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Page to Screen: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Updated on July 24, 2015

Garth Jenning's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


What is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (film)?

The film for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was released in 2005 and was directed by Garth Jennings (personally, I haven't seen any other bits of his work). Douglas Adams, who wrote the novel, also helped write the screenplay for the film but died in 2001 before production officially began. As such, the film is dedicated to him. It stars a large number of recognizable actors, Martin Freeman (who plays Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit Trilogy), Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, John Malkovich, and some voices such as Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry (who also does the narrator for Little Big Planet).

If there's anything the film does well, it's capture the feel and theme of the novel and other related works. Many lines are directly quoted and while there is new material found in the film, it all pieces together as if it was natural, which is largely accredited to Douglas Adams himself.

What is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (novel)?

To be honest, the novel work of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not the initial entry into the said universe. Originally, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a radio series largely written by Douglas Adams, and the first season/series was made into this bestselling novel. There are really two plots involved in the story, one where a man finds his planet being destroyed and the galaxy apart from it, and the other in search of the fabled planet Magrathea. The story isn't it's strong suit however as the main focus centers on the illogical practices and unusual customs and witty wordplay keep the reader turning the page to read more. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy received strong success, enabling Douglas Adams to pen several more entries.

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Changes from the Novel

It's important to note that Douglas Adams helped to write the film as well as the novel. While there is at least two substantial scenes added to the film that weren't in the book, quoting one of the executive producers, Robbie Stamp, said this: "All the substantive new ideas in the movie, Humma, the Point of View Gun and the "paddle slapping sequence" on Vogsphere are brand new Douglas ideas written especially for the movie by him." In fact, Douglas Adams took quite a few of his own creative liberties in the adaptation. The movement may not have stayed perfectly true to its source material, but it's hard to argue with the man who helped create both entities.

Spoilers are included.

The Addition of Plot
The novel was not plot heavy, largely following Arthur Dent as he gets picked up, dropped off, and picked up again while Earth blows up while helplessly joining the renegade president of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (which will now be referred to as Z.B.), find a mythical planet that was used to create other planets for buyers. There were side plots, as attempting to find the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, as well as its Question, but they were listed more humorously than actually changing the story.

In the film, the Vogons are a clear and present antagonist, not merely disappearing halfway through the novel. In fact, they attempt to capture Z.B. and his kidnapper (also himself) once in Space, once on Vitvodle VI (where they arrest Trillian), another attempt on their own planet of Vogsphere, and one final time at Earth Mark II. Their inclusion does add a justified visit to Vogsphere to rescue Trillian and to discover that Z.B. actually signed off on Earth's destruction. It's important to note as well that while the novel doesn't blame Z.B. for Earth's destruction, it is revealed in other works of Z.B.'s involvement, making the film reveal perfectly canon.

I will say having the Vogon to be the final hurdle in the film compared to the intergalactic cops in the book is an improvement, as the unforeseen inclusion and dismissal of the new antagonists was quite sudden and a little tacked on.

Furthermore is Humma Kavula (who has the best name in the film to shout and is played by John Malkovich), who is mentioned in the books but never shown. This character was Z.B.'s political opponent. While I'm still not sure why Z.B. needed revenge but the inclusion wasn't nearly as necessary to the plot, seeing how the group could have found the commissioned weapon, the Point-of-View Gun, on their own and Z.B. never really had to lose his head (and his arm? The film wasn't clear on this). This section unfortunately is a little mismatched with the rest of the plot, although the humor is always welcomed.

The Relationship
This discusses Arthur Dent and Trillian's obvious romantic relationship by the end of the film. While the origin story is the same in both novel and film, the book doesn't focus on them or any specific relationship once they've been reintroduced, stopping once Arthur Dent recognizes Z.B. and confronts him. I cannot speak for other books in the series. However, this might have been included to give viewers more sympathy for the characters in order to appeal to a larger audience base.

The Mice and the Brain
The deal regarding the Ultimate Question is treated a little more bluntly. In the novel, the mice as pan-dimension beings felt far above all other races and seemed intellectually sound, not strapping someone to a chair and trying to saw their brain out only to get crushed by a teapot. The slight 'twist' to deviate from the novel, acknowledging the proposed question of "How many roads must a man travel?" before resuming the surgery, wasn't much of a twist as it didn't allow the reader audience to digest the situation before it ends, resulting again in the proposed romance to achieve the willpower to break free. Personally, I felt happier with the book's treatment over the film's.

End of Spoilers

The Trailer for the Film

Personal Thought

But none of these changes and deviations talk about what is at the heart and what is best of both works, its witty wordplay. The novel version seems to have a better reception to a new audience, someone who can take time to read at their own pace and develop the rest of the story world in their own mind. The film is at a set pace and like the book, nearly every conversation or scene has some humorous element to it, whether its outright or subtle. For those who don't read and watch the film (as I did originally) a lot of the jokes will pass by and some of the humor doesn't come across as funny.

As the Pulitzer Prize of Criticism winner Robert Ebert says, "You will hear dialogue that preserves the content of written humor at the cost of sounding as if the characters are holding a Douglas Adams reading ... I do not get the joke. I do not much want to get the joke, but maybe you will ... To me it got old fairly quickly. The movie was more of a revue than a narrative, more about moments than an organising purpose."

Indeed, this film is more of a love-letter to fans than something created to draw in more fans to the series. The content can be truly appreciated having read the novel and the new material in the film fits in well with what one experiences in the book. However, proposing movie first to someone who hasn't experienced The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a bad idea as they may not find an anchor in such an 'alien' work.

That being said, having watched the film, read the book, and watched the film again, they fit well together with the success and groundwork of the novel. Any fan who has read the book should see the film, and those looking for a new entry should read the book first.

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

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Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.


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