The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some good-looking segments, too many parts of Guide presented problems.
The biggest issue connected to sharpness, which appeared iffy at times. Some prominent edge haloes caused many of the distractions and meant that the shots often were moderately ill-defined and soft. The flick looked better during its third act, but up until that time, too much of it seemed to lack great clarity. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I also failed to detect any source flaws.
Colors varied dependent on the setting. From the heavy greens of the Earth segments to the blown-out whites of the film’s main ship to the arid look of Magrathea, we got many different tones. These occasionally looked a bit heavy, but the DVD usually replicated them with good fidelity. Blacks were nicely dense and tight, and low-light shots demonstrated solid delineation. Really, the softness and edge enhancement was the primary concern. Without those flaws, this would have been a fine transfer.
Happily, I found very little about which to complain when I examined the soundtracks of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The DVD included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. Although each one worked fine, I preferred the DTS track. I’ll discuss it first and then detail what made it better.
Despite its comedic, absurdist bent, Guide lived in the world of sci-fi action as well, which meant a tendency toward that form of audio. It didn’t match up with the wonders of the Star Wars prequels or other truly dynamic efforts, but it did more than fine for itself. The soundfield proved to be consistently vivid and engaging. Elements popped up from all over the room and blended together with solid smoothness and clarity. When appropriate, pieces zipped from one spot to another and connected well. Big action setpieces scored the best, but even quieter moments showed good delineation and placement. This was a lively track that formed a strong soundscape.
Audio quality followed suit. I never noticed issues with intelligibility or edginess as I listened to dialogue. Instead, the lines were natural and concise. Music blasted with fine clarity and range, and the effects offered similar tones. I always felt the various elements were accurate and distinctive, and they presented strong depth when necessary. The mix used the subwoofer to good effect but resisted the urge to blast us with excessive bass. This was a terrific mix that added life to the movie.
What made the DTS track better than the Dolby one? Some of the usual suspects, as it presented a more seamless soundfield and stronger definition. The Dolby mix was a little more “speaker-specific” and lacked quite the same life and punch. On its own, it worked just fine, but in comparison, the DTS track came across as more involving and dynamic.
As we head to the set’s extras, we find a pair of audio commentaries. The first presents remarks from director Garth Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith and actors Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion.
And a chatty piece it is! The men interact well to make this a lively conversation. They discuss songs and music, second unit photography, visual effects and puppets, costumes and characters, sets and locations, stunts, and many notes from the set. A lot of these take a humorous bent, such as the many cracks on Mos Def’s tendency to fall asleep at the drop of a hat or Sam Rockwell’s nuttiness. There’s a lot more happy talk than I’d like and I can’t say this acts as a terrific encapsulation of the production. Still, the mix of decent data with mirth makes it worthwhile and enjoyable.
For the second commentary, we hear from executive producer Robbie Stamp and Douglas Adams’ colleague Sean Solle. Both men sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. Though the piece starts slowly, it picks up a bit as it progresses. Stamp and Solle mostly cover thoughts of Adams and his work as well as variations among different incarnations of Guide. We learn about a few production topics as well, but the emphasis sticks with Adams-related issues. Too much dead air occurs, especially early, and we get a lot of the usual praise. Despite those problems, this piece adds a more personal touch about the Guide’s creator and it provides some decent information.
A short Making of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy runs eight minutes, 55 seconds. It mixes movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and comments from Jennings, Freeman, Goldsmith and actors Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Warwick Davis and Sam Rockwell. We hear a little about why Jennings took the project, the cast and their activities, approaches to characters, costumes, alien designs, sets and effects. Despite a promotional bent, this featurette is definitely better than usual, especially when Rockwell discusses his take on Zaphod. It’s too short to muster a lot of depth, but it has more than a few good tidbits.
A 44-second Additional Guide Entry covers the non-existence of God. Jennings mentions this in the commentary, so it’s good to see. Three Deleted Scenes appear. We get “Earth: Mostly Harmless” (48 seconds), “’We’re Going to Win’” (0:26) and “Impossible Forces” (0:59). We also find two Really Deleted Scenes: “Do Panic!” (1:51) and “Arthur Escapes” (0:56). The first three are real cut sequences; nothing too consequential appears, though “Forces” shows some romance between Zaphod and Questular Rontak. The two “Really Deleted Scenes” are comic pieces of overacting and silliness obviously never meant for the movie.
Next comes a Sing Along for “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!” This runs the scene from the movie with bouncing-ball style lyrics. It’s cute and that’s it. The same goes for Marvin’s Hangman. Instead of building a man who dies, each wrong letter selection deletes part of Marvin. Every word includes only four letters, and five wrong choices completely disassembles the robot. It entertains for a moment at most.
A mix of ads open the DVD. We get promos for Flightplan, The Chronicles of Narnia, Dark Water and Lost. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with trailers for Chicken Little, Aliens of the Deep, Beautiful People and TV on DVD.
Finally, the disc features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
Fitfully funny and inventive, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy never quite lives up to its potential. It presents more than enough cleverness and humor to make it enjoyable, but it remains a moderate disappointment. The DVD offers lackluster visuals with excellent audio and a decent set of extras. Give this one a rental.