I'm not exceptionally well acquainted with the universe of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I've read enough of it to get the gist of the humor and characters, but without actually getting the whole story. And, unfortunately, this movie does very little to make me want to finish it.
The movie follows Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect as they travel across the galaxy, after the most unfortunate destruction of the planet Earth. They meet the president of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and along with Arthur's girlfriend Trillian, they....do nothing. Or, at least nothing that I could grasp.
The biggest problem with the film, and it pains me to say this, is the humor. It's not that I don't like british humor - on the contrary! I laugh hysterically with Arthur, and Monty Python, and especially Aardman Animations, which is actually one of my favorite film studios. I love good british humor. However, the key word there is 'good'. These jokes just aren't funny. The movie's trying so hard to make us laugh hysterically at how funny and random it is, but Sam Rockwell screaming "far out" all the time is not my idea of inspired humor.
Of course, I'm not saying that there aren't any hits with the humor. There are a couple of inspired gags and the filmmakers do an excellent job in capturing the droll sense of humor of the Guide in the original books, which gives way for some funny lines, but that provides very little compensation for everything else.
The directing is also unimpressive and almost frustrating. Garth Jennings from Son of Rambow was the director for this movie, and even though, technically, there's nothing that bad about it, substance-wise, he goes way over the top. What made the original book so funny was its drollness; how the characters would spout these ridiculous lines with such a calm, restrained demeanor. This movie's humor is the opposite of that and it falls flat.
However, where I was most annoyed by Garth Jennings's direction was with the imagination. A story like this one leaves so much potential for the director to go wild with the directing, and really make everything utterly bizarre and fantastic. Not only what's on the planet, in terms of creatures, but also with how it looks like and the visual style he uses on these different planets. Gee, I was excited to see what was going to happen. This is going to be interesting! And then...there are no changes. Absolutely nothing! On the different planets there's no big change, no sign that imagination was used. It's awful! There's one moment where everything turns to yarn stop motion, and you get excited, thinking that the movie is trying to reach its potential. But it is then completely dropped and we go back to nothing. I know that it's just a bit of a nitpick, but it would have been so nice had there been, well, creativity. Just something, other than random monsters, which don't require much thought to come up with, quite frankly. Do, perhaps, one planet with hand-drawn animation, but where the drawings are all done in sharpie pens, and then another segment where everything happens in the background and the foreground is just aliens swimming. Just do something artistically interesting!!! (Even if my examples aren't particularly artistic). And I would have loved a tad bit of inventiveness in the aliens. We just have unpoetic aliens with noses in between their foreheads, and that's not very interesting. They could have done, say, purple narwhal frogs that survive on raspberries, and talk only in acronyms. That's not a very good example, but you get the point. There should have been something.
However, to the movie's credit, the end scene on the final planet does do exactly that. It's only to a small extent, and it is too late in the film, but I'll give credit where credit's due. The final planet (which I won't spoil, but, paradoxically, since I've said that it's a spoiler, you can probably already guess what it is) is kind of interesting to look and pretty zany. Mice rule the planet, and they want a brain to finish their tv show, which will help them achieve fame, which is, after all, more important than happiness? That's funny! Where was this in the rest of the movie? Huh?
And while I'm dishing out compliments, I simply must write about what I knew, walking into this movie, that I would love: Martin Freeman. Martin Freeman stars in this movie and he is great. He truly is so likable, and he delivers his lines with such amiableness, that he makes the movie so much better than it would have been otherwise. He could be delivering a speech in which he says he's going to take over the world, and I would still be thinking "gee, what a likable fellow". Martin Freeman seems like such a cool guy, and the movie should consider itself lucky to have him.
Unfortunately, though, the other acting is much less commendable, especially when they have the difficult task of trying to make themselves seen next to Martin Freeman, while he's being golden. Mos Def has lots of trouble delivering the comedic lines and Sam Rockwell is bland, though, to be fair, he didn't have much to work with. Zooey Deschanel is all right as Tricia/Trillian, but she really isn't great. Bill Bailey does have a funny cameo, though...
This movie does have funny moments -- the mice are funny, and the whale and the petunia are great! -- but it's not even close to enough. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a boring, generally unfunny and disappointingly unimaginative film, with a very dull score. And no amount of Martin Freeman being awesome can change that.