Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Movie/Book Review)

A few weeks ago I reread Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I also watched (for the first time) the BBC production, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

What I discovered is that I much prefer the book to either of the productions I've seen. I *did* enjoy the 2005 movie. It had been several years since I first read the book. So I'm not sure how faithful it is to the book--to the spirit of the book at least. But. In some ways it worked for me. As entertainment.

My thoughts on the BBC production. The first few episodes are extremely faithful to the original book. But it doesn't end the same as the book. (Perhaps these later episodes are faithful to the sequels?! I'm not sure. I haven't read any of the sequels. So I'm not sure how they fit into things.) There are plenty of sections almost taken word for word from the book.

But while I found the book plenty entertaining, I must admit I struggled with the movie. I found it painful to watch the ridiculous humor 'come to life' in such a clumsy outdated way. I didn't feel the book was dated--but the way it was presented on the screen--well, it felt very dated. And it wasn't just the "special" effects. It was the way the characters looked and acted.

So while I am glad I took the time to give this one a try (and I did finish all the episodes even if I did struggle with them) I'm thinking that the book will always be better than anything that can be done on screen.

Here's how it starts:

From 1981 movie,

From 2005 movie,


  1. The Hitchhikers books are one of my favourite series ever - I have my very old copies here falling apart from re-reading but I can't replace them. I've seen the TV show (not bad in its own way) and the movie (not very good really) and listened to the radio play (OK overall) but the books are always what I return to.

  2. I agree with Bernadette. While the 2005 movie tried it failed on many levels. It was disjointed and felt like a mish mash of ideas. The FX were certainly better and the planet building elements were awesome, but much of Adams humor was layered. There would be one joke and while your giggling at that its followed with the true joke. The movie cut most of them short so it felt like it was sort of Hikers without actually being it.

    The TV series for me was much better. Whenever I read the book its those characters that I picture. Partly because I grew up with it so yes I admit there is some bias there. But the series is by and large the book. The same dialogue and the same situations. Yes its a pity the FX were not at the movie standard but it was BBC and it was 20+ years old. It would be nice to see a bluray special ed with updated FX though.

    Is the book better? Yes of course. Its the written word and that takes some investment from the reader rather than the more static elements of a movie or show where the audience more goes along for the ride. If you like the first book then certainly read the others.

  3. It is a popular misconception that this started off from the books. It was in fact a radio play, converted to TV brilliantly and concurrently made into books (the books were started before the TV show, but the TV show was broadly a reiteration of the radio show for television).

    I have a bias towards the TV show as I loved it when I was a kid, and that was naturally a first exposure to it for me. The radio play is excellent and a bit more elaborated than the TV series, however the TV series really brings the story of Arthur Dent's adventure to life! And the actors perfect the roles, which is why many who have watched it picture those actors when reading the books or listening to the radio play now.

    I also note that some people don't like the clunky effects, occasional flare and perhaps budget nature of the TV show's view of life in the universe, but like with everything from this era, you have to watch it with kid's eyes, where you watched sci-fi shows and it was meant as a glimpse into a location and you imagined the backdrop. Personally I genuinely prefer these effects and sets to anything in the abominable 2005 film remake, in a preference much paralleled by the original 3 episodes of Star Wars versus the characterless yet CGI-indulged recent 3 (prequel) episodes.

    And talking of the poor 2005 production, my advice - DO NOT WATCH IT. I think it ruins Hitchiker's. As with almost all remakes of this type since CGI was advanced enough, the aesthetic is all-powerful, the substance is disregarded. In other words, it's all fart and no ham sandwich. Yes, to a layperson the effects all look wonderful, and perhaps some will be pleased to see different avenues of the story explored, and the chance to see these realms in perfect HD. But I don't want to watch a cartoon (see SW: Attack of the Clones), I want to go back to that fantastically rich landscape that Douglas Adams so wonderfully portrayed in words. And the very foundation of that was your imagination, so prominant in radio plays, and your ability to submerge yourself in the other-worldly story, in a time when narrative and dialogue was of utmost importance as a story had to be so engaging you wouldn't realise that the noise you're hearing is simply a man wrinkling some newspaper, or latterly in the TV show that Marvin was just a guy in a really heavy robot-suit.

    In short, the 2005 remake missed out on every single thing that the original did so beautifully, right down to a matter that seems minor but was actually incredibly important, and acts as a good example of this. Adams made it clear that contemporary life on earth fits into this story of the wider universe, thus engaging the audience, and making them part of the story. The modern film was simply a sci-fi film which you watch in a disconnected way, suspending belief to adhere to the 'rules' of the story. Adams made you realise that you are in this story, but you just don't know it yet (until the world will be destroyed to make way for a Hyperspace Bypass). Therefore making it a sci-fi film in the realms of reality, and one you can identify with, particularly if you go to a fancy dress party in Islington, or wear a digital watch and wonder what the meaning to life really is.

    I also do love the TV show for its glimpse into the then contemporary English life.

    Anyway, I'm off to have a Pan-Gallactic Gargle Blaster...