Folks, I’m going to cop to a new level of geekery here; since I was a kid, I have loved “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the game, the text-based adventure game. Thanks to my dad, and his impromptu Christmas gift of an Infocom boxed set of games to my sister and me, I played that game for years. In fact, it took my 10 years to figure out how to get off the Heart of Gold, and I’ve loved that game ever since. (On a side note, I’ve read the books, but I didn’t find them as joyous as the game.)
So a few years ago, when I heard my game was coming to the big screen, I was pretty stoked, until I read some lukewarm reviews and saw some lackluster commercials and talked myself out of seeing it.
But three years later, I decided to give the movie a chance, and well, it’s a shame that the film is only half as much fun as the game.
The story begins with our Everyman hero, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), who was cast aside by his dream babe, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), the night before, only to wake up and discover that his house is set to be demolished to make room for a freeway.
But as his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def, by far the best of the main cast) points out, that’s not really too important, because, as it turns out, today is also the day Earth is scheduled for demolition to make way for an intergalactic freeway. Arthur and Ford hitch a ride on a spaceship and their adventure begins; they meet new people and old friends, and in one delightful sequence, discover there is no more pervasive or evil force in the galaxy than bureaucracy.
The main problem I had with “Hitchhiker’s” is that the core group of actors, including an incredibly obnoxious turn from Sam Rockwell as the president of the galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, never seems to be in on the joke. They’re at times awkward and stiff and just generally uncomfortable with the material. There’s plenty of the whimsy and absurdist humor (from an opening musical number from dolphins, to Stephen Fry’s brilliant narration and to the animated excerpts from the ‘guide’) in the film, but it’s all on the sidelines. The main story line lacks juice, and it’s frustrating to get pulled away from an interesting side bit to sit through a story I just don’t care about.
More than anything, watching the film made me want to play the game I remember so well. Thanks to my dad, I still have that to look forward too.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (2005)
Written by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick
Directed by Garth Jennings
Starring: Martin Freeman (Arthur Dent)
Mos Def (Ford Prefect)
Zooey Deschanel (Trillian)
Sam Rockwell (Zaphod Beeblebrox)