It’s taken a long time for this film to arrive. I’m not sure if any film could live up to the expectations for the adaptation of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. It’s odd, but the first thing that popped into my head when I began thinking about what to say about the film was “Mostly harmless”, which is the entry for planet Earth from the Guide as well as what John Leyden wrote in his review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in The Register.
There isn’t anything really wrong with the film and there are brilliant touches scattered throughout. The casting is great and many of the lines from the radio series survive completely intact, but some of them don’t feel organic. What is strange is how Douglas Adams writing and wit infuse the whole thing and you can’t help but forgive it when it slows down. Maybe I don’t want to actually calculate how long ago I heard the radio series, but when I think about it I have to realize that it was over twenty years ago. I listened to the original radio series via a National Public Radio rebroadcast of the series sometime between 1979 and 1981. I actually recorded the broadcasts onto tape - 8-track tape - and I listened to them many times. Then I watched the tv series which I enjoyed, maybe because of the spirit of the series that came through. While I read the books (the first three), they didn’t make as much of an impression as the radio series.
Maybe what made The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy click with me so well was that it combined my loves of Science Fiction, British humour, and radio together in a creative and entertaining way. A large part of any radio drama is in your mind, which can be why adaptations can be disappointing. The visualizations in the film are wonderful, especially the Vogons and some of the departures (the Americanization of Zaphod) work quite well. I wish that I was able to spend more time with the characters and see them develop more. But there seems to be a delicate balance at work within the film which is filled with subtle in jokes for fans, but I don’t think that they would detract for others.
At the core of this, what I think I’m trying to say, is that maybe I’ve changed (and I know that the world has changed) and the film as it is would have been seen by me differently 10 or 20 years ago. It’s not dated, but director Garth Jennings chose to be respectful and faithful to Adams’ vision. I liked the film, but didn’t love it…so much of the universe that Adams’ created is in my brain I couldn’t believe how clear it remains. I don’t think that I’ve read the books for 15 years or so or heard the radio series for almost as long or maybe longer (the 8-track hasn’t worked for a long time…) but I know the lines and situations. So again I circle around, but I think that it was done well and can be the foundation for something greater cinematically if there are sequels. The world has been so vividly created in my mind that maybe what was most surprising for me was the lack of surprise…it was all just right and I guess that there is nothing wrong with that.
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