Garth Jenning’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was released in cinemas, on this mostly harmless Earth, on the 28th of April 2005. I’ll give you a minute to take in just how old that makes you feel and then please continue…
Jenning’s movie adaption is the most recent iteration of this genre-spanning series. The show was initially written for radio back in 1978, airing as weekly episodes. Douglas Adams later adapted his work as a series of novels which are still in print to this day.
The 2005 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the 9th version of the source material! There have also been comics, a video game, a stage show and two albums. If you like text-based interactive fiction, it is available for free on the BBC Radio 4 website here and I am not that familiar with this genre of game but it seems fun and full of the same witty observations that make the story so compelling.
New and improved?
The 2005 film adaption introduces us to Arthur Dent (played by Martin Freeman) and Ford Prefect (played by Mos Def) as they flee the Earth Mark 1 ahead of its untimely destruction by a fleet of Vogon spaceships. Seeing this brought to life in the TV show was laughable, seeing it brought to life in the movie was impressive but I can’t help feeling that it is lacking some of the charm. I think most of what I dislike about the film is not the fault of the film but an inevitable result of having a big Hollywood budget and the ability to make everything look lifelike.
My disappointment was not entirely justified
It was based on really high expectations and the movie was never going to live up to them; much like when civilisation gathers around deep thought to ask the ultimate question to life, the universe and everything. Spoiler alert, the answer is 42.
Fans of the original seem to take issue with the cast not being English enough. As a proud Scotsman, it is hard to sympathise with this criticism but I did try my best to consider it seriously so here goes.
I am used to hearing English actors with English accents portray the characters in the radio show but does that make much sense? The story spans all the way to a restaurant at the end of the universe.
Even on Earth, if you travel 50 miles in any direction, there are huge differences in accents and sometimes languages. I read a review criticising the show for casting a black man just because it is the current trend to do so. Dante Smith (Mos Def) fits the role of Ford Prefect very well and again, this is a character from a galaxy somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. It is no surprise he is not a white man, if anything it is massively improbable that he is a man at all.
Bill Nye as Slartibartfast and Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent are both especially great choices. Mos Def, as I have mentioned above, is well suited to Ford Prefect with his manic enthusiasm exactly what I had pictured when listening to the radio show or reading the books. Zooey Deschanel makes sense as the quirky oddball. She has chemistry with Freeman that is believable and yet strange, mirroring the characters relationship perfectly. Stephen Fry is an excellent Narrator and Alan Rickman as Marvin, the original paranoid android. He doesn’t even say, ‘I will get you… insert heroes name’ at any point which is a welcome change.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the original tapes of the radio show. These are also available in CD and MP3 format. I am sure you can still find them on cassette if you recall or care what those are. I still remember listening to the cassettes in the car with my Dad. Maybe sharing laughs with him have made it a rose-tinted memory but I am pretty sure they are just really comical and fantastic entertainment for all.
The audiobooks, especially the first one (Hitchhiker’s Guide) which is read by Stephen Fry. The books are fantastic as long as you have the patience to read a book and honestly, who does these days? I never understood why Fry was not contracted to narrate all of them. I suppose Freeman makes sense because he plays Arthur Dent in the film adaption but Stephen Fry is the voice of the Hitchhikers guide itself in the movie.
As I have mentioned, those that are a fan of old-timey Sci-Fi shows will definitely get a kick out of seeing the dodgy costumes and incredibly basic special effects. A scene that stayed with me is when the crew are taking evasive action from a couple of missiles homing in on them. The ship is shaking and each actor on-screen shakes their bodies around with varying intensity while the set (spaceship interior) remains completely stationary. I still remember watching Thunderbirds as a kid and marvelling at the site of supposedly giant space lizards that were quite blatantly cute looking pet geckos in a glass tank along with small model plastic trees.
Sadly I would have to recommend the 2005 film adaptation last. If you are already a fan of Hitchhiker’s guide, it is well worth a watch, I just think it is better suited to audio or low budget ventures. I would even go as far as to say that everyone involved with the film did a fantastic job. This might seem contradictory but the acting was top notch and they did try to incorporate some janky Sci-Fi into the mix, like when Slartibartfast takes Arthur on, what looks at first, like a rusty old museum tour ride and turns out to be a state of the art planet-building tour along a high-speed monorail.
In the beginning (at the end)
Douglas Adams is a legendary author of science fiction. His work continues to be quoted and referenced to this day and I doubt the most current film adaption of the books has had much to do with this but it will definitely have helped introduce his writing prowess to a whole new audience. It is not a bad movie and it was always going to be an uphill battle, satisfying both fans of the original and newcomers, unfamiliar with the vast Hitchhiker back catalogue of books, radio shows and TV adaptions.
I am left enjoying the ride, but it does not have me awaiting The Restaurant at the End of the Universe with bated breath. It has been 16 years so I am assuming that ship might have already sailed.
In the meantime, we can all sleep sound with the knowledge that the dolphins have not left us and that the Earth, whether it be Mark 1 or Mark 2, remains mostly harmless.