As is often discussed, the conversion of one form of art to another is fraught with difficulty. First there will be those who criticise you for not being true to the original form, then there will be others who say you haven’t embraced the new one. This has been something I’ve thought about a lot in recent years – The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with its years in production, gave me ample time to consider how I would feel about my most beloved novels being made into films. Many criticised Peter Jackson for leaving out their favourite elf, or changing events slightly, while others lauded him for staying true to Tolkien’s original vision, but adapting it to make effective movies. The recent spate of comic book adaptations has also added much fuel to this debate. And now comes another well-loved British series of novels transformed for the big screen.
What many forget, is that there has never been a definitive version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Originally a radio play, then also a trilogy of five novels and a television series, a movie was inevitable. As was the criticism that would flow after its release. There has been hysteria, and vitriol, and much angst. So I decided I could only measure its worth using two criteria:
1. How faithful is it to the feel of the books? To Adams’ vision, style and plot?
2. Is it an enjoyable movie?
Using these criteria, I can say that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a pretty good attempt.
The film opens much the same as in the novels, with Earthman Arthur Dent being woken by the sound of bulldozers wanting to knock down his house. In short order, he is whisked away from certain death to adventures across the galaxy, by his good friend, Ford Prefect. Meeting up with the girl he never had, Tricia McMillan (Trillian), and the guy who made sure he hadn’t, President of the Universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox, they find much excitement, and eventually get to the bottom of it all.
Along the way, there is much of Adams’ sidetracking, amusing anecdotes, and bizarre absurdities. Narrated by Stephen Fry, the sections from the eponymous Hitchhiker’s Guide are amusingly illustrated, allowing the director to convey much of Adams’ flight-of-ideas approach, without detracting from the film or its pacing. This is no small feat – I had worried that much of Adams’ original dialogue and description would be lost, it being so wordy at times, but it is faithfully reproduced here. Not a complete, word-for-word representation of the novels, but in touch with the mood, and the feeling of reading them, and with enough direct quotes to satisfy almost all of the purists.
In this respect, the filmmakers have a major achievement – conveying Adams’ wit without sidetracking too much for a film-goer, this was walking a tightrope, but an inspired effort. Whether they met criteria two? Well, I didn’t fall immediately in love with this film, as I had done so when I first read the novels, but it was certainly enjoyable.
The action moves at a rapid pace, although the abovementioned sidesteps and distractions do allow time for what has occurred to sink in a little, before you’re zipping off again. Obtuse at times, the plot may stretch some viewers, but probably many who would struggle wouldn’t be interested in seeing it, whereas those keen to see it probably will find it easy to follow. Clear? I guess I’m saying that this isn’t a straightforward Hollywood creation, and many viewers will find it hard to accept this British way of doing things. It requires some patience, a taste for the bizarre, and a willingness to enjoy the weird and wonderful ideas that flow steadily from the screen.
I will be interested to see how this film fares in the USA, given it is so very British. It is not a readily accessible popcorn flick, in spite of appearances. If you are prepared to put in a little cerebral effort, there is a lot to be gained. Very enjoyable, hilarious at times, and always interesting, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is well worth it.Rating: