Film Length: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 High Definition 1080p
Disc Type: BD-50 Dual Layer
Audio: Uncompressed 5.1 PCM (48kHz, 16-Bit), English, Spanish & French 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Release Date: January 23, 2007
I have to go on record immediately that I am a huge fan of the Douglas Adams series of books that make up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I’ve read them all - - most of them several times. So, in 2005, when the movie was finally being released after dwelling in development hell for at least 15 years, I was both excited and extremely nervous. This is an absolutely classic story and Mr. Adams’ own brand of deliriously hilarious wit would have to be handled perfectly for the film to succeed with ardent fans and those who were new to the story. A first time director and the writer of Chicken Run didn’t really inspire much confidence in me, but I was very open to the experience. Fortunately things turned out very well… but more about that later.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy revolves around the adventures of earthling Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman). During the course of one extremely hungover morning, Arthur will find himself whisked off the planet Earth and thrust into a series of interstellar events that are a bit much for his limited human scope. The real thrill of the story is the aforementioned wit of Douglas Adams. His style, cynicism and unique ability to communicate strange new ideas and events really make this story unique. I don’t want to give anything away here, but it’s safe to say that if you have a great sense of humor and adventure, this will be a story you’ll enjoy.
So, with the book version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy being a confirmed, inimitable classic, this film version needs to succeed on a variety of levels. Fortunately for me, it does. But I do have to add the caveat that it took me two viewings of this film to truly appreciate how well the filmmakers pulled of this feat. The first viewing was strange and had me making adjustments as to what I had imagined by reading the books and what I was seeing on screen. Frankly, if you had asked my after that first viewing, I would have told you the film failed miserably. Fortunately, I was dragged back to the theater for a second viewing. My attitude immediately changed after that second trip to the theater. For those of you who haven’t given this movie a second chance - - I urge you to do so now. I think you might have a different experience. At any rate, I loved the look of the film and learned to really adore the casting. Martin Freeman is an excellent Arthur Dent - - he’s the perfect bumbling everyman. The real star of this show, however, is Sam Rockwell a Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy and moron. He’s an absolute hoot and clearly was the perfect casting for the roll. John Malkovich pops up later in the film… his role was created specifically for the film by Douglas Adams shortly before the author passed away. There were a few things left out of the film here and there, so as a purist, I can’t give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a perfect score. But this is an entirely enjoyable film that I find very satisfying.
I was fortunate to see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the theater projected both digitally and from film. This Blu-Ray edition is completely faithful to those experiences. This is a very colorful film, unlike many recent sci-fi releases. There is a ton of detail in each scene with a terrific amount of intricate production design on display. The color palette is also all over the place, with many scenes on different planets with distinctive ambience. Some scenes do show a bit of natural film grain, but this is nothing out of the ordinary. If I had to guess, it does look like different film stocks were used in the various environments of the film. For example, the scenes on Earth are very vibrant and rich with lush green hues and crisp color reproduction and a slight amount of grain. The scenes that take place aboard the spaceship “Heart of Gold” are very sterile with an almost enveloping backdrop of bland white and grey and a complete lack of grain. At no time does anything ever jump out from this transfer that indicates we are seeing anything other than a film as it was intended to look. The space scenes have a wonderful inky, black quality and shadow detail is always exceptional. Skin tones (on the humans, at least) are perfectly rendered with a great amount of skin detail. Now that I’ve had a chance to see her in full 1080p, I can confirm that Zooey Deschanel has excellent skin. Kudos to Disney for delivering another flawless transfer!
I’m running out of superlatives when it comes to PCM audio. As usual, this is an amazing audio experience with a huge amount of surround activity and an absolutely pristine rendering of dialogue, music, effects and that enveloping 360 degree sphere of surround sound. What else could I possibly say, other than this is absolute reference audio.
Here’s what’s included:
-Audio Commentary with Producer Robbie Stamp and Douglas Adams’ colleague Sean Solle
-Audio Commentary with Director Garth Jennings, Producer Nick Goldsmith and Actors Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy
-Really Deleted Scenes
-Additional Guide Entry: The Man and the Fish
While this isn’t the most voluminous set of extras ever assembled for a home video release, these particular extras distinguish themselves for their high quality and their benefit to the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. Both audio commentaries are quite enjoyable. The director and actor commentary is clearly the most fun with lots of great behind the scenes info and a really nice banter between the participants. The commentary with Robbie Stamp and Douglas Adams’ colleague Sean Solle, is absolutely essential for the Douglas Adams fan. Mr. Solle really goes into great depth as to the man behind this story and has quite a few fantastic tidbits of info regarding the book, the movie and the extended development of the film. I really enjoyed both commentaries, but I will probably end up listening to the Sean Solle commentary again. It really is that informative. The deleted scenes are also very enjoyable with “Earth: Mostly Harmless” scene throwing a nice bone to fans of the book. My favorite part of these supplements is easily the “Really Deleted Scenes” segments. I’m not sure how these were planned, but there are two scenes; “Do Panic” and “Arthur Escapes” where the actors jump in and out of character, banter with the director and do their very best to completely butcher the character’s they are playing. Sam Rockwell is the notable exception as he hilariously seems to be the only one staying in character as he talks on his mobile phone to his Maserati salesman thought the duration of the first scene. This is great stuff!
NOTE: If while listening to the audio commentary, you go into the main setup menu and switch directly back to PCM or Dolby Digital sound without turning the commentary off, this particular Blu-Ray will then convert the commentary to subtiles while returning the audio to the selected mode. I thought this was a great feature as it allowed me to enjoy the soundtrack and dialogue in full PCM sound and then simply follow the commentary in text mode.
The Final Analysis:
Well, Disney has scored with the Blu-Ray release of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I love the film and the technical presentation is absolutely flawless. I also really was surprised at how fantastic the extras are. If you haven’t given this film a chance, this Blu-Ray release is the perfect way to experience this extremely enjoyable film for the first time. This really is fantastically entertaining stuff!
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-Ray Player
Panasonic PT-AE1000 Front Projector - 1080p
Carada 93” diagonal 16x9 Criterion Series/Brilliant White Screen – www.carada.com
Rotel RSX-1056 Surround Receiver
Rotel RB-1080 Amplifier
M&K MX-125 Subwoofer