Cinema Signal:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

There's hardly anything different or unique about making a movie from source material in another medium. Certainly not this year when "Sin City" has made such a splash with truly new innovation. What that film and this one have in common is the originator's direct collaboration with the filmmaker, in this case Douglas Adam's with director Garth Jennings. But, even with the creater's hand on the wheel, there's no guarantee that the transference will be true. A idea --even a great one-- simply plays differently in media outside its original creative orbit.

Which doesn't mean this doesn't play well as a movie. In fact, failing to attract much of my interest when it was a book (a five part "trilogy"), a radio drama, a TV series, a video game and galactikins know what, the movie and its antic directions quite nicely reached my funny bone for a steady stream of tickles.

In the center of the amusement vortex is nerdy earthling Arthur Dent whose home is being threatened by a bulldozing crew building a bypass that his house is obstructing. But, even as he blocks destruction with his body, his pal Ford Prefect (Mos Def) arrives with the good news that his efforts, in the grander scheme of things, are a waste of time. Not only is the house to be obliterated, and not only is the demolition crew to be obliterated, as well, but the entire planet is going to disappear from the face of the galaxy in ten minutes time.

Repairing to the local bar, Prefect explains that he's not an earthman, much as he looks like one. He's an alien, with the kind of futuristic communication linkup to know that the Vogons, an interstellar race of pug ugly administrative wonks, have received orders to clear Earth off the galactic highway. It's in the way of a planned bypass for hyperdriving spacecraft.

As the Vogon fleet ship fills earth's stratosphere preparatory to demolishing it, Prefect puts his little beam-up tool to use and brings Dent and him up into the belly of the beast, where they wind up in a holding cell. They're not held for long. The chief administrative official (superbly designed cross between a pig and an obese walrus) is not much for hitchhikers. He loathes them. They're disorderly, unaccounted for. To clean up the mess of having two off-the-books alien matter, he chucks them out into space, content in the necessity of the act.

So starts a venture that includes two young geniuses who appeal to the great oracle for the answer to the question, "why are we here?" During the course of the years it takes the oracle to offer its answer, Dent meets, woos and loses the lucious Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) by screwing up in his usual good-natured, feeble manner. But, not to worry, because by hapless spatial circumstance, he meets up with her again in her true identity as a vital crewmember aboard Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebox's (Sam Rockwell) starship. Also aboard is Marvin (Alan Rickman voiced), a robot who might make one think of R2D2 out of "Star Wars" except that he's so relentlessly melancholy. He's a machine with an emotion. Just one. Depression.

The pallette is full of comic possibility with a stylistic flavor all its own. Fans who are familiar with the source material will find many a touchpoint, some satisfying (the design of Magrathea), others disappointing (the romantic subplot?), but newcomers might well find themselves richly amused, as I did. Whats' more, I thought Deschanel a continual delight with that fresh modesty she does so well. Martin Freeman keeps up his end as the innocent discoverer of hyper-realities beyond possibility, and the feelings for Trillian that we mortals so well identify with.

Bill Nighy makes a late appearance as the "cavalry riding to the rescue," authoritative Startibartfast that's as nice as it is welcome. John Malkovich all but licks his evil chops as president Beeblebox's arch and uncontrollable rival, Humma Kavula in a setting (see pic on right) that may be the visual highlight of the film. Only the slap-sticky, two-faced Beeblebrox brings the creative level down to the sphere of the mundane.

I frankly don't care about comparing the film to how it worked in its earlier manifestations. Boosting it on this plane are ingenious character designs, state of the art digital effects and a script generous enough in its humor to keep me happily fastened to my guidebook. As it courses through its galaxy of boxoffices, I expect a high state of amusement to keep it fueled.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Alan Rickman is inside that robotic ball of depression
Not boosting the hopes of Sam Rockwell, Mos Def and Martin Freeman

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