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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Film)

The very bad day of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is just starting. A group of council workers have turned up in bulldozers and excavators, with the intent of knocking his house down to make way for a bypass. Arthurís lie-down protest is interrupted by the appearance of his friend Ford (Mos Def), whoís in a hurry to get him down the pub and get some beer into him.

At the pub, Arthur relates the tale of a party he was at, where a bright young girl he was making progress with (Zooey Deschanel) was swept off by some smug jerk (Sam Rockwell) with a pickup line about being from a different planet. Then Ford tells him that Ford himself is from a different planet, and wants Arthur to depart Earth with him ASAP.

Ford is interrupted by the council workers demolishing Arthurís house Ė who are in turn interrupted by the arrival of the Vogon Constructor Fleet, who have come to demolish Earth itself to make way for an interstellar expressway. Ford grabs Arthur and, sticking out his thumb, hitches a ride on board a Vogon ship mere seconds before the Earth is destroyed...

Itís a rare reader whoís not at least marginally aware of the novel The Hitch Hikerís Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels, written by the late Douglas Adams (sadly lost to us in 2001). Rarer still is the Britisher who grew up in the seventies or eighties who isnít aware of the BBC radio play that spawned the books and the TV series that came after them. Much like the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy (and Harry Potter films), the film adaptation will be scrutinised by a legion of fans Fervently Hoping that Hollywood Doesnít Fuck This One Up.

Of course, the biggest challenge facing any film adaptation of is the fact that the source material stretches across not just a book, but three hours (each) of radio and TV, each with its own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies (which the aforementioned legion of fans have loved for at least twenty years). How do you distil all of the above into one-and-a-half to two hours of celluloid entertainment?

It helps that Douglas, who wrote and helped oversee the production of the above renditions of his idea as well as a computer game, wrote the treatment and first draft of the script himself, with rewrites handled post-mortem (as far as we know) by one man, Karey Kirkpatrick. Douglas is also given posthumous credit as executive producer. The script does juggle with the elements of the novel, even to the extent of adding in the nigh-obligatory "boy-meets-girl, etc." and character development plots, but it juggles with such skill and verve that only longtime fans would find the changes jarring. A new character (Humma Kavula, created by Adams for the film and played with relish by film madman John Malkovich) and sub-plot are added in order to set up a finale that, while still in broad-strokes identical to the end of the novel, is much less cynical and pessimistic.

The Vogons also get much more screen time than before and become not just a threat but also an obstacle, and are rarely un-funny. Theyíre brought to spectacular life and rendered in amazing detail by Jim Hensonís Creature Shop, a refreshing change while recent SF movies embrace CGI aliens. In fact, there seems to be a refreshing absence of blue screen work in this film; I donít think I spotted a single virtual set when the camera was close on the characters. But let that not be seen as damning the special effects, which are always capable at the least and never overdone, saving the jaw-dropping "Wow!" moments for when they're appropriate.

And last, but by no means least, comes the performance of the actors. First-time director Garth Jennings has both a British birth and a reported fanís love for the material, which are two points in his favour. Thankfully, his direction and the editing donít miss a beat when the new material arrives. He also gives his actors flexibility to find their own pace and explore slightly different takes on the beloved characters for the film, even if Mos Defís Ford Prefect and Sam Rockwellís Zaphod Beeblebrox (yes, that smug jerk) mightnít feel quite as developed as their previous incarnations (although one could argue that Ford is perhaps more consistently in character). Martin Freeman ably carries the film as a slightly more energetic and less stiff-necked Arthur Dent, with Zooey Deschanel doing a very capable job as Trillian, whose role is most expanded from the originals (gone from window dressing to serious love interest).

And of course, letís not forget the dead-perfect casting of both comedian Stephen Fry as the voice of The Guide (in fact, the spunky Guide animations, with Fryís voice work, could almost carry a whole comedy film of their own) and Alan Rickman in top maudlin form as the voice of the diminutive, bobble-headed Marvin the Paranoid Android (with Warwick ďWillowĒ Davis in the suit) Ė in my opinion, the best Marvin voice Iíve ever heard.

All in all, this adaptation successfully includes the dry sense of humour and overall fun of the original material at the expense of some of its darker moments Ė and easily manages to be an entertainingly good movie on its own merits. Go and see it before it leaves the big screen Ė hell, itís probably the first film in ages Iíve felt like paying for another ticket to see again!

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Comments

"in my opinion, the best Marvin voice Iíve ever heard."

HERETIC!!!

Whilst I'll admit Rickman did a wonderful job, clearly Stephen Moore was the definitive Marvin voice and anyone saying otherwise is clearly looking for a one-way trip to Vogsphere.

:)