“So long and thanks for all the fish”
It took a quarter century for Douglas Adams‘ seminal work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to hit the big screen, but it was worth the wait. Well, I’m probably not the authoritative word on such a statement considering the book series has rested unread on my shelf for the better part of ten years. As someone with no frame of reference to either it or the original radio play, though, I can say it’s a ton of British satirical fun showcasing our world’s eccentricities and unruly bureaucracy literally projected onto a universal scale. Just as our cities need bypasses and pushover homeowners’ lives to uproot in the process, planets need interstellar pathways too. And if a world isn’t technologically proficient enough to peruse the demolition plans on display light years away, well its decimation is its own fault.
With a final script variation by Adams himself utilized as the film’s backbone despite his death four year’s prior, Karey Kirkpatrick was brought on to shore up the new ideas said to have been at the behest of its creator. The venerable Stephen Fry was hired as narrator—Adams’ own first choice—and the one role the novelist demanded be English was awarded to the then mostly unknown stateside British comic genius Martin Freeman. Yes, before donning big hairy feet in The Hobbit, Freeman brought another much-loved literary character to life via Arthur Dent. Serving as our entry point into the sci-fi, galaxy-hopping adventure aboard an improbability drive-enabled spaceship, we relate to the sheer futility of his situation as the zany band of misfits by his side show how off-the-wall things are outside our comparatively stiff upper lip existence on Earth.
Commencing minutes before our world’s destruction at the hands of the universe’s pompous paper-pushers the Vogons, we watch as Arthur’s entire existence flips on its head. Worried his flat is about to be bulldozed while he watches, revelations that best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) is an alien and his home being flattened is meaningless in comparison to his home being blown up are too much for a few pints to distract from. The Vogons enter our atmosphere, Earth gives a final scream, and Ford puts his thumb in the air to hitch a ride on whatever craft is nearby to once more travel through the stars like he has his whole adult life. With towels firmly grasped the two begin their adventure with tortuous poetry, a lung’s breath in the vacuum of space, and eventual salvation upon the Heart of Gold.
A writer for the eponymous “guide”, Ford rescues his buddy to square a debt the earthling earned saving him upon arriving in England. The perfect wealth of information to help acclimate Arthur and us to life in space along with the impossibly improbable probabilities of coincidence that ultimately lay the framework for their journey, Ford explains the most valuable phrase anyone can ever learn to follow, “Don’t Panic”. It’s a nice sentiment to have until they discover the Heart of Gold on which they travel was stolen by Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and is currently being hunted by his VP (Anna Chancellor) and a Vogon fleet. Serving as both hostage and kidnapper, Zaphod proves an unpredictable force of high-octane energy that offers as much assistance as liability to our stowaway leads.
This trio joins with earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel)—a woman Dent fell in love with before Zaphod’s charm swooped in—to find themselves on the run, desperately hoping to rectify the confusion of Beeblebrox’s situation and survive the chaos facing them. They go through a few metaphysical transformations on behalf of the Heart of Gold’s improbability drive, engage with a sad-sack manic depressive robotic compatriot named Marvin (performed by Warwick Davis and voiced by Alan Rickman), and try hard to take the ship’s unfazed exuberance (Thomas Lennon) in the face of unsolvable danger with the grain of salt necessary to not be driven insane. They stand in queues with purple forms and blue forms, get smacked in the face when caught thinking, and watch as their imbecilic “president” gains intellectual clarity through via lemon zest.
It’s off-the-wall humor and situational comedy full of puns and desert dry jokes that proves absolutely divisive when such things aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. One should know what they are getting into before diving into the deep end with a slew of high concept characters—like John Malkovich‘s Humma Kavula leading a church of parishioners who believe they are the remnants of God’s sneeze—and brilliantly formulated creatures courtesy of Jim Henson Company practical effect, full-size puppetry that add a level of authenticity and charm no amount of CGI artistry could ever match. Philosophical musings about the meaning of life, giant God-like computers (Helen Mirren) solving unanswerable questions, and Earth’s own position in the fabric of time while engaging in morality exercises all crop up as we learn mice truly rule the world.
There is over-the-top excess courtesy of Rockwell; subtle, straight man humor of expressive sarcasm from Freeman; and an awkward middle ground of off-kilter delight on behalf of Mos Def. The art production is a massive undertaking by first-time feature director Garth Jennings and his Hammer and Tongs partner Nick Goldsmith with gorgeous visuals and from-scratch renderings of iconic characters hatched straight from Douglas Adams’ mind. Even more fantastic British talent arrives with Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey, and Kelly Macdonald and an inventive world unlike any you’ve ever seen unfolds before your eyes. Add in Fry’s deadpan delivery of made-up historical facts through the annals of space while everything we know is rendered a complete fabrication and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will test your imagination from frame one. Accept it early and enjoy.