Here is how people will react to the film:
- Non-fans will enjoy it, but may be confused by the spasmodic style.
- Fans who expect to have a good time probably will, but will have lots of "what was that all about?!" moments.
- Fans who expect the worst will create it for themselves.
If you want to keep an open mind about the movie, this is the place to stop reading.
Mos Def makes a better Ford Prefect than anybody expected, Martin Freeman is spot-on as Arthur Dent, and Alan Rickman as Marvin is excellent. Bill Nighy plays my favorite version Slartibartfast, but he doesn't look the way I thought Slartibartfast should look.
I thought Sam Rockwell would be a perfect casting choice for Zaphod Beeblebrox, but he's obviously made his own decisions about who the character should be. Rockwell's version of Beeblebrox would have snugly fit Douglas Adams' original dialogue, but the character has been rewritten and there's some clash.
Zooey Deschanel as Trillian was also a good casting choice, partly because I think she's stunningly attractive, but also because she can play the very smart, articulate type of character that Trillian is. Her performance is good, but the character has been substantially rewritten, and I don't know how I feel about this. On the one hand, I don't think Douglas Adams created good female personalities until So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. On the other hand, Trillian suddenly has desires and motivations, and when she gets angry she does more than have one pouty line of dialogue.
How's the story? This is a faithful adaptation in the way that Re-Animator and The Muppet Christmas Carol are faithful adaptations (and this, incidentally, is the only place where you'll ever see those titles side by side). Great swaths of the story have been cut, others seriously reworked. Very little of the original dialogue has survived, and in some cases good lines from much later in the series have been transplanted as punchlines. Somehow the main points of the story are (generally) intact, along with a myriad little details that casual fans won't even notice. Some people have said that there are only a few major story changes, which (I suppose) is true, but they are majorly major. Much has been simplified or in some cases (and this bugs me) plot elements have been combined and condensed. Jokes are missing, and some punchlines don't have their accompanying setup.
Do you care about these changes? That's up to you. I'm not appalled, and it boils down to the fact that they were (if the interviews are to be believed) Douglas Adams' own changes, and for some reason I find this forgivable. Every adaptation of HHG has differed in significant ways from the others, and while this one has the most significant changes, it does compress a story which would not have adapted very well verbatim (or rather, it might have adapted well, but non-fans would be bored by the slow start and confused by the abrupt finish). Many scenes were shot and not used in the theatrical cut, but we should see these on the DVD and they may contain what I'm missing. The theatrical cut is, incidentally, the director's own cut, so this is the movie he wanted to make, not something the studio forced him to make.
Um, what else? Oh, new characters and plot points. Skip this paragraph if you don't want to learn the new stuff. The Arthur/Trillian/Zaphod love triangle which hardly existed at all in other versions is magnified a hundredfold here. Douglas Adams always lamented that he hadn't emphasized it more, so this, I assume, is what he wanted. John Malkovich as Humma Kuvala is interesting, but his subplot is left open, hopefully in anticipation of a sequel. Anna Chancelor is fine as Questular Rontok, but her character seems totally superfluous. She's there for a reason which eventually becomes obvious, but it's one of those "if they hadn't added X they wouldn't have had to add Y, which is why they added her character in the first place" sort of things. A large part of the film is devoted to the planet Vogsphere for not good reason other than to make the Vogons the primary bad guys (otherwise the story doesn't really have convetional bad guys). There's also a subplot involving the literally-named Point-of-View Gun (that's the only hint I'm giving, and I'd say it's a big one). The POV gun was added to the story by Adams, but it's so clumsy that I wonder if its purpose was lost in a rewrite or will be revealed in a sequel.
Lots of little bones are thrown to longtime fans of the series. Simon Jones (the original (and perfect, in my opinion (if he were younger)) Arthur Dent) makes an appearance, along with the original BBC TV version of Marvin. There are a lot of little in-jokes that only die-hard fans will get (because honestly, even fans of the TV series won't recognize the Starbix box (or maybe they will -- I did)).
Having said all of that, it's a fun movie, and though the changes are substantial (oh, you didn't look under the cut? Sorry.), I am looking forward to the sequel, which is not a given at this point, but certainly an option they kept firmly in mind.
Anybody still reading might be interested in checking out this story about the book, the film, and everything which ran on NPR's Talk of the Nation on Thursday.