Much of the original text of the radio scripts and novel has been retained, although I'm sure I'm not the only one who will feel that much of Adams' better bits have been needlessly excised. It's understandable why some things got cut (otherwise the movie would be four hours long instead of two), but in some cases we have dialogue intact that leads up to a great punchline, and everything's in place except the punchline itself. While a lot of great material remains in this film version, a lot is missing as well – so most fans will probably have a mixed reaction upon their first viewing.
There's also a lot of new material here, including a character named Humma Kavula (John Malkovich), who is a rival of President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). The Vogons also play a much bigger role in this plot, as circumstances both lead to a rescue mission on their homeworld, as well as being featured in the climax of the movie.
I'm not sure that Martin Freeman was the absolute best choice for Arthur Dent. He seems to spend much of the movie channeling Tim Canterbury, the character he played on The Office and just doesn't seem as nearly as neurotic as the Arthur Dent in Adams' work or the Dent portrayed by Simon Jones in the BBC TV production. Incidentally, keep your eye out for Simon Jones in a cameo when the gang finally makes it to the planet Magrathea.
As for the other actors, the real standout here is Mos Def, who was by far the best choice to play Ford Prefect. I was less happy with Sam Rockwell, who plays Zaphod more like a southern redneck than the hippie version that Mark Wing-Davey inhabited him with in the BBC show. Trillian, as portrayed by Zooey Deschanel, gets a much bigger role here than she had in previous versions, and I quite enjoyed her character…she's really the heart and soul of the movie, and her expanded importance in the storyline was a nice touch by the filmmakers.
In addition to Jones' cameo, there are some nice nods to the BBC TV version in the movie – including a cameo by the original Marvin robot and the use of the TV version's theme music when the Guide is first introduced in the movie.
While I enjoyed the movie, I wasn't thrilled with it – although I get the feeling that this is the kind of movie fans will appreciate more and more with multiple viewings. I have to give Disney and Touchstone a lot of credit for not trying to "Americanize" the movie by making it more slapstick or turning Arthur Dent into an American. I'm guessing that, because of its still very British sense of wit, this film version of Hitchhiker's is going to leave many an American moviegoer scratching his or her head…but let's just hope enough flock to this film to warrant a sequel. As with the novel, the movie essentially ends in the middle of the story – so it would be a shame if we didn't get to see at least "The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe" portion of Arthur's adventure on the big screen.
So, yes, I had some problems with the movie, but it's certainly more witty and fun than anything else that's been in theaters so far in 2005. So stick out your thumb and hitch a ride down to your local theater for the biggest bang since the big one!