Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comes out on DVD this Tuesday, September 13.
Science fiction is a peculiar genre. Heavyweight authors like Herbert, Dick, Asimov, Wyndham and Peter F. Hamilton
, to name but a few, have created new worlds, alternative histories, imagined empires and stellar species. Science fiction has a very specific style of thought and imagination, a peculiar style that speculates and explores realms of possibility, and it is a cherished and widely read form of literature.
In films too, the possibilities of the science fiction world, and worlds, has been given life. Ridley Scott's immortal masterpiece Blade Runner
, the Star Wars saga (now having reached its final fruition with Episode III
) and countless others have made Sci-Fi a stalwart of the screen.
Moving out of the realm of literature and into the canon of cinematic Sci-Fi, after years of delay and deliberation, is the much anticipated movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
. This story, originally spread over a trilogy of five books (a phrase that says a lot about Douglas Adams
, the author of the series, and his intentions and style in the writing of said trilogy), is a peculiar one to say the least.
It was born as a BBC radio serial
, then reborn as a book series, then again as a gloriously dry, British BBC TV series in the style of a comedic Doctor Who
or Blake's Seven
. Finally, it has reached the big screen, and the result is a film that has the heart of Adams' work, and the brain of a new film. Yet, most importantly, it keeps at its core what is the most important element of the original books and TV series, and that is the very Englishness
of the story.
(to abbreviate) has a plot that cannot be explained easily in the confines of a mere review. In an attempt to précis the plot of either the movie or the books, you lose so much of the nuance and frivolity that Adams sprinkled through his tale that it sounds preposterous. That is one of the joys of Adams' Hitchhiker's
. Adams, in a nutshell, shows how preposterous and ridiculous Sci-Fi can be, yet he still lauds it as a great and evocative genre. Adams is able to subvert the conventions of the genre with humor and irreverence, and still manage to create great and lasting ideas like the "Babel Fish," the destruction of Earth for a space bypass and the Hitchhiker's guidebook itself.
To explain the plot to the uninitiated may cause a look of confusion or derision to cross their face. The fact that the plot begins with Arthur Dent, a pyjama-clad Englishman being whisked away from Earth onto a hostile alien vessel by his friend, the automobile-named Ford Prefect who turns out to be a hitchhiking alien, is a tricky enough pill to swallow. Furthermore, this vessel was sent to destroy the planet to make way for an Interstellar bypass, and the destruction of Earth promptly takes place. The two hitchhikers are then rescued by another spacecraft with a power source based on the laws of probability, manned by a girl from Earth who Arthur once met at a party, another alien (this time with three arms and two heads) and a paranoid android called Marvin. The books and the 1980's TV series managed, thanks entirely to Adams skill and wit, to make all this seem pretty well understandable and entertaining. Douglas Adams created the Sci-Fi comedy, and it was born out of a love for the science-fiction it pokes fun at.
The movie version of Hitchhiker's
, as a big-screen interpretation of at least part of Douglas Adams' vision and the bizarre creations of his imagination, does work. Where it could have failed, it excites and delivers to the initiated and also paints a strange new canvas for those new to the work of Douglas Adams. For someone who grew up with the books and the TV series, it is a relief to see that it contains and champions the essence that was such a vital part of Adams' work. Even the old theme music from the TV series makes a brief but momentous return, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention in a nostalgic salute. I was not deprived of anything in the film, and the humor and satirical elements (Adams seems to have had a strong hatred of officious bureaucracy) are all in place. But it is the Englishness, the lost-Brit abroad in the weird world of Adams' mind and imagination, that is the most important element of the story, and that bewilderment is still alive and well in the movie version.
Arthur Dent is played by Martin Freeman, a young English actor who came to prominence in the UK and the United States for his role of Tim in the BBC sitcom The Office
. The casting of Freeman is a good stroke. His portrayal of the stodgy, confused and very "English" character of Arthur Dent, with his blank, hangdog expression brings the Englishness of Adams' story to life.
The English essence of the Hitchhiker's
story is a factor that is reiterated throughout the film. The effects are, in keeping with the tradition upheld by some British efforts, a bit mediocre. English dry wit and Adams' love of wordplay is evident in the script and the dazzling concepts of Adams' idea shine in the animated segments of information from the Guide itself. The cameos in the film are harvested from the Who's Who of British acting favorites. Bill Nighy
, Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman and the velvet-voiced Stephen Fry all give a nice little turn. The remainder of the players, including Mos Def as Prefect, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell, all have a good time with the material.
Yet, throughout the film and despite the presence of American stars, Hitchhiker's
cannot tear itself away from its English heritage. Most tellingly, there is a distinct sheen upon Hitchhiker's
of British comedy film making and the precedent that entails.
Indeed, it is obvious that the shadow of the mighty Monty Python crew is cast long over this movie. The use of comedy slapstick, noisy vocal argument and an all pervading silliness is reminiscent of the films Monty Python and the Holy Grail
and The Meaning of Life
. The visuals and mise-en-scene draw heavily on the kind of imagery the legendary (and, yes, American) director Terry Gilliam
used in his films Time Bandits
and Twelve Monkeys
Perhaps, the making of a film version of a British fiction that has become both a national institution and a ground breaking new subset of Sci-Fi, will always be tinged by other British cinematic/comedic influences. The faint wisp of Pythonesque humor and style, the irreverence and silliness, the willfully obscure and peculiar, will always hang about Douglas Adams' work. It is therefore only natural, and perhaps to be welcomed, that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
movie can be seen as a film that holds a sense of nostalgia for the old version of Hitchhiker's
. To illustrate this, the actor who played the original Arthur Dent makes a brief appearance, as does the original Marvin the android. Blink and you'll miss him. But he's still there, proving the English love of nostalgia
, and the antecedents of the books and TV series are there to be enjoyed.
may not have been made on the scale of Star Wars
or have the heavyweight literary clout of Spielberg's War of the Worlds
; but in a way, Adams didn't need that for his vision. He never got to see the film of course, as he died
in California a few years ago. To pay a lasting, fitting homage to his work, Adams needed a peculiar, odd little film about an odd British story that has its origins in Monty Python humor and in the vast, po-faced seriousness of classic, space-opera science fiction that encompasses life, the universe and everything. The end of the Hitchhiker's
movie has a simple epitaph: "For Douglas". The film is a fitting addition to Douglas Adams' work.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy
movie is irreverent, silly, odd, strange, weird, overtly-British and really rather peculiar. Douglas Adams, wherever he is, must be pretty pleased with it.