The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
That towel you used this morning to dry yourself off after your shower possesses more power and is more useful that you have ever imagined. Unless, of course, you've already read Douglas Adams' "trilogy in five parts" which began in 1979 with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If you haven't, well, it seems that they've made Adams' curiously quirky sci-fi spoof/philosophical head trip into a movie, so I guess you won't have to bother with over 800 pages of actual words. You can see the CliffsNotes on the big screen and take the shortcut to learning why towels are so important and, while you're at it, the very meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
The tale begins with Brit Arthur Dent thinking he is having a bad day. After all, his house is about to be bulldozed. He quickly learns, though, that bad days have never even existed on Earth until this day. The day of its destruction. No, terrorists aren't planning nuclear devastation. Tidal waves aren't approaching the Statue of Liberty. Nor is a rogue meteor destined for Los Angeles. It seems that our Blue Marble is in the way of an intergalactic hyperspace freeway, and Vogon contractors are on a tight schedule.
Fortunately for Arthur, his best friend, Ford Prefect, just so happens to be an undercover alien who knows how to stick out his electronic thumb and flag down a ride from a passing spaceship with only seconds to spare.
Arthur insists that they rescue Earth's only other known survivor, Trillian, from her Vogon captors. Then he, Ford and the two-headed (three-handed) president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beebblebrox, risk their lives to do so. Earlier, Ford saves Arthur's life when Earth is destroyed. (And I'm sure the hyperspace freeway that is to be built in Earth's place makes morning commutes much more manageable for quite a few aliens. That is, if they ever finish it.)
During one of its many instructional monologues, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a talking book which—to avoid confusion with the identically titled movie and book that give it life—I will simply call The Guide) refers to itself as being more popular and influential than several other competing books. Among them are tomes said to discuss the mistakes God made during creation. One planet's people believe in a Great White Handkerchief which will one day come back to them and wipe them clean. The Guide indicates that most of the universe believes God created everything, but that this particular race thinks that it was "sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure. They're shown "worshiping" in a ceremony that tweaks a Roman Catholic mass. ("Amens" are replaced by "achoos.") Elsewhere, it's a little off-putting from a spiritual sense to watch a crew of humanoid aliens "creating" a new, duplicate Earth.
Zaphod acts and dresses like a rich, disco-era playboy. One of his outfits includes a pair of tight, glitzy short shorts. (It's noted that while he was running for political office, many people voted for him because they thought he was actually competing for the title of "Worst-Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe.") Zaphod lets loose several sexual remarks and double entendres, makes a joke about wearing Trillian's underwear, slaps her rear and jokes about "love[ing] it rough." The camera makes a point of picking an immodestly dressed woman out of a crowd. The Guide explains that the technology responsible for Zaphod's ship's "infinite improbability drive" was first created as a means of inexplicably removing women's undergarments during parties. Arthur walks in on Trillian while she's showering. She invites him to stay. (An opaque shower door keeps him—and us—from seeing anything below her bare shoulders.)
Earth blows up.
Zaphod punches Arthur. Arthur pushes Zaphod. Trillian slaps Zaphod.
Mice attempt to extract Arthur's brain using saws and drills. When he overpowers them and flattens them, they morph into tiny people. During the "great white handkerchief" mass, a monk-like individual manhandles Zaphod. One of Zaphod's heads is cut off (offscreen). Known as the worst marksmen in the galaxy, Vogons are fond of blasting away with their laser guns, but of course they rarely hit anybody. They do eventually hit Marvin (the morose robot) in the head, leaving a charred hole at its peak. And along the way they manage to cause quite a bit of property damage.
More intense is a sequence in which Vogons rough up Trillian, bind her with heavy chains and almost kill her. While on the Vogon home world, Arthur and his new pals get slapped repeatedly in the face by huge mind-reading fly swatter-esque poles that pop up out of the ground every time anyone has an idea. Two nuclear missiles zero in on Zaphod's ship but one is transformed into a pot of petunias and the other into a sperm whale before they find their mark; the whale plummets to its death.
Crude or Profane Language
British profanities and crudities "bloody," "s-dding" and "b-llocks" are uttered once or twice each, as are "h---" and "d--n." God's name in interjected a handful of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The (human) construction workers take a break to drink a few brews before tearing down Arthur's house. Ford orders six pints at the pub and downs a couple of them, instructing Arthur to do the same moments before the world blows up. (It seems that the beer somehow helps the body adapt to hitchhiking.) Zaphod and Ford drink Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, which The Guide says is like "having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick."
Other Negative Elements
Is it possible to accuse a two-headed alien of kidnapping himself? Regardless of the answer, Zaphod does exactly that, and while making off with himself, commandeers a spaceship. Illustrating how the multilingual translator Babel fish works—after it's inserted into Arthur's ear—The Guide shows a cartoon drawing of a cow telling a startled farmer that she "loves" him while he milks her. "I'd much rather be happy than right, any day," says the alien in charge of building a new Earth.
Having appreciated Douglas Adams' books, I was apprehensive about how the film might tamper with his tone. And when it comes to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, tone is everything. I was afraid it might end up wantonly substituting the intentional stupidity of, say, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure for the philosophically driven hilarity Adams was so good at communicating in print. It doesn't. It's not perfect, and it's sure to leave Adams' many diehard fans split on how well it captures the author's simultaneously sly and over-the-top wit. But no one's going to get very far arguing that this movie fails to entertain, or that it's not good-natured. It's certainly adoring of its source material.
Producer Roger Birnbaum says, “We always felt that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy could be to science-fiction movies what Austin Powers was to James Bond." While subtly irreverent, and occasionally a tad too loose with interjections and innuendo, this fish-filled flick actually one-ups Powers by refusing to pile on the salacious sludge with which he's become synonymous.
Oh, by the way, do you still have a hankering to know what exactly the answer to life's biggest question is? According to Adams it's "42." But you'll have to wait at least another 10 million years to find out what the question is. Or, shorten the wait a tad by picking up a Bible and flipping over to Ecclesiastes, noting especially chapter 12 verse 1. Then read John 3.
The Guide states, "In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move." In contrast, Genesis 1:31 reads, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." But not even for a millisecond while watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did I feel as if it was trying to dis God's miraculous creation of life, the universe, and everything. Instead, while too saturated with silliness to come out and say so, it makes moviegoers think about the real meaning of life. And if one has any sense at all of God's role in our existence, it triggers the thought that without Him, nothing much makes sense.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent; Mos Def as Ford Prefect; Zooey Deschanel as Trillian; Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox; Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast; Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin
Garth Jennings ( )