hmm, not bad. Then there's shallow: "facile, empty, trifling." That's probably good enough. HHGG (which, as an acronym, is substantially easier to type than the common H2G2) is a disorderly film, its jumbled parts rarely coalescing into anything worthy of praise, or even attention. While it is in many respects supremely faithful to the novel, it is also without exception unmindful of the things that make the novel great. It is infatuated with itself to the point of excess, facile to the point of mental penury, and utterly unworthy of your money or anyone else's.
Fortunately, I was admitted for free. So, too, was fellow GWJ member Grumpicus. We may as well have paid for admittance, though, since after the film ended we were forced to commiserate over drinks. For it is only with the aid of alcohol that I can fully come to terms with the fact that from here on out, this terrible film will be the first thing the ignorant masses think of when the words "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" are uttered.
(Disclaimer: This short review does not contain any tremendous spoilers for the film, although some minor facets of plot are mentioned in general terms in the next paragraph. I consider my target audience to be those who have read at least the first novel of the Hitchhiker's series. If you've never read the book, you'll probably want to steer clear... of the review and the film.)
With respect to its plot, the film does not stray terribly far from the book. Many hardcore fans will consider the prior sentence to be evidence of my insanity, but really, I think most of the essential stuff is present, albeit in a weakened state. The bulldozer scene, the Vogon fleet, Magrathea, the Heart of Gold, the whale and petunias, the Answer to the Question, Slartibartfast, entries from the Guide itself: they're all there. Some of them have been needlessly rearranged or altered, and plenty of mostly irrelevant new stuff has been added. These include a new religious cult (based upon a brief mention in the second Hitchhiker novel), a fun new handheld weapon, a cheesy romance, a couple of extraneous new characters, plenty of Vogons in places where there should be none, an unsatisfying shower scene, and an inexplicable kidnapping/rescue subplot. Few of these new elements work well, but HHGG could have easily survived them if not for its more glaring flaws in other areas. I'm not one to get bent out of shape over the addition of new plot material, or the omission of old, since I think the plot of HHGG was never a strong point in any case. However, I should note that the entire film is pervaded by a sense of uncomfortable purposelessness; many events happen for no reason at all, with no explanations proffered, and no punch lines on display. Seemingly important plot elements are at times raised, and then left totally unresolved, unaddressed, and unmentioned in the rest of the film.
Let us turn, then, to the acting -- or, if you are a clearer minded thinker, away from it. (Haha!) Martin Freeman makes a fine Arthur Dent, and Alan Rickman, who lends his voice to Marvin the Robot, is superb. Stephen Fry's narration of the Hitchhiker's Guide passages is enthusiastic and appropriately English. Other than these, the acting is uniformly unremarkable at best. At its worst, we have Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox. His cocaine-addicted, rock-star styled, and thoroughly idiotic portrayal of Zaphod is enough to single-handedly ruin the entire film, much in the manner of Jar Jar Binks. Every word he speaks, every scene he enters, and every piece of celluloid he defiles may be ranked among the most disastrous debacles in all of human history. In the books, Zaphod is a sympathetic and complex character, extremely bright but wildly impulsive; cunning, but easygoing; funny, but with deeply hidden secrets. In the movie, Zaphod does nothing other than give visual form to the word loathing. All who would venture to the theater in spite of these damning words: you have been warned.
Perhaps something could be said in favor of HHGG if it were funny. By and large, however, it is not. The novel it is based upon is one of the funniest works ever written, and so one might think it a good thing that the movie excises large chunks of dialogue and narration from the book. However, it becomes painfully clear only a few minutes into the film that the jokes that work so well on the written page fall flat when spoken onscreen. This is partly attributable to the fact that the director and actors frequently fail to grasp even the most basic principles of comic timing. The funniest parts of the movie are those that aren't taken from the novel; most of these bits are purely slapstick in nature. The narrations from the Hitchhiker's Guide are funny in and of themselves, but their humor is effectively quenched by the awkward manner in which they interrupt the progression of the film. With every narration from the Guide -- as with virtually every bit of dialogue taken directly from the book -- I found myself self-consciously squirming in my seat. This stuff is supposed to be great, but it isn't.
Most grievous of all, the filmmakers seem to have completely missed the point of the book. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the novel) is not some light-hearted comedic tramp through haphazardly scattered jokes; or rather, it is not only that. It is also overflowing with biting satire, political commentary, criticism of humanity in all its absurd vestures, and profound insights into the questions of whether our continued existence is an admirable goal to pursue, and why. The movie is devoid of all of this; indeed, its childish musical score and final sappiness would seem to be a deliberate effort at quashing all questions of import.
Douglas Adams himself is credited as a screenwriter for this film. From this fact, I am forced to contemplate the possibility that, in an entirely Adamsian twist, he may have missed his own point.