If nothing else, there is a nice reminder for these troubling times printed in large, comforting letters on the back of the book-within-the-book that lends its title to this movie: DON’T PANIC. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) was one of those films based on a classic novel that I always thought of as something the cool nerdy kids (if you will pardon the oxymoron) read. I picked it up before it arrived in the cinema, and was delighted when it came to the theaters. While it is not the most precise adaptation, it should be noted that author Douglas Adams worked with the development of the script before his unfortunate passing. Call that a public service announcement for all of you who get up in arms about the book-to-film transformation.
The oft misrepresented aspect of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and this is true for the book as well as the movie, is that the meaning of life is forty-two. It is a hilarious concept, but that is an oversimplification of the matter, and this is a movie that really bears some thinking about despite being a comedy. It focuses on Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), an earthling who is unaware that not only is his best friend, Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey, or Mos Def more familiarly), is an alien, but that his planet is about to be destroyed by the Vogons. After all, you have to have interstellar bypasses. Ford manages to get the two of them off the doomed Earth where, through a string of nearly impossible events, they run into the galactic president on the run, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). The “nearly impossible” needs to be emphasized because the spaceship Zaphod pilots is The Heart of Gold, which is powered by the infinite improbability drive. Every time you push a button, whammo, something extremely unlikely happens and you find yourself on the other side of space. Zaphod uses this ship in his attempt to find the supercomputer Deep Thought, which he erroneously believes will tell him the meaning of life. Meanwhile, the Vogons have been employed to track down Zaphod and The Heart of Gold. They catch up with the slightly deranged politician on Earth Mark II, which, as it turns out, had been built as a back-up in case the mega supercomputer (I am running out of ways of describing computers) that was Earth was obliterated, as it was by the Vogons. The only thing that saves Zaphod and company from the inept race of interstellar bypass builders was Marvin the Paranoid Android (played by Warwick Davis, voiced by Alan Rickman) unleashing infinite sadness on them through the use of the Point of View gun.
Confused yet? I would not blame you. Summing up the plot of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is tricky without disappearing down a rabbit hole of over-explaining, which would detract from the genuine fun that is this movie. As you might be able to gather from the previous paragraph, there is a certain undertone of philosophical pursuit. While I suspect that Adams and I differ as to our sources of grander meaning, it is worth noting that at least all the characters were searching for something bigger than themselves. As a Christian I would posit that is a requisite first step for a spiritual life. A funny and poignant example of the characters coming to grips with their existence is when, shortly after arriving on Magrathea (the planet where Earth Mark II was built), they use the infinite improbability drive to avoid to nuclear missiles that greeted them (and I do mean “greet”). Activating the wonder machine in an act of desperation, it turned the two projectiles into a bowl of petunias and a surprised sperm whale. Of course, gravity begins to take hold of the sea mammal, and as it plummets to its eventual demise it tries to make sense of the world around it. It is the most touching demise of an endangered species that you will ever laugh at.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s brilliance is in the fact that you can chuckle and think at the same time. It is also rated PG, and thus it can be watched by the whole family. And unlike animated films that supposedly appeal to all audiences, parents will not have to pretend they are being entertained by some of the lowest forms of humor. Sure, the kids will not understand most of the snarky jokes. But hopefully they will enjoy the sense of adventure, and there is enough zaniness to produce a smile or two. Bonus if it makes you want to read the book!