Douglas Adams' popular novel comes to filmic life as Earthling Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) hitches a ride into outer space with his furtively alien pal Ford Prefect (Mos Def of The Italian Job) when Earth is detonated to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Wacky aliens prevail as Arthur and Ford hitch their way onto a stolen spacecraft with a bi-polar (two-headed) President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (hilariously played by Sam Rockwell of Matchstick Men) and Beeblebrox's cherished postmodern American assistant Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Adams' infectious British humor translates well in debut director Garth Jennings' faithful manipulation of the wholesome themes at hand. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an enjoyable sci-fi romp with a strong twist of self-effacing British raillery that children of all ages will get a charge from.
The late Douglas Adams was a comedy writer who originally wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as part of a radio show, a five-book trilogy and as a BBC television show. The original series was set in an underwater world that's hinted at in the opening sequence of the movie wherein dolphins (advanced alien creatures) sing a goodbye ode to the Earth with the refrain, "So long and thanks for all the fish." When the dolphins make their skyward exit, you can't help but break into a chuckle.
Right away, you're snapped into Adams' irreverent, gentle black humor that shimmers with an environmentalist theme conveyed by dolphins doing gymnastic flips in the open night air under a moonlit sky. The kicker comes when the dopey Arthur Dent is introduced as a male counterpart to Bridget Jones. The fact that Arthur remains throughout the movie as an anti-hero space traveler wearing pajama bottoms, a terrycloth robe and slippers merely adds to the joy of enduring post-apocalypse reality with a meandering Brit who can barely brush his teeth in the morning. Nevertheless, our awkward protagonist Arthur did a very important thing when he saved the life of his loyal friend: The newly arrived Ford Prefect, you see, had attempted to shake hands with a moving car that he postulated to be the governing life form on Earth. Arthur shoved Ford from the path of the oncoming vehicle and unwittingly insured his own survival when the Earth becomes vaporized to make way for a hyperspace bypass by exquisitely ugly Vogon aliens. The Earth's destruction coincides with a roadway bypass that signals the demolition of Arthur's picturesque rural cottage. Things could be worse for Arthur.
Adams' absurdist humor takes on a surreal tone when Ford rushes Arthur to a local pub to down six pints of beer in their last 12 minutes on Earth. The bar patrons soon put paper bags on their heads and lie down together in an implicit suicide pact while the camera cuts to people in big cities running through the streets like cattle. The end of the planet is an oddly peaceful affair that promises the audience a more meaningful and personal story of one lucky man and the equally fortunate girl (Trillian) that he adores.
Voice-over narration by Stephen Fry clues us into the contents of the "Hitchhiker's Guide" that Ford contributed to as a writer. The words "Don't Panic" are imprinted across the back of the most popular book in the universe, and serve to support the dry humor that's most thoroughly expressed by Marvin the Paranoid Android (voiced by Alan Rickman). Marvin's lazy pessimism augurs the goofy adventure with knowing asides as he moans about the uselessness of every endeavor.
The thematic centerpiece of Hitchhiker's Guide comes when a giant computer answers the eternal question, "What is the meaning of life?"
The computer's surprising answer is appropriately short and inscrutable after keeping people waiting for millions of years for the solution. But the computer trumps its offhand answer by raising another question about what would be a more appropriate question in the first place. Here, Adams' prescient wit subtly demands something of the viewer that extends the macrocosmic vantage point of the story.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy unspools like an effortless compilation of humor from Monty Python, Men in Black, Mars Attacks and Brazil. It's a skeptical satire that fits slapstick physical humor with a biting sense of the importance of creative thought. In short, it's very British, in the best sense of the word