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I had long seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in bookstores, but it seemed too long to read and the title too eclectic to classify as comedy or science fiction. 109 minutes of DVD I could handle, and while the science fiction backdrop doesn’t seek any deeper understanding, the comedy made me feel as an honorary member of the British Empire and the British Humor that goes with it. In other words, plot, cast, special effects, whatever – just the passive/aggressive intellectual and sometimes cryptic delivery of the dialogue makes this 2005 film well worth watching.
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is a victim of said empire and lives his life as if paying penance for its crimes. He respectably adheres to the required norms, while questioning whether there is anything more to satisfy the perquisite English guilt to make him feel like he is letting loose.
Enter Tricia (Zooey Deschanel) whose lack of an English accent doesn’t have Arthur lost in a dialect that speaks to his yearning to throw off the chains of empire. Charming, witty and with blue eyes that dim the sky, Tricia springs her impromptu approach right onto the prepackaged Arthur. “Let’s go somewhere… I was thinking Madagascar,” she seeks a partner in her spontaneity.
Obviously hesitant over his Earl Gray, Arthur’s depth falls prey to the serendipitous appearance of the less than sincere Zaphod, who is the President of the Galaxy and played by Sam Rockwell. Happy to troll among his constituency in anonymity, Tricia is taken by his groovy complacence to engage at a moment’s notice, and the Hitchhike is on.
“Do you want to see my spaceship? What sort of chat up line is that,” Arthur gripes as the mindless Rockwell makes off with his girl.
We learn all this in flashback on the Vogon spacecraft where Arthur has escaped with the help of a Hitchhiker Guide writer named Ford (Mos Def). Forcing a towel on Arthur before beaming up, cryptic definitely applies. “You’re going to need this,” he instructs the mystified Arthur as the Vogon Commander’s voice booms across the horizon.
“The demolition orders have been on display at your local planning office in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge formal complaints,” the officious alien informs the people of the Earth before imploding the planet.
Soon discovered as Hitchhikers aboard the monstrous ship, Ford and Arthur once again escape doom, and end up aboard Rockwell’s ship – Tricia, a compliant occupant. Adding to the adventure is a manic depressive robot named Marvin whose got the British Humor down.
Programmed with Genuine People Personalities, he’s not hesitant to lay out his lot in life and put it on whoever will listen. “I’m a personality prototype. You can tell, can’t you?” Alan Rickman grounds the chaos.
Probably necessary as the quartet traverses the reaches a gun that allows the target to immediately understand the point of view of the shooter, Earth Mach 2 and the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
In between, there’s possibly a discussion of larger issues – or more likely – pure irony for laughter’s sake. “Presidents don’t have power, they’re meant to draw attention away from it,” Ford lets down Zaphod’s puppetry and gives at least some semblance of a true sci-fi movie.
Power emasculated by spreading it too thinly isn’t spared either as the trio tries to rescue Tricia from the overly bureaucratic Vogons. “Leave this to me. I’m British,” implores Arthur as he tries to push the necessary paperwork past the uninspired official to save Tricia from execution.
We’re also teased to maybe take a turn at the guide in actual book form. “Many have speculated that if we knew why the bowl of petunias had thought, ‘Oh no, not again,’ we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe,” says the Guide Voice, spoken by British humor’s patron saint Stephen Frey.
Who knows what the towel is about either? But more importantly the galaxy crossed lovers receive resolution – despite The Hitchhikers’ advice in regards to love. “Avoid if at all possible,” Frey assures.
Even so, you should do no such thing when it comes to this movie. And don’t forget your towel.