The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (2005)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 4/29/05
Screenplay: Douglas Adams
Cast: Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Warwick Davis, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, John Malkovich, Bill Nighy

The film adaptation of Douglas Adams' classic novel is beautiful and visually stunning, but clearly not appropriate for the big screen. Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is your typical middle class British male, leading a sad and lonely life on Earth. When Earth is destroyed by a Vogon fleet to make way for a new space highway project, Arthur and his alien friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) escape by stowing away on a Vogon battleship. Shortly thereafter, they hook up with the Heart Of Gold, piloted by the wild and crazy President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). Zaphod's crew consists of Earth girl Trillian (luscious Zooey Deschanel) and a manically depressed robot named Marvin (Warwick Davis, voiced by Alan Rickman), and they're on the run from the law trying to track down the ultimate question whose answer is 42. Mayhem and improbability ensues.

First of all, how could this film NOT be a disappointment? Yes, it's very pretty and well made, but the material just isn't visual and can't be compressed into ninety minutes. Ironically, the original BBC TV series captured the spirit of the book more effectively, but suffered visually. Since so much of the humor in the book is narrative in nature, translating that to the screen disrupts the pacing and makes the proceedings tedious. Not having read the book in over twenty years, I don't have a good feeling for how far the film strayed from the original material, and how much was left out. The acting is quite good, although Sam Rockwell's performance rubbed me the wrong way. Zooey Deschanel is beautiful and her radiant face lights up the entire screen. And those eyes! Wow... Mos Def is the most surprising of the bunch, and delivers an excellent Ford Prefect. As I mentioned before, the visual effects are thoughtful and stunning, lingering on fantastic beauty shots instead of frenzied action shots. Jim Henson Productions' Vogon effects are astonishing, and I never imagined that so much expression could come from a puppet. The visual elements are nicely held together by a stirring music score and the entire production is well done, but the material suffers from the medium. There are certainly worse ways to spend an evening, though.