When the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy finally hit the big screen, I was pretty excited. I had always been a big fan of the series, and the movie rights had been tied up in development and legal hell for decades. Finally, it was here, in all its glory.
But some people seemed to be rather disappointed by the whole thing. They felt it let down Douglas Adams’ vision of the Guide. Which is odd, because Adams’ vision of the guide changed so often over the years, the only thing you could have reliably said about the movie in advance would be that it would be completely different to anything preceding it.
And there’s been a lot preceding it. The series (which for brevity, we’ll refer to henceforth as H2G2, as Douglas himself often did) started as a BBC radio series. After being a moderate success, he was encouraged to write a book of the series. ‘Encouraged’ possibly being not strong enough a word, given he frequently had to be confined to a hotel room by his publishers. Eventually the novel came out, and went straight to the top of the bestsellers. Over the years, it was followed by four more novels, further radio series, a television series, a text-adventure game, two stage plays, and a commemorative towel. And each individual incarnation of H2G2 has been somewhat different to the others, if not flatly contradicting the events in them.
This was a deliberate move by Adams, and an understandable one. Imagine having to rewrite the same story, over and over, in half a dozen different formats. I for one would certainly want to add a few twists along the way.
All the versions (except the towel, I suppose), start off in pretty much the same way, with Arthur Dent waking up to discover his house is about to be demolished by the council. Events escalate, and he ends up being rescued from a demolished Earth by his old friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be from Betelgeuse, and not Guildford after all. Beyond this point, all bets are off, and the plot can go anywhere.
Everyone has their favorite version of H2G2, and I think this is where the problem comes in with the movie. I grew up with the books, but I have a fondness for the radio series, which was something that had never been quite done before, in terms of production and script. Others remember the TV series as their favorite, despite the somewhat creaky special effects. Regardless of which, everyone has their own ‘special’ version, the one which sits in their mind and colours how they expect things to be.
And this is where the movie departs, for some; it’s very much got its own individual style, the actors are a completely completely new cast, and it may look radically different to the other takes. Arthur’s love life is focused on much more than in previous versions, and that may be a stumbling block to some.
For those who’ve never come across H2G2, it might leave them in the cold; the humour by this point is well honed, and geared towards making the sort of people who find this sort of thing funny laugh, and isn’t quite what you’d get from a modern comedy.
Personally, I loved it. The new cast worked well on the whole, the movie definitely had a unified, ‘sexy’ stylising to it, and compared to some of the treatments suggested in the eighties and nineties, this was about as close to Adams’ humour as you’re going to get.