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THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Warwick Davis, Anna Chancellor, Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, John Malkovich
Director: Garth Jennings
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2005

“Did you say the end of the world is coming? Shouldn’t we all lay down on the floor or put paper bags over our heads?”

“If you’d like.”

“Will it help?”

“Not at all.”

Film ***1/2

Because I wasn’t too familiar with the cult following surround Douglas Adams’ popular novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and therefore the novel itself, I had no idea what was in store for me with this film treatment. What I got was a marvelously funny and totally original sci-fi farce that plays like a cross between Monty Python and Men in Black. In other words, if you happen to posses a truly warped sense of humor, you’ll be absolutely riveted.

I’m guessing that the movie stayed a hundred percent faithful to the novel. With Adams himself, who passed away in 2001, credited as both co-producer and co-writer of the screenplay, it couldn’t have really gone any other way. The original book also spawned a popular BBC television series in the early 80s. So with legions of fans that didn’t want to be disappointed with the final product, the filmmakers made the absolute right move in staying true to Adams’ quirky vision.

The oddball quality of the movie starts right off in the opening sequence, as it is revealed that dolphins were, in fact, the one and only species superior to man. Their constant leaping out of the water in front of audiences at theme parks was much more than an act; it was a way of expressing warnings that Earth was about to be destroyed. One crucial leap in the air is translated, in dolphin, as simply, “So long…and thanks for all the fish.”

We are then introduced to the reluctant hero of the story, an everyman named Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman). Arthur is about to have a bad day, as well as a most unusual one. He wakes up to the sound of construction workers attempting to tear down his home to make way for a bypass. As troubling as this is to Arthur, it’s actually the least of his worries.

Arthur’s best friend, Ford Perfect (Mos Def), arrives in the midst of the demolition process to inform two things to his longtime friend. First, that he is not from the planet Earth, and second, that the world is about to end in a matter of seconds. It turns out, an alien race known as the Vogons has scheduled for the Earth to be blown to bits in order to make way for an intergalactic bypass. Weird déjà vu, huh?

As the planet is about to explode (which is a mighty funny sequence), our two heroes hitch a ride and make it to safety, though it’s aboard the alien spaceship. Their further safety lies in the pages of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which we’re informed, through a sly narrator, is a most phenomenal book, and has managed to outsell any books concerning religion. Arthur and Ford use the book to help evade the Vogon race, who torture their captives through their awful reading of poetry.

Arthur and Ford are soon dumped into space by the Vogons, only to be unexpectedly rescued by oncoming space craft. The ship, known as the Heart of Gold, just happens to be piloted by the whacked out president of space, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). Zaphod is a most egotistical figure who has kidnapped himself and the ship, resulting in half the galaxy in pursuit of it, including the Vogons.

Also on board the Heart of Gold is Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), the very woman whom Arthur has deep feelings for, only to have Zephod steal her from him in the past. And lastly, there’s the massively depressed robot named Marvin (voiced to perfection by Alan Rickman).

Like Men in Black before it, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy garners most of its laughs by way of the tiniest details in the story. Many of these moments come from witty observations by The Narrator (voiced by Stephen Fry). Such scenes include the description of Vogon poetry reading and a sequence involving the short life span of a sperm whale. The latter of the two scenes produced the biggest laugh I’ve had in any movie this year.

And for a sci-fi movie, this is one splendid production. The creature designs by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is a superb visual treat in sort of an old school fashion. And the visual effects are absolutely terrific, especially in the early sequence involving the Vogon’s destruction of the Earth. Think of a slightly comical version of Independence Day, and you should get an idea of what to expect.

There’s no question that this movie will dazzle both fans of the Douglas Adams book, as well as the television series. But this movie is also for moviegoers in search of something terrifically original. Having never read the books, or seen the series, I can honestly say that the movie satisfied me on the level of originality, and it certainly makes me want to discover the Adams novels.

Video ****

What a fantastic looking presentation! Each week I seem to be come across a new candidate for the Best Video performance of the year, and I have here a new candidate with Disney’s outstanding and engaging handling of this visually splendid movie. The anamorphic picture is everything you want a great presentation to be; there’s consistent image clarity from beginning to end, the colors are as lively and natural as one could hope for, and the all around level of detail is nothing short of magnificent, and being that this is a futuristic movie, you can expect lots to look at in just about every frame.

Audio ****

Same praise for the audio. All science fiction movies seem to payoff big time in the audio field, and this movie is no exception. In fact, it’s a darn great example. The 5.1 mixes, offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS, are ones that will certainly work a good sound system. The movie is filled with many explosions, crashes, chases, and plenty of set designs for a surround sound system to take advantage of. Dialogue delivery and music playback are also of standout quality.

Features ****

Here’s an extras list of intergalactic proportions. Included on this disc are Deleted Scenes , as well as Fake Deleted Scenes”, An Additional Guide Entry (What the Guide has to say about quite possibly the oddest thing in the universe), a Sing Along for the song "So Long & Thank For All The Fish", "The Making of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", 2 Commentaries; the first with Executive Producer and Douglas Adams' Colleague Sean Salle; the second with Producer & Cast members, and lastly there’s a fun game; titled “Marvin's Hangman”.

Summary:

DON’T PANIC! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy is a thoroughly ingenious sci-fi comedy of the most oddball kind, and for someone like me, that’s a definite good thing. Filled with equal doses of science fiction and outlandish comedy, this is one intergalactic ride you don’t want to miss!

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