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DAVID EDWARDS ON THE NEW MOVIES: Monster smash; THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Cert PG, 110mins HHHH.

Byline: DAVID EDWARDS

Douglas Adams' best-selling cult novel gets a whizz-bang 21st century makeover in this brilliantly-bonkers British sci-fi comedy. With some gloriously goofy characters, a great performance from Martin Freeman, and a script packed with wicked one-liners, the result isn't "mostly harmless" - it's bloody great.

And even if you don't know your Infinite Improbability Drive from your Vogons, don't panic, because Hitchhiker's is a movie that everyone will love - not just the anoraks.

Freeman (Tim from The Office) plays the hapless Arthur Dent who's best friends with a visiting alien called Ford Prefect (US rap star Mos Def). Meeting him down the local, Ford casually informs him the world's going to end in exactly three minutes, with the planet marked for demolition by aliens building a hyperspace bypass.

Seconds before Earth is atomised, Arthur and Ford hitch a ride on a teapot-shaped spaceship helmed by an intergalactic President called Zaphod (Sam Rockwell) and his crew.

Along the way, Arthur comes across a pair of super-intelligent mice, a light saber that makes toast and the Guide itself - a talking book containing the secrets to life, the universe and everything, perfectly voiced by Stephen Fry.

Ever since the movie was green-lighted in 2003, Hitchhiker's legions of devoted fans have made no secret of their fears that Adams' quirky cosmos would lose all its charm in a US-friendly makeover.

Although I haven't read the book, I'm pretty sure the fanboys will be relieved with the result, mostly because this film is unashamedly British. Sure, there are a host of US stars, but they play second-fiddle to homegrown talents such as Helen Mirren as a supercomputer, the brilliant Bill Nighy playing a planet developer, and Alan Rickman who gets most of the best lines as the depressed robot Marvin.

But the best thing about the film is Freeman, who effortlessly makes the transition from Slough to the outer reaches of the cosmos as cinema's most unlikely space traveller, complete with saggy jowls and towelling dressing gown.

If there's any justice in Alpha Centauri, this should do for British sci-fi what Shaun Of The Dead did for British horror.

BEST QUOTE: The Hitchhiker's Guide on Arthur Dent: "A man who no more knows his destiny than a tea leaf knows the history of the East India Tea Company."

BEST BIT: Arthur and Ford are transformed into talking sofas.

WORST BIT: The special effects are a touch cheap looking.

IF YOU LIKED... Red Dwarf, Dark Star, Monty Python... YOU'LL LIKE THIS.

CAPTION(S):

PRESIDENT: Rockwell; MOGUL: Nighy
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2005
Words:422
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