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John Bolton, The Later Years: A hairy-snouted Kwaltz is one of many bizarre creatures populating 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'

Hitching Post

Big budget 'Galaxy' will please old and new fans alike

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

WHEN adapting beloved cult books to the screen, filmmakers always ask themselves the same question: How far should we go? If you stay totally faithful to the book, the beloved cult may not make up enough box office to justify the thing, but if elements are changed to broaden the appeal, you risk offending the core audience.

Based on Douglas Adams' hilarious novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opts for changes to good effect. As adapted by Adams (who passed away in 2001) and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) and directed by music-video vet Garth Jennings, the film has been Syd Field-ized, beefing up a hint of romance between two characters and stretching a race of unpleasant bureaucrats, the Vogons, into the movie's relentless villains.

Earthling Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) wakes up one morning to learn that his planet is going to be demolished in 12 minutes to make way for a hyperspace bypass. His best friend, the odd yet suave alien visitor Ford Prefect (Mos Def), rescues him by hitching a ride for them on a spaceship. Through a series of coincidences, the president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and girlfriend Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), who happens to have jilted Arthur at a party not long before, pick them up.

Meanwhile, the story is really about the search for the question to the ultimate answer of life, the universe and everything. (The answer was found millions of years earlier.) These heroes, and their paranoid robot Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman and embodied by Warwick Davis), are merely bystanders while the cosmic fabric of the universe undulates in weird, hilarious and beautiful patterns. But the film makes them slightly more active, with a firmer grasp on their destinies than in the novel. The movie also adds several sequences, including a pit stop to see Humma Kuvula (John Malkovich), a preacher in a sneeze-based religion, as well as a new take on the old 'step-on-a-rake' gag.

Yet for all this, the new Hitchhiker film (the BBC produced a low-budget, small-screen version in 1981) has a delightfully homemade, human quality. Like the very first Star Wars and last year's Spider-Man 2, the film is far more interested in human foibles than it is in gizmos and effects. Refreshingly, the filmmakers have opted to use live creatures whenever possible instead of computer animation. Moreover, when the film does go in for digital trickery, it materializes as some of the most dazzlingly effects since The Lord of the Rings.

Director Jennings clearly adores his talented actors, and each gets to shine. The great Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead) turns up as Slartibartfast and nails the befuddled, deadpan dialogue assigned to him. The rest of the casting is dead-on, with Mos Def an inspired Ford and the cuddly, wicked Deschanel a lovable Trillian. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy makes you leave the theater with a warm heart and a glad soul, proud to be a part of such a crazy cosmos.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (PG; 110 min.), directed by Garth Jennings, written by Karey Kirkpatrick and Douglas Adams, photographed by Igor Jadue-Lillo and starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell and Zooey Deschanel, plays valleywide.

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From the May 4-10, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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