‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’ to one big disappointment

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How many seconds should you take to consider watching the Disneyfied adaptation of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? Forty-two seconds is 40 seconds too many. Watch the old BBC television miniseries on DVD instead.

Even though the film comes equipped with Alan Rickman as the voice of a depressed, egg-headed android, Bill Nighy as a comical world-builder, and a few beautiful special-effects vistas, none of it adds up to anything resembling the answer to the ultimate question about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. It certainly does not resemble the comedy full of clever dialogue (and monologues) any actual adaptation of the story should have had.

Although series creator Douglas Adams couldn’t really roll over in his grave (he was cremated before burial) and he supposedly wrote most of the screenplay upon which the latest incarnation of the beloved and charismatic storytelling that is “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” is based, he very likely would dislike this final product. If he would have enjoyed it, well, too bad, because it’s still bad.

Each of the main characters has become a shadow of their former selves. Arthur Dent, played by Martin Freeman, does not quite convey the proper mix of British befuddlement and anger at his situation. Mos Def’s interpretation of Ford Prefect lacks the way with words his book-form counterpart had, although he does a fabulous job with the material he is given. Sam Rockwell shows great potential hilarity as Zaphod Beeblebrox, but it never congeals into full-blown laughs for the audience.

Tricia McMillan, played by Zooey Deschanel, is the only lead female character, gets stripped down (pun intended) and basically reduced to a humanoid devoid of personality or good judgment. Nobody makes mention of her remarkable higher education. Instead, the two guys vying for her affection need to save her from certain death. Yeah, that sure sounds like Adams’s writing.

Stories that are both interesting and jog along at a brisk pace tend to transfix the viewer. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” has neither. It takes fifteen minutes to get from the opening logos to the actual title of the zarking film. Those intervening seconds tick by exactly the way centuries don’t. Director Garth Jennings is not a cool cat or hoopy frood in the slightest.

Full of cosmetic changes as nonsensical as much of the novel’s plot, the movie fails to capture what made the previous versions so enjoyable. If it was quantifiable, somebody would have told the director what to fix and all the problems would go away. But, honestly, why come up with a brain-impaired president joke to explain why Beeblebrox has a superfluous cranium and not tell audiences where the underused third arm came from? The book does both.

In another instance of illogical tampering with a perfectly good story, Dent and Prefect’s first meeting is shown. Prefect has to tell viewers he was trying to shake hands with a car (not entirely obvious from the horribly edited flashback), instead of sticking with the book’s version of events. He didn’t think cars were the dominant form of life (or else he would have manifested as one, no?), he just thought that their names were (which is why he chose a rather odd name for his human self).

The Guide meanders aimlessly about, stringing relatively unrelated events and pretending it is a cohesive story. That tack worked beautifully for the book, through which Adams cared enough to deliver plenty of philosophical commentary on existentialism and whatnot. This film pales in comparison, lacking intelligence and heart. Didn’t anyone else notice this was already done with a different cast and marketing campaign in 1997? It was called “Spice World.”

This iteration of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is why “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” will never be adapted by filmmakers. Thank Disney for that. But, wow, I wish it was good! Sob, sob!