Making the Grades
If you aren't familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, don't panic and don't be fooled. It is not a fact-based manual on how to navigate interplanetary and stellar byways. Rather, it's a quirky, creative and cheeky sci-fi script based on the work of Douglas Adams.
Originally airing as a British radio show in the 1970s, the Guide became a kind of cultural phenomenon, which evolved into a TV program, computer game, stage show, record album, comic book and series of novels. It seems only fitting then that the big screen be the final frontier for the Guide to exploit.
The tale chronicles the misadventures of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), who is having a downer of a day. His house, set alongside the road in the empty and expansive British countryside, is about to be bulldozed to make way for a new thoroughfare. But unbeknownst to this average Englishman, things are only going to get worse. An alien ship is hovering overhead and preparing to destroy the Earth in order to make space to build a super highway for the cosmos.
Only moments before the imploding explosion, Arthur, dressed in his bathrobe and pajamas, is snatched to safety by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def). Flung into the nether parts of the universe, the travelers catch a ride on a Vogan spaceship. However, the blubbery, poetry-loving Vogans quickly prove to be inhospitable hosts and the two men are left thumbing for another form of transportation. Conveniently, Ford's old friend, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and his cohort, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), pick up the hitchhikers.
Accompanied by a perpetually depressed robot named Marvin (voice by Alan Rickman), Zaphod and Trillian are on the run from Questular (Anna Chancellor) and the space police. Using a stolen vessel, they are heading for a far-flung planet in search of the ultimate meaning of life.
Ironically, ultimate meaning seems to be the elusive element in this film. In the style of Monty Python, the movie introduces outrageously eccentric characters, droll one-liners and completely improbable situations while taking a tongue-in-cheek poke at British bureaucracy. The plot often seems to meander along, merely looking for a chance to include some wildly weird event like a whale falling from the sky. Novices will find themselves especially disadvantaged when it comes to the inside jokes already familiar to the books' fans.
Although the script contains relatively few concerns other than alcohol use and some highly stylized violence, some viewers may disagree with the film's theory that God is not in charge of planetary creation.
On the whole, veterans who already have a Hitchhiker history will most likely appreciate these out-of-world adventures. But for newcomers like myself, there were challenges. After all, it's a bit difficult to root for a hero in a housecoat.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
To enjoy humor, it’s necessary to have a deep understanding of the culture in which it exists. How may the British humor in this movie be difficult to appreciate if you don’t understand the nuances of living in the UK? How might comedy originating in the urban United States be just as “foreign” in another land?
In the movie, one character questions the meaning of normalcy. How does our perception of reality affect the way we define normal? How can your “normal” differ from someone else’s?
Think you’re a Hitchhiker expert? Check out these quizzes on the BBC site.