Well buckle up, earthlings, because I’m about to give you my view on the – critically underrated – 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Might have given away my view there.
I think everyone involved knew. Bringing a book as beloved and monumental as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to life on the big screen was going to be no easy feat. Director Garth Jennings thought he was up to the task though, and with a deft hand and a great deal of respect for the source material he managed it.
As a result, we’re left with a film that pretty successfully manages to capture the wacky, off-kilter humour of Douglas Adams’ writing, while at the same time also putting a unique spin on the story.
It was panned by critics at the time, with Roger Ebert even going as far as to scathingly remark “The movie does not inspire me to learn lots more about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” and give the movie just two out of four stars. Empire weren’t quite so dismissive, describing it as “A very British, very funny sci-fi misadventure that’s guaranteed to win converts.“, that’s more like it.
At the time I’m writing this though, it holds a pretty miserable 60% critic score and an equally gloomy 65% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not good.
So why then do I love the movie so much? Well, there are a number of reasons, read on dear, er, reader and you’ll find just what those reasons are…
A film like this is only as good as its cast, and thankfully, the cast of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does not disappoint. Every member brings something unique to their respective roles and it’s clear that they all had a lot of fun with the material. There have been casting decisions made that at the time had me raising an eyebrow (Mos Def as Ford Prefect? Really?!) but almost each and every one turned out to be perfect.
Let’s start with Arthur…
Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent
Martin Freeman, famous at that point as Tim from The Office, plays the hapless Arthur Dent. Freeman is an absolute delight in the role, perfectly capturing Arthur’s befuddled and bewildered nature. He’s the everyman character who the audience can relate to, and Freeman plays him with just the right amount of vulnerability and humour.
He brings a sense of realism to the character that keeps him grounded in the midst of all the otherworldly chaos happening around him.
Simon Jones, the actor who portrayed Arthur Dent in the original 1981 BBC TV series, was charmingly befuddled and bumbling, capturing the character’s initial confusion and disbelief at finding himself caught up in all this crazy intergalactic nonsense. Always playing it straight and very, very, British.
In contrast, Freeman’s Arthur is somewhat more grounded and relatable, and a little more international. Delivering his takes on the confusing, bizarre events unfolding around him with dry wit and a healthy dollop of skepticism that adds a veneer of modernity to his performance.
Both actors succeed in bringing Arthur to life in their own way and fans of the series are likely to have their own preferences between the two, but Freeman certainly doesn’t suffer in comparison to the original.
It’s also worth noting that Simon Jones makes a cameo in the film as a sort of Magrathean answering machine/automated defence system. It’s good to see him getting a nod. More on cameos in a bit.
Mos Def as Ford Prefect
Next up is Mos Def, who plays Arthur’s friend Ford Prefect. Bringing a cool and collected energy to the role.
Def depicts Ford as an eccentric and unconventional alien, a fact Arthur remains resolutely unaware of until he’s told, and acts as Arthur’s (and by extension the audience’s) guide to the universe.
Perfectly embodying the character’s otherworldly nature, Def infuses Prefect with a cool and collected energy. His chemistry with Freeman is pitch-perfect and their interactions are some of the film’s most memorable moments.
His deadpan delivery is thoroughly believable, and he brings a tuned, comedic timing that accentuates the movie’s absurdity. Whether he’s offering up tidbits of galactic knowledge or saving Arthur from certain doom, Def is consistently entertaining.
He also adds some interesting layers to the character. In the movie, we learn he’s a researcher for the eponymous guide and that his real name is much more difficult for humans to pronounce, oh, and he’s Zaphod’s semi-cousin. Despite this he perfectly captures the character’s mysterious and unconventional nature, and his delivery of some of the movie’s more absurd lines is pure comedy gold.
Even in the most chaotic of situations, and trust me there are a few, Mos Def’s cool and collected performance helps anchor the film’s silliness and absurdity. He’s just superb!
Zooey Deschanel as Trillian
Zooey Deschanel plays Trillian (or Tricia MacMillan, but Trillian sounds more spacey), the only other surviving human being in the universe.
Deschanel brings her trademark, quirky, manic-pixie-dream-girl style to the role, but also manages to imbue Trillian with a sense of intelligence and wit that makes her more substantive than the TV version of Trillian.
Her chemistry with Freeman is so-so, but their scenes together manage to remain charming nonetheless.
Trillian is a brilliant astrophysicist who is the last remaining human woman in the galaxy, and is portrayed here accordingly; as a strong and independent woman, with an adventurous spirit. who is unafraid to speak her mind and take charge when the space-shit hits the space-fan.
Overall, Zooey Deschanel’s performance was nuanced and layered, adding an important female perspective to the story missing somewhat from previous incarnations. Her character was an important part of the story this time around and her performance most certainly helped bring it to life in a compelling way.
Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox
“Zaphod’s just zis guy, y’know?”
That’s as may be, but Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of Zaphod Beeblebrox was nothing short of extraordinary.
The character of Zaphod is a complex one, with two heads (though not quite here) and an ego the size of a planet, but Rockwell brought an unmatched energy and vibrancy to the role. He was clearly, fully committed to the absurdity of the character, creating a larger-than-life personality that was impossible to ignore.
I’m only glad Trump wasn’t the president in 2005 or we’d never had heard the end of the comparisons…
Rockwell plays both heads (faces!) of Zaphod with equal gusto, giving each a distinct personality while also making them feel like one cohesive character. The heads often bickered with each other, which Rockwell portrayed with a great timing, albeit let down somewhat by the lack of a constantly present second head.
He also captured Zaphod’s outrageous behavior, flitting from one idea to the next with silky ease.
Rockwell’s energy and charisma helped drive the plot and kept me wishing there was more of him in the movie. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role now. Sorry, Mark Wing-Davey.
His interpretation of Zaphod was so engaging, I’d happy with a solo Zaphod movie.
Alan Rickman and Warwick Davis as Marvin (the Paranoid Android)
Alan Rickman and Warwick Davis both played Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Rickman on voice and Davis on physicals.
Marvin slipped into the public subconscious, as the robot that’s perpetually depressed and is a fan favorite from Douglas Adams’ original novel and radio series.
Rickman and Davis both did a fantastic job bringing him to life on the big screen.
Alan Rickman, who is probably best known as the baddy from Die Hard, the baddy from Love, Actually and the baddy – oh, hang, no – the goodie from Harry Potter, was the perfect modern choice to voice Marvin.
He imbued the character with a distinct personality, different from the original Marvin but still thoroughly depressing. From his dry sarcasm, to the constant complaints, to his musings about the futility of existence, Rickman’s voice acting was an integral part of bringing Marvin to life.
Warwick Davis played the physical embodiment of Marvin, donning the robot costume and bringing a unique physicality to the role. Davis expertly conveyed Marvin’s lethargic and sluggish movements, as well as conveying his constant hunched posture convincingly.
The combination of the two made Marvin feel like a real and very, very annoying character. That said I had more sympathy for this take than I did the original.
The Marvin in the movie is a memorable interpretation of Marvin and perfectly captured the spirit of Adams’ original creation. The performance as whole added a layer of depth to the character, making Marvin a somewhat-lovable robot, despite his constant complaints and pessimism.
Sadly, Alan Rickman died in 2016, and while I’m sure Severus Snape and Hans Gruber will mean more to others, his take as Marvin will continue to be remembered by me as a significant contributing factor to why I love this film so much.
Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast
Bill Nighy portrays the character of Slartibartfast. Yep, Slartibartfast.
Slartibartfast is a member of an ancient race of beings called the Magratheans who are responsible for designing custom planets. Nighy’s portrayal of Slartibartfast is yet another standout performance, in a sea of standout performances, perfectly capturing the character’s mix of dry humor, wisdom and sadness.
What makes his performance so notable is his delivery of Adams’ witty and insightful dialogue. His way of delivering lines with perfect timing, making even the most absurd statements sound believable and poignant. Giving Slartibartfast a world-weary, resigned outlook, as he reflects on the futility of creating planets that will ultimately be destroyed.
There’s also a sense of gravitas brought to the role by Nighy, grounding the character in the absurd world around him. He delivers some of the film’s most memorable lines. His stumbled delivery of what he means to be a threat (see the audio clip below) or when he tells Arthur, “I’d far rather be happy than right any day,” a sentiment that perfectly encapsulates the film’s underlying themes of finding meaning and joy in a chaotic and meaningless universe.
Nighy’s portrayal of Slartibartfast is a masterclass in comedic acting. Bringing depth, humor and heart to a character that could have easily been reduced to a one-dimensional caricature.
Stephen Fry as The Voice of the Book
Stephen Fry’s performance as the voice of the book in the 2005 adaptation was widely anticipated, but for me ultimately fell short of the mark.
In comparison to Peter Jones (no relation to Simon Jones. Well, not that I know), who voiced the book in previous adaptations, Fry’s performance lacks the same level of whimsy and charm. Jones’s voice was a perfect match for the material, whereas Fry’s interpretation felt more, well, smug.
Fry’s performance lacked the level of playfulness and spontaneity that Jones brought to the role. Jones’s delivery was often unpredictable and surprising, which added to the overall sense of unpredictability in the story.
In contrast, Fry’s voice is very recognisable as are his vocal mannerisms, the work here feels much more controlled and measured, which detracted from the overall humor and sense of fun.
Fry’s performance tends to over-enunciate certain words and phrases, which in fairness is the way Fry talks, but just doesn’t fit the tone. While this may have been an attempt to emphasize the comedy of it all, it ultimately feels forced and takes away from the natural flow of the dialogue.
Jones’s delivery, on the other hand, always felt much more organic. Have a listen yourself.
Here’s Stephen Fry…
And Peter Jones…
Perhaps it’s just Fry’s oversaturation in the world of the voiceover or possibly a combination of the book’s voice and graphics changing, but whatever it is, it doesn’t sit well with me. Don’t get me wrong, Stephen Fry is a talented voice actor and comedian in his own right, but his performance in this movie pales in comparison to Peter Jones’ in previous adaptations.
What long running series, loved by geeks would be complete without cameos? Well, not this one surely. There a few neat little cameos littered throughout. Here are a few.
In terms of the music, the soundtrack for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a true standout.
The opening number, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, was written by Joby Talbot, conductor Christopher Austin and director Garth Jennings.
There’s the a musical style version at the start of the film performed by the Tenebrae Choir and a more lounge version during the credits, sung by Neil Hannon.
Talbot worked as the arranger and keyboardist with Neil Hannon’s band The Divine Comedy, so it’s no surprise to see Hannon on the soundtrack
Both are catchy and fun, but it’s the instrumental cover of The Eagles’ Journey of the Sorcerer that really brings back the member berries. It’s an absolute blast, bringing memories of the TV series flooding back. It was an odd choice back in 1981 and for years I thought it was Led Zeppelin! In this movie though, it feels perfect and it’s appearance shortly after the Earth is vapourised perfectly timed.
As a whole. the music is whimsical and offbeat, fitting the nature of the story beautifully. It may be a mix of orchestral and electronic stuff but sits alongside the movie perfectly. The track list is:
Take a listen to a few of these belters.
Aren’t they just great?
- The Dolphins (1:00)
- So Long & Thanks For All The Fish – Hilary Summers, Kemi Ominiyi & The R’svp Voices (2:26)
- Arthur Wakes Up (2:53)
- Shoo-Rah! Shoo-Rah! – Betty Wright (2:51)
- Here I Am (Come And Take Me) – Al Green (4:13)
- Destruction Of Earth (1:31)
- Journey Of The Sorcerer (1:15)
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1:14)
- Inside The Vogon Ship (2:46)
- Vogon Poetry (0:48)
- Space (1:00)
- Vogon Command Centre (1:00)
- Trillian & Arthur Reunited (1:45)
- Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (1:40)
- Tea In Space (1:08)
- Deep Thought (2:06)
- Infinite Improbability Drive(0:55)
- Viltvodle Street Music (0:45)
- Huma’s Hymn (1:02)
- Capture Of Trillian (4:27)
- Vogcity (1:02)
- Love (1:44)
- The Whale (1:53)
- Planet Factory Floor (2:29)
- Earth Mark II (6:29)
- Magic Moments – Perry Como (2:37)
- Shootout (3:23)
- Finale (1:50)
- Blast Off (0:16)
- So Long & Thanks For All The Fish (Reprise)” – Neil Hannon (2:54)
- Careless Talk (1:42)
- Vote Beeblebrox (3:27)
- Reasons To Be Miserable (His Name Is Marvin) – Stephen Fry (3:37)
One of the standout features of this film is undoubtedly its impressive visual effects. From the improbability drive to the heart of gold spaceship, every inch of this film is packed with eye-popping visuals and clever design choices.
I mean, just look at these images, the range of effects, their quality and inventiveness. All this on a budget of just $45,000,000. It’s mind-blowing.
The aliens are weird, the robots are quirky, and the entire universe is just begging to be explored. The attention to detail in the design of these fantastical elements is impressive, and it’s clear that the filmmakers put a lot of effort into creating a cohesive and believable world for the story to take place in.
here are tiny details in everything, every prop has a purpose and many have significant, if hidden, nods to the books or Adams himself. For a movie with such a modest budget they really knocked the effects out of the park, the effects are a solid 9/10.
Adapting the Unadaptable
It was inevitable with something so unique and, dare I say it, wordy, that there would have to be changes in order to get it onto the big screen. Some of these changes actually improve (blasphemy!) on the source material, such as the expanded role for Trillian and the increased focus on the character of Slartibartfast.
Clearly Zaphod Beeblebrox’s design has somewhat changed between the 1981 TV series and his incarnation here, namely the second head has been made a little more budget friendly, moving from being an actual second head, to more of a second face, nestling beneath Zaphod’s primary face.
It’s a fairly significant change but an understandable if somewhat regrettable decision.
At least he kept his third arm.
One of the challenges of adapting a book like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that it’s packed with so many funny, explanative asides and witty one-liners that it can be difficult to fit everything into the film narrative.
Combining that wordy humour from the page to the screen is difficult, the challenge of transferring written asides into a compelling narrative, by showing not telling, isn’t easy and the end result was always going to disappoint someone.
That said, the screenplay, does an excellent job of condensing the story while retaining the essence of what makes it so beloved. It was written by Karey Kirkpatrick and Douglas Adams (who wrote the book and co-wrote the screenplay before his untimely death in 2001), and while it largely stays true to the previous incarnations, there were a few elements that were created specifically for the movie.
The opening sequence, in which dolphins fly off into space, was not in the book (taking its queue from a later book in the, ahem, trilogy).
Additionally, the film introduces an entirely new character, Humma Kavula, a cult leader (played by John Malkovich) who is obsessed with the planet Viltvodle VI. The subplot involving Kavula and his followers is not present in the book either.
Yet another addition is the character of Questular Rontok (played by a very reserved Anna Chancellor). Questular is a member of the Galactic High Council and is involved in the plotline surrounding Zaphod Beeblebrox’s quest to find the planet of Magrathea (and, as it turns out, love).
There’s also the creation of the point of view gun. Which really comes out of left field.
The film adds a number of visual flourishes to the story too, like the really rather interesting take on the Heart of Gold and the planet of Magrathea, neither of which were given detailed descriptions in the book, but are really taken for a spin here.
Though while initially at least Magrathea doesn’t stray too far from the traditional Doctor Who quarry the Heart of Gold really goes all out. Looking a bit like one of those squishy foam things they print ceramic bowls with.
These modern visuals help bring the story to life and create a unique visual style wholly distinct from previous versions.
Overall, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is – and it’s a cliché – a delightful romp through space and time, and manages to capture the off-kilter humor and spirit of Adams’ writing.
Impressive visuals, outstanding music and an excellent cast all come together to create a film that is both funny and heartwarming, and while it may not be completely faithful to the source material, it manages to stand on its own as a fun little film that will please (if not delight) fans of the book and newcomers alike.
The humour in the books, TV show and (numerous) radio plays are all made with very British sensibilities, when movie studios make films they want them to sell everywhere, they need universal appeal. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was never going to have that. It’s as niche as niche can be.
There are moments where things feel rushed, mainly in the earlier parts of the story and chunks of quirky British humour get the axe (here not be tigers). However, if you can get past the fact that its not a facsimile of the TV show or books, once the story gets going, the pace evens out a little, the film finds its groove and you forget all about that.
As much as I love the film, and I do love it, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sadness when I consider that we never got a sequel. The film did decently at the box office, but didn’t quite make enough to warrant a follow-up.
That’s a damn shame, because there’s so much more to explore in this take on Adams’ strange and wonderful universe.
The universe is a fickle and unpredictable place though, right? It’s clear that the film’s quirky and offbeat humour simply didn’t resonate with a wide enough audience to make a sequel a sure fire money spinner for Disney. Hey, it only made $72,986,772.
Against its $45,000,000 budget.
$28 million clearly just isn’t enough for the House of the Mouse to take another chance…
Who knows, maybe someday we’ll get to return to this wacky and wonderful world again. But I doubt it. Still, that’s life and after all, as Marvin would say, “Life? Don’t talk to me about life.“
Whatever the case may be, I guess all we can do is take solace in the fact that we at least got this one delightful film to cherish and revisit whenever we want.
I love it.
And please, Zarquon no! Don’t let Disney+ make a reboot.