From listening to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series while in junior high school, what I recall most vividly was how Ford and Zaphod tried to “out cool” each other. Their absurd affectations intended to make themselves appear hip and suave even in the most dire circumstances was the source of most of the humor.
Their “beatniks to the nth degree” banter contrasted perfectly with poor Arthur Dent, the perpetually clueless earthman who was not savvy enough to know to hide his misgivings.
That core character dynamic was present in the books, the radio series, and the tv miniseries, but it isn’t in the film.
Without the characters’ highly comic attempts to out-impress each other, what we are left with are snippets of storyline from Adams’ saga, oftentimes rendered so literally from their past versions as to be utterly boring. I found myself craving something new, something which justified making the story as a film.
I found of bit of that in the one character given any sort of depth: Zooey Deschanel’s Trillian. I was already a fan of Zooey’s work (she played the GenY “Dead Like Me”/”Wonderfalls”-esque lead in the film “Eulogy”) so perhaps I was inclined to enjoy her performance regardless, but I thought she brought some life to the character. Admittedly Trillian hadn’t been particularly 3-dimensional in past tellings, but it was a good move to make her something more than a “scientist-turned-Dale-Bozzio-in-hot-pants” as she’d been in the tv series.
Pity that Arthur didn’t get more than a handful of lines of dialogue in which we could get to know him, too.
The characters were barely there, and frankly that was what was so fun about the original(s). The storyline, which the film adheres to far too strictly, was just a fast-and-loose path on which the characters could tumble down – opportunities for wild banter and philosophical hilarity.
I could praise the film for following the storyline of Adams’ series so closely, and for the way the filmmakers manages to recreate the look and feel of something the BBC might have produced 30 years ago, right down to the use of clayfields for alien planets. But honestly I am not sure it deserves praise. Because we’d already seen it. The BBC produced a tv mini series which had the same look. We’d already heard these lines of dialogue (in better, more “beatnik” form) before. Why make a film if you aren’t ready to take it to a new level, to riff on the material? The books and the radio series and the record albums at least took slightly different routes along the same storyline.
Ironically, by sticking so closely to the original, they did a disservice to it.