I didn’t get some of the humor within The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Some of it, I wager, could not be enjoyed without already being familiar with the book series written by Douglas Adams. Being unfamiliar, I must have missed something. Assuming you like the books and are only curious about the movie, you should probably just see it for yourself, as I’m sure my ignorance will anger you. If you’re a newcomer, like me, perhaps I’ll be able to shed some light onto whether or not you should give it a watch.
It’s hard to talk about a plot, since there isn’t much of one. There are four lead characters who run around on different planets searching for something, but there isn’t much of a plot to keep things on the rails. The lead is a human named Arthur (Martin Freeman), whose house is about to be destroyed so that a bypass can be made. The plans have been on display for a while, the construction workers claim. Soon enough, aliens come down and say that the Earth is going to be destroyed — to make room for a hyperspace bypass — and that those plans have also been on display. The film almost won me over with that little quip.
Arthur is saved by his friend, Ford (Mos Def), who manages to get them onto the alien spaceship. The Earth is destroyed, the two men are picked up by another ship, and we meet the other two members of our human-looking main cast. The first is the “President of the Universe,” Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), while the other is a girl who just wants to explore new places, Tricia (Zooey Deschanel). Along with their clinically depressed robot, Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman), the four are about to set off on a quest to find out … something.
It doesn’t really matter what that something is, as they diverge from their quest so frequently that it rarely comes into play. It’s all just an excuse to have them all travel through space and show us the universe that Adams created in his books. And what a universe it is. If I happened to be in love with it before watching this movie, I would probably be gleeful after getting to see it represented on-screen.
See, even though I haven’t read the books, listened to the radio shows, or been previously exposed to the franchise much at all apart from all that “42” nonsense, I found myself wanting to be after seeing this film. If the voice-over narration provided by Stephen Fry is any indication — and I’ve been told that it is — the books are probably hilarious and I would enjoy reading them. I’m not sure if his narration is lifted directly from the book’s pages, but if it is, I can definitely see myself getting into them at some point.
I did laugh during some portions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, mainly during the obvious satire and the bizarre aspects that it features. I’m sure that I missed some in-jokes and references that will have fans cheering and hooting, but for what it’s worth, newcomers should still have a fairly fun time. You’ll laugh a bunch if this kind of humor is your thing, and you’ll probably also have a bunch of moments where you just won’t understand what’s going on — but you’ll kind of like it anyway.
Where The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy falls apart is in its characters and story, both of which are lackluster. The characters and their relationships are all surface level in terms of depth, and while they’re acted just fine, there isn’t much to them. Whether that’s intentional or not, I’m not sure, but if the books are more about the universe and less about these people, then it would make sense that they’re one-dimensional and not fully realized. It doesn’t make this acceptable, but I do understand it.
As for the plot, it’s pretty much nonexistent. These people are on a journey, sure, but they basically just go from one place to another — often randomly thanks to the way that their ship lets them travel — and wherever they end up is where they’re going to explore. The film goes on like this for its entirety, and if you’re looking for some coherency in the story, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Most of the cast is phenomenal, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the names I’m about to list. Martin Freeman plays the not-a-hero very well, Sam Rockwell is insane (probably literally) as Mr. President, and the strong voice cast consisting of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, and Thomas Lennon all give their roles life and sounded perfect for me. Mos Def and Zooey Deschanel were less spectacular, if only because their roles were less meaty and they weren’t given much to work with. Oh, and Billy Nighy and John Malkovich have small roles. That’s always fun.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is ultimately a fun film, although I think that not knowing the source material beforehand hurts your understanding of the references and in-jokes that would probably deepen the experience. If nothing else, the film has given me some reason to read the books that it’s based on, as they seem like they’d be a lot of fun. And if they’re more about the atmosphere than the characters and story, that would probably work better as a book than film.