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IN SHORT: As great a SF-based comedy as it is a very silly SF summer movie. [Rated PG for thematic elements, action and mild language. 101 minutes]
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy of five novels by the late Douglas Adams, began as a BBC radio series and has also seen a television incarnation. Those occasionally appear on PBS and NPR as would-be incentives aimed at raising cash. In the teevee case, it's a really dumb thing to do as the BBC spent about a buck thirty seven on special effects. The only significance of the last two sentences is that Cranky has read all five novels and seen the rarely aired television series and, as always, makes no comparison to the Source Material.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (known by fans as "H2G2") is the story of plain ol' Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), who lives in a nice cottage in the English countryside and is horrified to find an army of bulldozers at his door, ready to do what they do best. In this case build a bypass road for the local highway. Enter his neighbor, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), pushing a supermarket cart filled with cans of beer (the better to occupy the attention of the demolition workers) and an invite to Arthur to head off for fresher brew at the local pub. Ford is rather insistent on this since, as an alien writer who had been on earth preparing material for the galactic tome known as "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" -- think of it as "Earth on $40 a Day" -- he knows that in twelve minutes time a fleet of alien Vogon ships will destroy the earth and thus clear the way for a bypass road for a universal spaceway. Yes, it's all Wizard of Oz-like but, no, it's no dream. The earth blows up good.
Before the end of all that is Arthur, still in his bathrobe, and Ford sneak off the planet in the hold of one of those Vogon demolition ships. Thus the hitchhiker part. Since Vogons are notoriously unreceptive to entertaining company, the pair soon find themselves discovered, ejected in deep space and facing certain death. Enter salvation in the form of a spaceship, the Heart of Gold, inhabited by a depressed robot called Marvin (Warwick Davis in the robot suit and Alan Rickman as its voice), an ex-love interest of Arthur now called Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), and the fugitive President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). From here on out, assuming you haven't already dismissed the film for the following conclusion: things start getting silly. Sillier. And tremendously funny.
If we tried to explain every bit of the film, any novice would reject the possibility of planting for the film because it would sound too difficult to follow. We haven't even gotten near to introducing a religious leader (John Malkovich), an extinct planetary computer called Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) or galactic planet designer Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), who explains everything at the end of the film. If you get that far without cracking a grin, any explanation will fall short.
We haven't looked at the source material in close to twenty years and can't make the claim that we've forgotten everything. We found the screenplay's mix of adapted material and new material to be A-B-C clear as a bill. If you find Brit humor like Monty Python funny, you'll have no problem losing yourself in this particular comedy universe. If you don't know the books, screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick completes the screenplay work left behind by Adams, who died in 2001, and keeps everything neat and tidy and easy to follow.
H2G2 isn't overwhelmed by special effects. Indeed, their use is fairly perfunctory. It's jokes are, for the most part, buried in the dialog. IF you see it in a good sized crowd, any substantial laughter will either mask the next gag or carry you along to it. Those who haven't looked at the books in ten or fifteen years, like us, will have no problems.
There are basic elements that should have been explained by the screenplay but may have not been -- the sound mix is, to our ears, to our ears, drek (but we're old. We may be deficient). When expository material is overwhelmed by the score, its usually a sign of greater deficiencies in the film. Not in this case.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, he would have paid . . .
You may be laughing so much you'll have to go back to catch what you may have missed. Either that or you'll walk out of the theater thinking Cranky has lost his ever loving mind.
For more about Douglas Adams, we recommend Wish You Were Here : The Official Biography of Douglas Adams
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