Hello, and welcome to the first installment of Comparative Adaptology. As I said in my previous post, we’ll be going over the 2005 film and 1981 BBC miniseries of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So let’s jump right in, shall we?
Now, the 2005 movie is an interesting case. It had been in production for almost twenty years, Douglas Adams constantly re-writing the script and such. Shortly after Adams’ untimely death, the movie finally went into production. Sadly, as I was not a fan of the series at that point, I have no idea what actually went on in the fandom at that time. Anyway, the film was finally released to mixed emotions, some people raging at it for changing the source material far too much, some people accepting it on what merits it did have, and yet others, not really caring.
Anyway, that’s quite enough rambling about production history, let’s actually get to the meat of this review, then.
Now, right off the bat, let me say that in my opinion, the miniseries has the definitive cast for the series, (David Dixon’s Ford Prefect being the high-point of it all.) except for one dark spot, Sandra Dickinson (Former wife of Peter Davison and mother of David Tennat’s fiancèe, Georgia Moffett) as Trillian. She is quite the antithesis of the novel’s vision of Trillian; she’s blonde, loud, and really not all that bright. The film however, scores over the older, not quite pedestrian work in that with their casting of Zooey Deschanel as Trillian and Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast, the latter quite stealing the show in the last twenty minutes or so.
However, they manage to go wrong with their casting choices for Zaphod and Ford. Mos Def’s Ford Prefect... Bothers me, quite a bit. It’s not that he’s not white or ginger, far from it. The thing that bothers me about him is the utter lack of charm brought to the character. Ford’s most memorable lines being spouted with no regard for timing or inflection, something that made Dixon’s Ford such a delight. Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod is also something of a problem. He’s portrayed as something of an idiot and pervert, admittedly that’s how he is in the book, but here in the movie, it’s taken to an extreme, however he still manages to be enjoyable. His heads are also something of a problem, but we’ll get to that later.
Moving on now to plot. The two productions follow the same basic plot, more or less, at least up until Episode 4 of the miniseries, Episodes 5 and 6 incorporating the plot of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. However, the movie, being a big budget Hollywood film, was forced to take several plot detours, as following the basic plot would likely bore mainstream audiences. Such detours include Humma Kavula, who was actually invented by Adams specially for the movie. Yet other changes appear, such as the frankly baffling decision to make Lunkwill and Fook seemingly immortal little girls, who also end up being revealed as Benjy Mouse and Franky Mouse. There really isn’t much else to say in this portion, so we’ll move onto our final section.
Which brings us to presentation. How do these adaptations stack up to each other, and more importantly, the source material? First off, the miniseries is an amazing adaptation, being essentuilly a TV version of the radio series, but it suffers from questionable effects, Zaphod’s second head being one of them, and general 80s-ness. However, it does make up for it with some great British actors, and absolutely amazing Guide illustrations, which in fact, were handdrawn.The 2005 film on the other hand, decides to go a slightly different route with it all, the main MacGuffin not being Magrathea itself, but the Point Of View gun, which is yet another Adams creation. The writing is decidedly all over the board, ranging from painfully groan-worthy (The 'Arthoolia’ line) to actually sort of amusing (The flyswatters on the Vogsphere and the countless nods to the source material). Zaphod’s head suffers yet another injustice here, with a quite baffling interpretation which decides to stack his heads, and only proves to make the movie Zaphod more irritating, but as with the 80s miniseries, has some absolutely wonderful casting. Martin Freeman being a more than worthy successor to Simon Jones’ Arthur Dent, and Alan Rickman is an absolutely hilarious Marvin, being able to delivery all the barely disguised contempt for existence.
So in conclusion, they are both not without their merits, but the 1981 miniseries is the better and more faithful adaptation, and I highly reccommend trying to find it. Despite this, the 2005 film still has a certain feckless charm, and is actually quite entertaining at times.