“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” feels like a BBC miniseries that was mistakenly released to an American audience as a feature film. It is funny but its pacing is undoubtedly stunted. As the film progresses forward, several plot lines and character trajectories become lost deep in the cosmos. By the end of it all, the only character who evokes a strong personality isn’t even a human but an Alan Rickman-voiced depressed robot. Either that’s a bold prophecy of the intergalactic future to come, or just bad storytelling.
Following the unassuming Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) after his planet gets exploded by a bureaucratic alien race, the movie’s charms wear off in the first half, where it’s done all of its quirky, imaginative world-building. The humor is quintessentially British, full of irony and witty self-deprecation. But it still feels a bore, where we don’t know exactly why we’re watching or what these characters are trying to achieve. Dent has a thing for Zooey Deschanel’s character Trillian, although there seems to be little chemistry between them. Sam Rockwell plays a rock star galaxy president, who is only good for occasional laughs but has no real depth on his own. Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) plays a seemingly-normal but distracted alien who assists Dent on his journey, but too lacks a significant personality. They lack so much detail that you can’t even think of two or three adjectives to describe any of them.
By the end, “Hitchhikers” is honestly just boring. We have no stake in what’s happening because we lost sight of the central goal of the film: is it to find the question to 42? To get a gun to John Malkovich’s character Humma Kavula? For Dent and Trillian to hook up?Who knows! The final minutes feel like the movie thinks its smarter than it actually is, like these were supposedly brilliant jokes that Adams and director Garth Jennings thought of while chilling on a writer’s room sofa. It’s so self-conscious at being smart that it appears dumb in the process.
Maybe this hodgepodge of sci fi is the sad result result of adapting a beloved comedic sci-fi novel to the big screen. Douglas Adams’ cherished novel inspires a fandom as passionate as “Star Wars” and as annoying as “Monty Python,” with online commentators still speculating almost 40 years after the book’s publication on what the story and “42” was all about. To make a movie adaptation of “Hitchhikers” successful, you need to appeal to that core fan base but to casual moviegoers as well. Leaving us with a movie that feels simultaneously like half a movie and too much of a movie. It has too many characters and not enough motivations. And sadly, even in its mind-numbingly large universe, it still can’t find us a single reason to care.