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Holiday 36

MOVIE REVIEW- Thumbthing missing: Don't pick up

Hitchhiker's Guide

Published April 28, 2005 in issue 0417 of the Hook

BY STEVE WARREN FILM@READTHEHOOK.COM

In an empty theater, no one can hear you laugh.

Empty or full, there shouldn't be much laughter heard in theaters showing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the long-awaited– by its cult– film version of the multimedia cottage industry created in 1978 by the late Douglas Adams.

Many comedies give away their best jokes in the trailer. In this case, any semblance of wit or intelligence in the screenplay (drafted by Adams and blasted into its current form by Karey Kirkpatrick) has been distilled into eight pages of a promotional brochure, The Guide to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I made the mistake of reading in advance.

Among the things I learned is that drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster "is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick." That's a pretty accurate description of the effect of watching the movie, with terrific visual effects (which are a dime a dozen these days) softening the blow of the brainless brick of a script.

It's like a connected series of vaudeville (actually music hall, because it's very British) sketches with better visuals and less humor. The effects alone may satisfy young children (it's rated PG), but the rest of us have become jaded enough to demand more.

Martin Freeman plays Arthur Dent, a typical Earthman (only more boring, even for an English Earthman) who awakes one morning to find his house about to be razed to make way for a bypass.

Because all things are relative, it happens that Earth is also scheduled to be razed this day to make way for a hyperspace express route. The destruction of the planet could be marketed to the "Left Behind" crowd as a variation on the Rapture.

Arthur is whisked away at the last second by his hitchhiking friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def, looking bewildered even when he's supposed to know what's going on). Ford never told Arthur he was from another planet.

After switching ships in space– no mean feat– Arthur and Ford wind up in the company of the President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, your link to a better "Galaxy" movie, the sleeper GalaxyQuest). Zaphod, on a recent visit to Earth, happened to take a woman, Tricia McMillan– later shortened to "Trillian" because it sounds "a little more spacy" (Zooey Deschanel), away from Arthur. She's on board too, so the triangle resumes.

(When Arthur met Trillian, she said she wanted to go to Madagascar. It's surprising that Disney would leave in several references to that country to serve as a subliminal plug for the competition's upcoming animated feature.)

Anyway, they tool around the galaxy getting in and out of unexciting (thanks to director Garth Jennings) scrapes and meeting all sorts of creatures (including the nasty Vogons, all of whom look like Charles Laughton) that aren't as interesting as they appear. Along for the ride is Marvin (played by Warwick Davis, voiced by Alan Rickman), a manic-depressive robot that's briefly amusing but gets old fast.

It's the same with the visual effects, such as Zaphod's double head. They're impressive the first time we see them, but without clever ideas behind them, they quickly become the same old same old.

According to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the "standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom" that's supposed to help Arthur in his travels, "The universe is big, really big! You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is."

Substitute "bad" for "big" in that quote, and you'll have my review of the movie.

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