Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, and Mos Def in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) Amazon Instant, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes
The Basics: After being a radio program, a book, and a TV series, Douglas Adams’ wacky sci-fi comedy finally makes the leap to the big screen.
If You Like: Galaxy Quest, The World’s End, Guardians of the Galaxy
By the turn of the 21st century, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had conquered every medium save one: major motion pictures. The brainchild of British humorist Douglas Adams, the Hitchhiker’s brand started on the radio in 1978 and later expanded to encompass novels, television, stage, video games (including an early text-based game that was notoriously impossible) and comic books. Each iteration followed the same basic premise: After Earth is destroyed by bureaucratic aliens, average guy Arthur Dent reluctantly embarks on an intergalactic adventure that brings him into contact with such eccentric alien personalities as the two-headed Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox and towel-loving hitchhiker, Ford Prefect. Another staple of each adaption was Adams’ Monty Python-esque wit, which masterfully blended dry humor with goofy absurdity.
Adams himself was high on getting a feature film off the ground, but the enterprise always seemed to crash before achieving lift off. It remained in limbo when the author died suddenly in 2001, leaving behind a script for the movie version. Strangely enough, his passing seemed to renew enthusiasm for making a Hitchhiker’s flick and several directors were approached — including Spike Jonze — before the task fell to first-time feature filmmaker Garth Jennings, one-half of the cheeky production duo Hammer & Tongs. (Jennings’ partner in that endeavor is Nick Goldsmith.) Best known for whimsical music videos like Blur’s “Coffee & TV,” Jennings had just the right temperament for Adams’ brand of humor.
Certain things do get lost in the translation from radio/page/television to screen, of course. A romance between Arthur (expertly played by Martin Freeman, the present-day British answer to Jimmy Stewart) and surviving Earth woman Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) plays a more prominent role here, and the movie, in general, has more plot than the haphazard series of events that unfold in the book. But Adams’ spirit is very much preserved onscreen, as evidenced by the scene — which is taken directly from the book — where a sperm whale is conjured into existence and briefly contemplates some deep thoughts as it plummets towards its doom. The cast is a delight to watch as well, with Sam Rockwell playing Zaphod as a full-throated deep-space rock star, while Helen Mirren lends her pipes to the computer that has solved the answer to the Ultimate Question of life, the universe and everything. (Say it with us now: 42.)
Unfortunately, Hitchhiker’s sense of humor wasn’t to everyone’s taste. While the movie topped the box office its first weekend out, the grosses sank from there, effectively cancelling the order for the sequel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Still, the fact that it made it to the big screen at all — not to mention in such riotous form — made it a win.
Watch the trailer: