Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been getting a fair number of bad reviews from folks I know, but I rather enjoyed it.
It's true that many of the old familiar lines fell completely flat for me, but I think that's because I've heard them approximately eight million times in the last twenty years. I no longer find it particularly funny when someone says to me "Life. Don't talk to me about life" or any of the other top hundred most popular Hitchhiker's catchphrases, and I didn't find them particularly funny in the movie either.
What I did find funny were the unexpected bits—the new material that managed to (for me) fit the tone and flavor of HHG's previous incarnations without adhering particularly closely to the details. Unusually for me, I found the physical humor very funny—the pratfalls and especially the extremely silly slapstick scene. And I loved the facial expressions of the cast, especially Ford and Arthur during the Vogon poetry scene.
Really I had that general reaction (unexpectedly charmed and amused) to most of the movie. I went in with very low expectations, which I think was a good idea, but I had a good time. I was even charmed by the extremely goofy "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" theme song under the opening credits. I thought there were a bunch of fun jokes and sight gags. And I actually liked what they did to the plot (such as it is) and the character arcs; I thought the plot rather collapsed near the end, but mostly I thought they did a good job of streamlining things into a coherent two-hour story. (Am I right in thinking this is the shortest incarnation so far?) I wasn't thrilled with Marvin (or with the solid-white furnishings on the Heart of Gold), and there was a lot that was left out or didn't live up to its potential, but there was also a lot that worked, for me. (And for Kam, I believe.)
Regarding character arc: my hazy recollection of the radio series, book, and TV miniseries is that Arthur was more or less a one-note character throughout (at least in the first book); he's great at expressing bewilderment and a general sense of dissatisfaction with the world and his place in it, but doesn't seem to have much personality beyond that. (Zaphod characterizes him at one point as only ever saying "What?" and "I don't understand" and "Where's the tea?") In the movie, especially in an early flashback scene, I found myself actually liking him, and he does go through a certain amount of character development (even if it's a fairly Hollywood sort of character development).
Oh, and I liked most of the special effects, including the animations for the Book.
The movie overall doesn't quite live up to its stellar cast, but several of them do a fine job. I hadn't realized how many actors I like were in it until the opening credits:
- Anna Chancellor (who I didn't place 'til now: Henrietta from Four Weddings and a Funeral) (and btw, she's a direct descendant of Jane Austen's brother)
- Mos Def (formerly best known as a rap artist—I quite like his and Talib Kweli's "Thieves in the Night"—but more recently making a name as an actor in Bamboozled, Monster's Ball, and The Italian Job)
- Zooey Deschanel, the female lead from Elf (and the best part of that movie imo)
- Martin Freeman (who I failed to recognize as mild-mannered John from Love Actually)
- Warwick Davis (from Willow and more recently the Harry Potter movies) (as Marvin's body)
- Helen Mirren (the lead in the British TV series Prime Suspect; also in Gosford Park among many other roles) as the voice of Deep Thought
- Sam Rockwell ("Guy" from Galaxy Quest) (and incidentally, the interview with him indicates that he was only basing a small part of Zaphod on George W Bush; I think way too big a deal has been made of this)
- Bill Nighy (who played the aging rock star in Love Actually)
- Alan Rickman sadly wasted as Marvin's voice (so three of the leads in this movie were also in Love Actually)
- Stephen Fry as the Narrator
- and the ever-amazing John Malkovich in a part that reminded me of something from City of Lost Children.
So overall, I certainly wouldn't say it was a great movie, and probably the book and the radio show (and maybe even the miniseries) are better, but I did think the movie was fun and worth seeing.