Festive Apocalypse

Though a little hard to follow, 'Hitchhiker' is a fun journey

The world ends in a rather whimsical way close to the beginning of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is not a "spoiler" for anybody who knows anything about the works of the late Douglas Adams, who labored to get his humorous yet apocalyptic novel made into a movie for many years, with the likes of Dan Akyroyd, Bill Murray and Jim Carrey all considered for parts during its long stay in development hell.

After nearly 20 years of trying, Hitchhiker has finally made it to the big screen with mixed results (but pretty good first-week box office receipts). Much of this movie looks great, and having the likes of Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell in your cast is always a good thing. However, if you are uninitiated with the material, you might find yourself confounded, and if you are a lover of the material, you might find yourself pissed off.

Director Garth Jennings has put together a film that never stops to take a breath. There's clearly a lot of material to fit into this first movie, and Jennings has managed something that is a lot of fun, but sometimes a bit too frantic and scattershot.

The film starts with dolphins thanking Earth for all the fish, tiny tots and pregnant women, and then blasting off to the heavens to avoid Earth's demolition. Ford Prefect (Mos Def) buys everybody a round at an English pub and grabs onto an everyman named Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman). They wind up on an alien spacecraft microseconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for an intergalactic freeway.

The aliens, called Vogons, are a wondrous creation: big, greenish globs who like to recite poetry and shoot their prisoners into space. Another terrific sight is provided by John Malkovich as religious leader Humma Kavula (a character Adams created especially for the film), whose bottom half is a cluster of thin metallic legs. In the category of visual imagination, Hitchhiker's does score high points.

It does have a little trouble sustaining interest over its many planetary stops, twists and turns. For those unfamiliar with Adams' universe, you will have to pay close attention and be patient. A finale where Dent is taken on a tour of planetary construction by Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy getting to play somebody nice for a change) makes for a grand payoff.

As Intergalactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, Rockwell continues to show why he's one of Hollywood's most precious commodities. The guy is naturally funny, and fashioning him with long blonde locks and two heads accentuates that fact. Deschanel looks a little lost as Trillian, sole female survivor of planet Earth, but something tells me this was intended.

In the film's central role of Arthur Dent, Freeman is a bit bland. Yes, he's supposed to represent the average Earth inhabitant, but somebody with a little more spark could've made the film better entertainment. Much of the film's weight is on Freeman's shoulders, and he's not a very engaging performer. Mos Def, as Dent's good friend Prefect, is a far more entertaining actor in this piece.

The film's biggest laugh-getter would have to be Marvin, a depressed android played by Warwick Davis and voiced by Alan Rickman. Rickman's vocals are the perfect sound to be coming out of Marvin's drooping robotic body. Hitchhiker fans will want to be on the lookout for a cameo by the Marvin robot from the original 1981 television series.

As somebody whose only contact with Hitchhiker would be a passing glimpse at the original TV show, I'm thinking the movie experience might've been a little better had I read the damned book. As it stands, the film winds up being pretty good, yet slightly irritating at times.

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