Continuing to remember the dearly departed Alan Rickman, I look back to another of is recent films that showed off his humour. Before I get into it, I have to be honest with you: I haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I know it’s probably part of my ticket out of geekdom but I’ve never got round to it. My father’s a fan of Douglas Adams and it’s something I’ve always felt I should have read. It’s not something I tend to broadcast and I know enough Adams’ quotes to be able too hold my own should the need arise. However, that doesn’t escape the fact that I never got through the book. I tried, God knows I did, but it wasn’t something I ever finished. I don’t understand why because I managed to get through fucking Tolkein which is much more of a struggle.
So, when this came out I was pretty much going in blind. I mean I knew the basic plot but had no real clue about the intricacies about the narrative. Still, I know enough about Adams to understand the whole thing is based around a twee, Britishness and humour that most Hollywood audiences aren’t ready for. Was a big movie production really the best place to translate Adams’ ideas onto the big screen?
Of course, that is the situation we were left with. Martin Freeman, then a relative unknown outside of fans of The Office, takes the lead role of Arthur Dent, a human whose life takes one unexpected turn after the other. When his home is bulldozed to make way for a bypass, Arthur feels like life can’t get any worse. Then a group of aliens obliterate his planet to make way for a hyperspace expressway. With only his friend, and secret alien Ford (Mos Def) for company, Arthur has to come to terms with a life that is much more complicated than any Thursday ever had been.
His life gets more difficult when the hitchhikers are picked up by the stolen ship involved in the fake kidnapping of Galaxy President Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). Luckily though, fellow human Tricia “Trillian” McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who Arthur has a bit of a thing for. The misfits band together to go on an epic journey to discover the answer to life, the universe and everything by first finding the ultimate question.
Now, if this all sounds complicated then it’s probably mostly down to the way I’m describing it. I’m really fucking tired and went out after work which means I’m writing this at the worst possible time with only 6 minutes before midnight. Hitchhikers Guide is actually a a lovely film that brings a lot of the comforting British humour that Adams is so well known for. It’s a bit quirky and weird but, ultimately, it’s watchable, funny and warm.
Martin Freeman is a great addition to the cast as Arthur and plays the hapless hero role as well as he has done before and since. He is joined by a selection of British and American actors who make for a fairly hit-and-miss cast. The American side tend to miss the mark and fail to connect with the Britishness that is required. It’s a poor turn from everyone’s favourite quirky girl, Zooey Deschanel, and Mos Def just looks lost. However, Sam Rockwell puts one back in the American net and plays Zaphod beautifully. He almost steals the show.
However, the scene stealer really is Alan Rickman himself as the voice of Mavin the depressed android on Beeblebrox’s ship. Rickman is perfect in the role and nails the humour. There is nobody who could have done it better. With his distinctive voice and beat perfect comedy timing, this is one of Rickman’s best modern roles.
Director Garth Jennings, a former music video director, nails the necessary camp, shitty BBC production value styling that the adaptation required. It isn’t a polished production because it didn’t want to be one. It ensures that nothing of Adams’s original gets lost in the potential Hollywood sci-fi epic that Hitchhikers could have been. The aliens look like they’re straight off an original series Dr Who episode and the guide itself is a hulking great book voiced by the incredibly British Stephen Fry. It may veer into messy on occasion but for the majority of its run time the film is never anything but intentionally dicey.
I can’t claim that this a faithful representation of the original book but I can say that it’s a fun and heart-warming tale. With a great leading man and some interesting supporting cast, it sums up the British approach to science fiction. It’s something we want to try our hand at but we are always aware of our limitations.