The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Director: Garth Jennings
Cast: Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell

Reviewer: Stuart ‘Stevie’ Leitch

I’ve never been of the opinion that movie adaptations should be ‘faithful’ to their source materials. If I’ve read the book, why should I then see exactly the same on the big screen? When a story transfers to a new medium, it should be thoughtfully adapted and include some new twists to keep the die-hard fans interested.

For the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in its many forms, this is particularly true. The novels were different from the original radio series, the TV series had some more changes and now the new Hollywood film twists the story and the tone once again. And that’s a good thing of course, but some of the changes were a little baffling.

The film starts largely similarly to previous incarnations. After a bad start to the day when his house is demolished by bureaucratic town planners, things get worse for Englishman Arthur Dent when the Earth is destroyed ten minutes later. Fortunately he is saved by his friend Ford Prefect who turns out to be a researcher from Betelgeuse and not from Guildford after all. They then go on to meet two-headed Galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox and Arthur’s old flame Tricia ‘Trillian’ MacMillan. So far so hoopy, but then...

Douglas Adams decided that the film should have an actual plot and so stopped the script mid sentence to have some things happening. So the gang has some purpose to its adventures, then Trillian gets kidnapped and rescued. None of this has much relevance to anything, so...

we pick up again as if nothing happened. Which is a bit frustrating.

Unfortunately, whilst this is mostly a very good film, it wastes a lot of potential. It tries to offer a coherent plot but is all over the place. It tries to work in a subtle romance sub-plot but that feels tacked on. The casting is excellent but little is made of most of the characters.

Despite its many failures though, it is a very enjoyable film. The special effects finally do justice to the grand scale of the story. The script has taken a few knocks but still sparkles with Adams’ trademark humour. Some of the new bits really do work well – in particular all of the new material with the Vogons. And just occasionally, moments of brilliance shine through – some of the effects of the Improbability Drive are hilarious.

Finally, hats off to Stephen Fry who did the impossible in replacing Peter Jones as the voice of the book. Beautifully complimented by the very funny and very clever animations, the excerpts from the book are the highlights of the film.