The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams is the real king of all media. Consider: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started life as a radio program on the BBC. It then became a trilogy of five novels, then a TV series. It’s been re-recorded as an album, and while I’m not into them, it’s probably a video game too. Clearly Douglas Adams was not adverse to making a little money off his best idea.

And why shouldn’t he have? After all, it was a great idea. It takes its place in the tradition of British humor that includes Monty Python, The Goon Show, and P.G. Wodehouse. It is, in short, a classic.

But they’ve never made a movie of it, up to now. Part of the reason is the plot. It tends to ramble. Adams is much addicted to detours and digressions, which are hilarious but hard to film. Like Wodehouse, it is Adams’s authorial voice that is his main attraction, and it’s hard to film a perfectly crafted sentence, one that just wouldn’t be funny if a single word were out of place. You can also tell that Adams never had a single creative writing course in his life, or if he did, he didn’t pay any attention, because he broke all the rules I’ve ever heard of for storytelling. Setting aside the aforementioned rambling of the prose, Adams’s main character Arthur Dent is strictly passive. He is swept along by events, whining ineffectually all the way. Well, Hollywood can’t stand this. I read once that at a pitch meeting, a studio executive asked Adams what Arthur Dent wants. “He wants it all to just stop, actually,” replied Adams. Not what the exec was looking for, I think. And that more than anything else explains why it took so long.

To get it all into a 110 minute movie, they had to do a little tinkering while still remaining true to the spirit of the work. Arthur is a little less passive. He’s the one who insists that they rescue Trillian from the Vogons for instance. And yet, he still remains the befuddled English everyman that the situation calls for. The biggest difference is that he gets the girl, which will probably cause the greatest consternation amongst the fanboys. In the book…I mean the radio program, or…well, in everything else, Trillian is aloof, beautiful, competant and completely out of Arthur’s league. She’s also just a little cruel. Adams’s view of humanity was a little dark at times.

I like the change. Zooey Deschanel, who plays Trillion is gorgeous in a non-glamorous accessible way. It’s easy to see how Arthur could fall for her and it makes you root for them.

Given that Simon Jones is too old to reprise the role, Martin Freeman proves an excellent choice for Arthur. Mos Def is sufficient as Ford Prefect, which must be a tough role, since Ford’s always been something of a cipher. Alan Rickman is his usual god-like self as the voice of the depressed android Marvin. Sam Rockwell plays Zaphod with over the top wackiness. He is working his way up the fanboy pantheon and is now probably within sight of Bruce Campbell.

Normally, I don’t like narration in films. They are a visual medium and if filmmakers can’t get the message across with the picture, they should write novels. In Hitchhiker’s case, there is really no other way to do it. The flimsy plot would simply fall apart without Adams’s language and those hilarious entries from the Guide. The urbane Stephen Fry, Jeeves himself, supplies the voice of the Guide and does it admirably.

This is a worthy addition to the family of Hitchhiker’s media. I think Douglas Adams would be pleased.


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May 2005
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