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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Directed by Alan J.W. Bell
Written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (additional material)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Principal Cast
Peter Jones -- The Book (voice)
Simon Jones -- Arthur Dent
David Dixon -- Ford Prefect
Sandra Dickinson -- Trillian
Mark Wing-Davey -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
David Learner -- Marvin
Stephen Moore -- Marvin/The Whale/Frankie Mouse (voice)
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Some dozen or so years after reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the DVD of the BBC TV version (will linguistics hold nothing but acronymous nouns in the future?) finally clarifies my initial reading experience. I remember laughing at one point, but which point I don't remember. Watching the six-part series, the one-liner that made me laugh out loud came when a planet's worth of middlemen (hairdressers, marketers, and financial men) have crash-landed on a new planet and crowd around a hot tub for the 573rd meeting to discuss what they intend to do about colonization. Fed up, Ford Prefect says, kicking a pile of kindling, "This is futile! 573 committee meetings, and you haven't even discovered fire yet!"

That I don't laugh at the jokes doesn't mean I don't appreciate the prods at History, God, Banking, and Philosophy (angry at the pretense of the great computer answering the great question of the universe, two sort-of philosophers, V. & M., storm the computer lab):

(V)--We demand that you cannot keep us out.
(Priest)--Who are you?
(M)--I am Majikthise [pronounced Magic Thighs].
(V)--And I demand that I am Vroomfondel.
(M)--You don't need to demand that.
(V)--All right. I am Vroomfondel and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact. What we demand is solid facts.
(M)--No, we don't. That is precisely what we don't demand.
(V)--We don't demand solid facts. What we demand is a total absence of solid facts. I demand that I may, or may not, be Vroomfondel.
(Priest)--Who are you?
(M)--We are philosophers.
(V)--Though we may not be.
(M)--Yes, we are!
To those of you who say, "Geez, what's the matter with this critic? This is funny stuff." I agree (though I may not agree) that the ribbing is good fun and often strikes a chord -- a chord to humor both sides of the issues: vegetarians could point to the humor of the animal bred to be eaten but so could the pro-meat-eaters, atheists could laugh at the babel-fish as proof against God but so could the believers. Also, this had to be one of the earlier attempts at multimedia on television, which Douglas Adams, himself, deservedly celebrated: "The thing on the television series that were the most ground-breaking were the graphics.... Every film I've ever seen has used computer graphics as window dressing. What we did on Hitchhiker was say that these computer graphics are actually a part of the way you tell a story."

The problem comes when you get at the definition of what a story is. What is a story? The connections between scenes always seemed rather tenuous. Aside from the pig-cow at the restaurant at the end of the universe, what is anybody's purpose in life? 42? The perennial Adams fan will no doubt say, "That's the whole point!" and point at something from The Hitchhiker Guide:

"This computer, called the Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet particularly by the strange ape-like beings who roamed its surface totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program. This is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense."
Unfortunately, the plot doesn't always make sense either (I double-dog-dare you to diagram it). Is that the point? A pre-Seinfeld show about nothing?

Oh, come on. You intellectuals were shammed! Admit it. Sure, Seinfeld was hilarious, but to have a show about nothing means that it still has no thing in it. Hell, I'd rather watch Seinfeld than anything on TV, but only because they presented no easy-to-swallow tablets.

As a series of sketches, one-liners, and a running gag about the purpose of life and how we all came to be, etc., it's great. But considered as a novel, it's a rather long joke to carry on with -- worse even than the running one about digital watches. Learning Adams' original admiration of art leaned more toward comedy sketches of Monty Python (yes, that is an art) rather than Leo Tolstoy, I breathed a sigh of relief: Terry Jones said, "Douglas used to say he was doing absolutely the wrong job. He wanted to be a performer. He wanted to be out there... amongst people and doing things. Instead of which fate had cast him as a writer. There he was sitting alone in a room having to write and wishing he wasn't. It was a great cross for him to bear." In 1988, Douglas Adams said in an interview, "I find [writing] very, very difficult, but I think it's getting slightly easier oddly enough at the moment. I always need the mad panic of deadlines.... Once the deadline is past, you really begin to think, "Now what's this book going to be about?"

Since these are more than a series of sketches connected via picaresque adventures to the meaning of life, perhaps a new category of fiction ought to be devised for this peculiar form: the novesketch? Make no mistake. Adams is an original. I believe it was Edmund Wilson who said that the combination of genres made high art. Just don't expect the expected.

What about the DVD version? In addition to the interviews that I've quoted from above and the creation of a second head for Zaphod Beeblebrox, like Adams said, you have the computer graphics that work well even today. But some of the human aspects... well, you have to consider the times. Do you like Dr. Who effects? They seem laughable, but at one time they were the crème de la crème: "If you compare what we did then with what's available now," says Alan Bell, "the effects were a thousand percent perfect. Looking back to what our special effects did, it was, of course, absolute rubbish."

As I contemplate the future of our selves, careers, and other cut-for-losses ("Here we are at the end of the universe and you haven't even lived yet."), I'll leave you with this amazing bit of wisdom from an exchange between Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast:

(A)--All my life I've had this unaccountable feeling in my bones that something sinister was happening in the universe and that no one would tell me what it was.
(S)--Oh, no, that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that.
(A)--Maybe that means something: that outside universe we know some alien intelligence is...
(S)--Maybe. Who cares? Perhaps I'm old and tired but I always think the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, "Hang the sense of it" and keep occupied. Look at me. I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway. Where's the sense in that? For a fleeting moment, they become fashionable and I get a major award.... I'd far rather be happy than right any day.
(A)--Are you?
(S)--No. That's where it all falls down of course.

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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