Don’t panic. The movie adaptation of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (which in a way is an adaptation of an old BBC radio show) is not as bad as some people on the internet will have you believe. Sure, the naysayers have a point – the source material (a trilogy in five parts) is so big, and full of unbelievable characters and events, it’s tough to bring everything to a big screen. So, if you’re expecting to see the entire book in a movie theater – you may just stay home and read the book. But if you’re in the mood for an odd sci-fi comedy (think Spaceballs, Farscape or Galaxy Quest), you’ll enjoy this cute little film.
If you’ve read Douglas Adams’ books, just skip this paragraph. For novices, this is vital. The books were not written as one part – they were moved to paper after a phenomenal success of an stint on the radio back in the late 70s. You should also remember that just because something was popular in Britain, doesn’t make it universally popular or even interesting. But bear in mind, this brand of humor goes along the lines of Monty Python, so if you can chuckle at Pythons, you’ll enjoy “Hitchhiker”. If you take your sci-fi seriously, just stay away, spend 10-15 bucks on the books (the entire trilogy, of course), give them a shot, and then decide for yourself if you really want to see this colourful universe on the big screen. Personally, many things looked better in my imagination, when I was reading the books, but I got a lot of laughs in the theater.
I read the books only once, a few years back, when I was sick. The books were so entertaining that to this day I don’t remember what I was sick with. I just remember spending a week in bed, drinking medicine, having temperature taken, sweating something out, and reading the adventures of Arthur Dent (a simpleton from Earth), Ford Prefect (his close friend who lived on Earth to study it, but actually was from somewhere in Betelgeuse), Zaphod Beeblebrox (he’s a flamboyant, egotistical President of the Galaxy, of course), and Trillian, the love interest of Arthur and Zaphod. Oh yes, almost forgot about Marvin, the android so smart and fast that any task assigned to him is an insult, a waste of his time. Plus, he’s a natural pessimist.
The books were fascinating, combining episodic adventures with sharp universal observations, occasional treatises on philosophy, and a lot of humor. Toilet humor, ‘fish-on-the-sand’ humor, puns, non-sequitirs, social commentary, anything that will make you giggle. And this, in my opinion is in the heart of the Douglas universe – no matter what’s going on, you gotta have fun doing it, and chuckle along the way. When I saw the movie, most of it was right there on the screen – both the in-jokes, and laugh-out-loud jokes. It was just plain fun to watch. It would have helped if there was more of the broader references, so that everyone got the joke, but you can’t have everything. Besides these occasional slips, the movie works quite well – the plot is established very quickly: Earth is destroyed because an interplanetary bypass needs to be constructed and our little planet just happened to be in the way. Humans were informed in advance (through dolphins), but since they do not really understand each other, the destruction is sudden and swift. Arthur Dent is saved in the last minute by his odd friend Ford, who teaches him about the guide, the way of the universe, and what you need to have if you want to hitchhike your way across the galaxy easily and successfully (do you know where you towel is?)
And that’s where the out-of-this-world adventures begin. First the couple is abducted by bureaucratic Vogons, then they get picked up by a ship that’s powered by Infinite Improbability Drive (imagine that, a drive that will let you ship pass through virtually all locations of the universe in one instant). The ship is where Arthur meets Zaphod, Marvin and Trillian, who are on a quest to find the least probable planet in the universe. Quite an unlikely team, but nevertheless, they manage to work the challenges through, with a lot of panicking (hence the “don’t panic” gimmick), irrational decisions, near-death experiences and encounters with many races.
The film is visually stunning – the ships, the planets, even the creatures are accurate in their descriptions, only more colourful and with more life than those I read about. Kudos to the set designers and make-up people. There are no big explosions, or fight scenes, only exploration of the huge, vast, mindbogglingly big universe. The guide (works as a voice-over) narrates and fills in the blanks with an occasional animation. The characters (and androids, and ships, and mice) do the rest. It’s an unusual place, some things just don’t make sense, and there’s absolutely no point in resisting it and trying to figure it out. That’s how this world works. Douglas Adams was chucking when writing the books, adapting the screenplay, and I’m certain he’s chuckling now.
You many not get all the jokes, and understand all the characters’ motivations, but I promise you’ll enjoy this adventure. And will pick up the books, again. The movie is an introduction to the wild universe that spans five volumes. You can wait for the sequel, but I recommend just go and read the books. I’m sure the sequel will be just as colourful and oddball as this movie, I just think with a book like this one, you have to experience both versions – the one on the page, and the one on the big screen. Sure they will be different, but it’s not the point, is it. The question is whether you had fun with the story. I did.