Movies to See Before the World Ends: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained.

The Film: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

The Plot: Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) discovers that his house is scheduled for demolition to make way for a freeway bypass. Thanks to his unique friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), he also discovers that the planet Earth is scheduled for demolition to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The worst day of Arthur Dent’s life soon turns into the most fascinating one when Ford takes him along on a trip through the galaxy by hitching a ride on passing spaceships. Dent learns that Ford is a writer for the interstellarly famous book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which offers plenty of advice for would-be travelers, including “Don’t Panic” and to always bring along your towel. During their travels, Arthur and Ford meet up with the two-headed galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and quirky Earth girl Trillian (Zooey Daschenel), who are looking for an ancient supercomputer that will provide the answer to the ultimate questions of life, the universe and everything.

The Review: Even though Hitchhiker author Douglas Adams was extremely open – and often involved – in the adaptation of his classic book into various forms, a big-budget movie was a risky bet. In reality, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an extremely popular book among a relatively small audience. That is, science fiction fans. But not just any science fiction fans… science fiction fans who read… and love British humor. As well-read as these books were, the audience wasn’t a sure bet to make the movie a hit.

I read the first couple books while I was in college, and while I enjoy reading, science fiction and British humor, it wasn’t my favorite series. The first installment is pretty clever, the second book (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) was okay and the third book (Life, the Universe, and Everything) seemed more concerned with being silly than telling a story. Don’t get me wrong, silliness is an inherent and necessary trait of these books, but it just gets a bit too much as the stories goes on. As a result, I never did read the fourth or fifth book in the trilogy (ha ha, get it?).

Still, with my favorite of the series being the first installment, I looked forward to the film.

It’s a non-standard story if I’ve ever seen one. And it’s quite well adapted form the general randomness of the novel. Using clever animation and narration, the viewer is given a taste of the Guide (and with plenty of other deleted entries found on the DVD and Blu-ray) without getting bogged down. The acting is quite good, especially from the supporting cast which includes John Malkovich in a non-canon role to further the story. Utilizing solid actors who can play comedy in a deadly serious fashion allows people like Malkovich to say “Zaphod Beeblebrox” with the deadpan delivery as if he were saying “John Smith” (or “Arthur Dent,” for that matter).

While many hardcore Douglas Adams fans will tell you that the BBC television production is superior for its faithful adaptation, the 2005 film is special because it uses state-of-the-art special effects to tell the otherwise ludicrous story against a realistic-looking backdrop. But even with all the modern tools at their disposal, the filmmakers brought in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to build not just Marvin the maniacally depressed robot (one of the funniest characters in the film, voiced by Alan Rickman) but also many of the aliens including the bureaucratic, poetry-reading Vogons. In a day and age when CGI creatures are used more than they really should be, this offers an organic and warm feel to an otherwise cold and potentially depressing universe.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy may not be the greatest space adventure film to ever have been made, but it’s easily one of the funniest space adventure films ever to have been made. Right up there with Galaxy Quest.

But why spend 110 minutes watching this film when you only have 442,111 minutes left to live?

Whether you’re a fan of the original book series by Douglas Adams, the resulting radio program, the low-rent but faithful BBC television production or any of the other forms that his world-famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy took, this is required reading (or viewing or listening, etc.) for a the science fiction enthusiast. If not, at the very least, you’ll get a hearty laugh before the end of the world. The snippets from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” book that Ford helps write offer some choice advice, just in case you can hop on a Vogon construction cruiser before the Mayan predictions come true. The destruction of the Earth may happen within the first 15 minutes of this movie, but the film not only shows there may very well be life after the death of our planet, but it also reminds you to bring your towel and above all else, don’t panic.

Thanks for all the fish and all these Apocalypse Soon entries!

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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