In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Many many many many years later, he created a man who would be named Douglas Adams, who in turn would create a radio program he would title, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy”. Adams was a sort of lost member of the Monty Python comedy troupe who finally found success with the writing of the six-part radio show for BBC Radio 4 in the spring of 1978. The radio series became a cult hit and eventually was made into records, books, stage plays, and of course a theatrical film. Before the film though, there was this BBC produced miniseries adaptation, which I originally remember as a child from the heyday of PBS, which had brought me Sesame Street and Doctor Who among other things.
For anyone not in the know, the story revolves primarily around a contemporary mild-mannered British man named Arthur Dent, who one day tries to save his house from being bulldozed by the city for the building of a highway. The only problem is it won’t matter, because as his friend Ford Prefect comes to tell him, the world will soon come to an end. A race of aliens named Vogons, have a constructor fleet also coincidentally about to destroy the earth to make way for an intergalactic highway. Dressed only in pajamas and a robe, Dent is whisked away from the earth by his friend Prefect as they literally hitch hike across the galaxy. As it turns out, Prefect reveals he’s an alien stuck on earth for the last 15 years. He’s been here researching the planet for the electronic book known as “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for a new edition including an update on Earth (which turns out is not just “harmless” but “mostly harmless”). The duo gets into a series of hilarious adventures and misadventures that involve everything from torture by listening to Vogon poetry (only the third worse in the galaxy according to H2G2), to a manic depressive robot named Marvin, and even the mind-boggling answer to the 7.5 million old question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
High on satire, the miniseries stuck to Douglas Adams’ wry British humor when it aired in 1981 and even used original cast members from the radio show including Peter Jones (as the narrator and voice of the book), Simon Jones (as Arthur Dent), Mark Wing-Davey (as Zaphod), and a few others. Some diehard fans of course complained about its not keeping the spirit of the books, but this miniseries predates the books. Some people completely are oblivious of the original radio show too. It also brought a unique addition to the story by successfully visualizing the narration and Adams sense of humor through Rod Lords’ animation sequences. Shot on 16mm, and suffering from cheap special effects like the nearly inanimate second head of Prefects second cousin Zaphod Beeblebrox. This version however keeps to Adams keen, often brutally honest reflection of the human race, as he oversaw the production from start to finish.
I have not seen the 2005 feature film with Mos Def, but I have always wanted a film directed by Terry Gilliam and starring some of the Python troupe. I suspect the Python guys respected their friend Adams’ work, but weren’t that into it. I don’t know what Gilliam ever thought of it, but of course I don’t think he could direct something where his imagination was restricted. Still it might be interesting to see. Anyone who’s a fan of British sci-fi like "Dr. Who" or "Blake’s Seven" should definitely consider the original miniseries of “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” a must see.