If the Hitchhiker’s Guide actually contained a listing for the Touchtone Film version of the Douglas Adams book, it might have this to say about it: “Mostly Unnecessary.”
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is your typical Earthman living in Great Britain and unlucky in love. One morning, Dent discovers bulldozers at the front door and that his house is scheduled for demolition to make room for an expressway, but his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) informs him that the entire PLANET is about to be destroyed (and for roughly the same reason). After hitching a ride off-planet moments before Earth’s impending doom, the two buddies are launched on an adventure across the galaxy and the imagination of Douglas Adams.
The ideas behind the works of the late Douglas Adams are both thought-provoking and hilarious, but translating that into a special-effects laden pre-summer blockbuster not have been the best idea. As a film trying to bring this book to the masses (and at a massive expense), mixing and matching the visual telling of the story appears more confusing than the subject matter already is to those with less than an openly cynical mind to begin with. Is the film meant to be a random sampling of a weird galactic truth as seen through the eyes of the last human being or a love story with a truly twisted back story?
The book itself, the Hitchhiker’s Guide, is used as more of a novelty and very inconsistent; sometimes it’s a full graphical rendering and sometimes it’s a voiceover, but its distracting in both cases and seems more like an afterthought (we need more of the book in the movie about the book!) It’s safe to say that it’s rarely a good sign when characters simply stand around while special effects are displayed for the audience, especially the kind that’s supposed to inspire awe and wonder in a film where, frankly, no one was looking for it or needed. For those who remember, Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a few similar moments, the worst and most pointless of which was the infinitely-long series of flybys so Paramount could show how much money was spent in making the new Enterprise model.
In the end, The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a British comedy written by a British author populated by British actors, then severely tarnished by treating it like an American idea. Like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, it excels where it sticks to the known material and languishes everywhere else in pointless exposition and needless special effects (although re-entry using the Infinite Probability Drive was often hilarious before “normalization.”) Too bad the characters in the film weren’t as observant of how bad and distracting those parts of the film were; as it is, the movie trailer where the Guide itself defines a movie trailer is funnier and far more entertaining than the film it was meant to promote.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)