Simpson now says Adams got off lucky because the author will never see how Disney bastardized his beloved child, gutting his brilliant lines and reducing them to glib, soggy punch lines. "You just won't believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is," Simpson has written online. Simpson, of course, comes to the movie as obsessive fan and distant friend, protective of Adams' beloved work. But he speaks also for those who adore the book not for its story (a narrative as linear as a soap bubble) but for Adams' zippy, witty writing style, which was Marx Brothers by way of Monty Python -- nonsense that made perfect sense to its acolytes. Anyone unfamiliar with the novel will simply be lost.
The story, with some pointless and absolutely confusing detours, remains the same: Arthur Dent (The Office's Martin Freeman) wakes up one morning to discover that his home is slated for demolition to make way for a bypass -- the same fate awaiting Earth that very morning at the hands of aliens seeking a shortcut through space. Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), an alien who contributes entries to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a sort of encyclopedia for space travelers that features on its cover the words "Don't Panic." Along the way, they encounter Ford's hippy-dippy "semicousin" and president of the Imperial Galactic Government, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell); the lovely earthling Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel); and the giant-headed, enormously depressed Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman). The trio are traveling in a stolen spaceship to the mythical planet Magrathea, where they will find the question to which the answer is 42.
You could fill in more blanks, but why bother? Adam's original Hitchhiker's Guide has a plot the same way Duck Soup has a plot. You revel in the hysterical dialogue. There are too many memorable lines to quote, but among them are an alien guard's realization that "the hours are pretty good, but now you come to mention it, most of the actual minutes are pretty lousy" and Arthur's warning to Ford about the "infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they've worked out." This adaptation chucks those lines and most others into outer space.
The screenplay is credited to Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, who wrote Chicken Run and James and the Giant Peach -- unimpeachable credits. But Kirkpatrick and director Garth Jennings, a maker of music videos, have reduced Adams' mayhem to a polite, throat-clearing ahem and replaced the playful witticisms and nutty scenarios with more conventional sci-fi situations. The droll has been made dull, an inexplicable and unfortunate turn of events for so adored a genius, goofball work.
Instead of Adams' creations, we get characters who are meaner, dumber, blander and far less funny. Only Stephen Fry, as the voice of the guide itself, seems to be on the same page as Adams, but even he ruins the affair, talking and walking over jokes in the rush to explain things to newcomers while trying to appease the true believers. It's a good thing that in space, no one can hear you snore.