The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel. Rated G.

Of the many imaginatively conceived creatures and contraptions in the late Douglas Adams's novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one of the most useful is the Babel fish. When placed in one's ear, it acts as a translator between the diverse languages of intergalactic species. Translation is a factor when discussing Hitchhiker's Guide, which began as a BBC radio play, was then adapted as a novel, more radio, and, later, another book and a television series. And although the new U.S./U.K. coproduction is highly amusing and most of the plot remains intact, much of Adams's original wit (Jonathan Swift and Monty Python meet Dr. Who) seems lost in translation.

The plot begins at the end of the world. The home of English Everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is about to be torn down to make way for a motorway when his friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), reveals three key facts to him. First, Earth itself is about to be demolished by a Vogon destructor fleet and, secondly, Ford is actually a researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a digital publication with the words Don't Panic on its cover. Oh, and he's an alien. The two then escape the planet's imminent destruction by hitching a timely ride on a Vogon craft.

Director Garth Jennings's first feature is encouraging, but the former music-video director has yet to master the pacing and theatrical direction demanded by a full-length feature film. Sam Rockwell still manages to be enjoyably manic as Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, Alan Rickman is delightfully deadpan as the voice of Marvin the depressed robot, and Freeman (Tim from the BBC's The Office) is suitably reserved as the homesick Arthur, who misses the mundane charms of his terrestrial home.

In his 1990 book Last Chance to See, Adams set off to explore the world in search of endangered exotic animals, and an ecological consciousness pervades Hitchhiker's Guide, from the dolphins in the opening musical number to a hilarious sequence involving a falling whale.

In the end (literally), this was the late Adams's legacy: the world is a beautiful but finite place filled with equal parts magic and menace. But don't panic; it all ends sooner than you'd care to think.