Don't Panic...Stick out your thumb to join the most ordinary man in the world on an extraordinary adventure across the universe in the hilarious comedy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Earthman Arthur Dent is having a very bad day. His house is about to be bulldozed, he discovers that his best friend is an alien and to top things off, Planet Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur's only chance for survival: hitch a ride on a passing spacecraft. For the novice space traveler, the greatest adventure in the universe begins when the world ends. Arthur sets out on a journey in which he finds that nothing is as it seems: he learns that a towel is just the most useful thing in the universe, finds the meaning of life, and discovers that everything he needs to know can be found in one book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
It's got a fantastic cast delivering fantastic performances, it's clever and original, and it's based on a long-time, highly regarded novel that's been quoted to me by more sci-fi geeks than I care to recount. So why is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the blockbuster movie incarnation of Douglas Adams' first book in his "trilogy of five" more of a disappointment than anything else? Mostly, the problems rest with the challenges of adapting the bestseller into a mainstream adventure that is accessible to everyone.
Faced with the ominous task of condensing a lot of material into a relatively short amount of time for an audience that may or may not be familiar with this universe, Hitchhiker's resorts to a lot of dense narration just to get viewers up to speed, while at the same time jumping from situation to situation without adequately developing on any single storyline. There's a decided lack of focus as the characters leap from one adventure to the next. Is the story about Arthur and Trillian's relationship? Is it about recreating an annihilated Earth? Is it about finding the meaning of life? Or is it about getting that snazzy space gun that John Malkovich's character wants so badly? Yeah, I know--it's about all those things. But they're all sort of afterthoughts, and none stand out as a strong centerpiece that you can hang your synopsis on.
The humor of the film is decidedly "absurd." Mind you, you have to pronounce that like an Englishman, and it helps if you are wearing a monocle when you do so, because it's the "riotously outlandish as it comments on life" sort of absurd. I was fine with it, but it's definitely not for everyone. In the opening scene, the movie declares that humans are only the third smartest creatures on the planet, and dolphins, being the second smartest, have futilely been trying to warn people about the Earth's impending doom. When their warnings are misinterpreted as adorable aquatic antics, they decide to save their own hides, and subsequently, all the dolphins disappear one day with the farewell of, "So long, and thanks for all the fish." That pretty much sums up the type of offbeat comedy you can expect from the rest of the movie. If you groove to that, then you'll likely enjoy the rest of Hitchhiker's humor, despite the story's uneven pacing. If you aren't amused by the notion of such dolphin games, though, then you probably won't make it to the closing credits.
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