In the world of science fiction, the work of Douglas Adams is quite unique. Quirky, light-hearted, inventive, and, at times, outright funny, Adams most recognizable work is the multi-media franchise spawned by a little BBC Radio play call The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Since it first captured the imaginations of BBC Radio 4 listeners in 1978, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has gone on to be adapted into TV, books, films, stage shows, video games, comic books, and more. And in some cases, it’s been adapted multiple times in a single media format.
It’s probably been adapted at least 42 times.
For me, my first experience was reading the novels. The five-part trilogy of original Adams written novels was published between 1979 and 1992. Eoin Colfer stepped in to write a sixth novel that was published eight years after Adams’ death in 2001.
And, naturally, Hollywood finally got around to its own adaptation.
Hitting theatres around the world in 2005, the film version of Arthur Dent’s adventures made its debut using a script co-written by Douglas Adams before his death. Starring Martin Freeman as Dent the cast was filled out by Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, John Malkovich, and Bill Nighy. Add in Stephen Fry as the narrator/voice of The Guide and you’ve got yourself one heck of a line up.
The crux of the story is Arthur Dent, an Englishman who finds out his closest friend, Ford Prefect, is an alien moments before the Earth is destroyed and he is rendered its sole survivor. Ford, a researcher for the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, saves Arthur. They set out on an adventure through space in a stolen ship alongside a complete lunatic and a depressed robot. In the context of the world Adams created, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an exceedingly popular book across the known worlds and beyond that is a reference tool for everything. It contains information on any topic and has the words, “DON’T PANIC” printed across the back of it in huge letters.
While the movie is highly enjoyable, it’s actually a little hard to follow if you haven’t read the books. It makes some leaps in the story arc that are easy to fill in if you are familiar with the source material. If not, you might be a little lost.
The film maintains some the quirky humour of the books but loses some of the charm of Adams’ writing style. There are times when you can tell that you’re supposed to find something funny but it isn’t and you’re really not sure why. Then there are other times it is truly funny. Part of the problem for this specific adaptation is that the source material has been adapted so many times and into so many media forms. Fans have high expectations for a film like this and walk in with a lot of preconceived notions, with each one experiencing it for the first time in a different fashion. And The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is definitely one of those media properties where your first experience with it permanently defines your perception of it.
In the end, the film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a fun movie that is a good watch but make sure you also read the books. Or listen to the radio plays. Or go to one of the stage shows. You can never have too much of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Just don’t forget your towel. And don’t panic.