Starting off with dolphins singing about the end of the world in a little tune called "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish", "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (an adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel that has been in development for ages) stars Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, an everyguy who wakes up to find that his house is about to be bulldozed.
Unfortunately, that's not the worst part of his day - he's soon informed by his friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), that Ford is actually an alien, and that the world is about to end in the time it will take to drink a few pints at the pub. Ford is actually a researcher who is penning a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and takes Arthur aboard one of the ships traveling overhead as the planet goes is vaporized.
They find themselves on a ship piloted by the Vogons, a race who perform poetry so awful that it puts people into a deep sleep. They escape, and find their way to the president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), who managed to beam aboard Trillian (Zoe Deschanel), an Earth woman who changed her name because the new name sounded more "spacey." There's also the depressed robot named Marvin (voice of Alan Rickman); Beeblebrox's rival, Humma Kavula (John Malkovich); Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), who's a planet builder and finally, the guide, a PDA-like book that is an encyclopedia about all things the galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry).
The majority of the movie is a series of episodes where our intergalatic travelers visit different weird landscapes and find themselves on a series of adventures. Those who have not read the book will likely be mostly or entirely lost, as the movie is heavy with references from the book and does not pause to explain anything for those who aren't familiar with the material. Those who haven't read it may decide to go along with the wacky adventures, but there will likely be a large portion of those unfamiliar with the material who will tune out.
The performances are pretty good, as Freeman makes for a good "average guy" hero, and Deschanel is fine as the love interest, although the two really don't have a whole lot of chemistry with one another. Also terrific are Def, Nighy, Malkovich, Fry and especially, Rickman. Technically, the picture is excellent, as the visual effects and physical effects are very well done; while not always seamless, they are certainly imaginative.
Overall, "Hitchhikers" is going to go over best with fans of the source material. Those who've never read it will either go along with the weird, comedic ride or use the remote control to beam something else onto the tube.
VIDEO: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is presented by Touchstone Home Video in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the presentation is THX-Certified. The image quality is generally first-rate, with excellent sharpness and detail that remains mostly consistent throughout.
Some very slight edge enhancement appears, but the image is otherwise free of the usual concerns, as no pixelation or print flaws were spotted. Colors also looked nicely saturated and bold, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The presentation is about as aggressive as the movie is, and surrounds viewers with an enveloping mixture of various sound effects, score and environmental sound elements. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, dynamic sounding effects and clear dialogue. The DTS option sounded a bit more rich and full, and offered a slightly more seamless and enveloping experience. However, both presentations are certainly satisfactory.
EXTRAS: There are two commentaries: one by producer Nick Goldsmith, director Garth Jennings, and actors Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy and the other is by producer Robbie Stamp and a colleague of Douglas Adams, Sean Solle. The commentaries are informative and insightful, offering a good mixture of stories about the production and chat about developing the material for the screen.
BR> Also included are a sing-along for "So Long and Thanks For All the Fish", a promotional "making of" featurette and an interactive game. "Sneak Peek" trailers for other titles from the studio are also offered. There are two deleted scenes sections - "deleted scenes" and "really deleted scenes" - (the guide proclaiming Earth "mostly harmless" in one very brief scene, an extremely brief deleted clip called "We're Going To Win", one with the president and vice president having a bit of a romantic moment, "Do Panic!", which is a bit of an "action movie" outtake with Ford Perect, Arthur and Beeblebrox and finally, "Arthur Escapes", which is a pretty goofy outtake.
Final Thoughts: "Hitchhiker's Guide" is an uneven affair, but it's original and wild and occasionally funny enough to be mostly an enjoyable ride. Those who have read the book and haven't seen the movie should seek it out, but those who have not read the book and are interested in the movie should definitely try a rental first. Touchstone's DVD edition provides a nice helping of supplements, as well as solid audio/video quality.