100th Post: A Total review of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe including the book, audiobook, radio programs, TV programs and movies associated with them!!! by Douglas Adams

In brief:

In celebration of my 100th post, I will review the first part of the classic of Science Fiction series: The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.  If you haven’t heard about this book, well you must be from the Planet Cricket (pre-contact) and anyone who even looks at the title of this blog will hardly be surprised I am a fan, but I still feel I also have a more or less realistic view of the series as a whole. So with that in mind I thought I would try to review the whole shebang related to the first manifestations of this franchise… 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (Serious Productions Ltd., 1979) {Audiobook version: Random House Audio, Narrator: Stephen Fry, 2005}

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams (Serious Productions Ltd. 1980) {Audiobook version: Random House Audio, Narrator: Martin Freeman, 2006}

Grade: Α — Great book, must read regardless of what Genres you enjoy.  Makes you think of things beyond the scope of the book… or at least makes for a jolly good laugh and impacted society enough that you can’t go far without finding a reference somewhere.

Setting:

The Universe, or universes, or multiverses as it were, consisting of multiple dimensions, timelines and all the silliness you might expect of a bit of spoof science fiction that lampoons the whole genera, albeit with fun respect.

In Depth:

To understand the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or at least to understand my understanding of it, you have to realize that it did not start at a book.  It started as a radio program which I first heard upon its airing back in the middle Pliocene.  Having heard it in that form first totally biased my views of the books, TV series, movies and everything else that followed it.  To that end, I couldn’t possibly begin to review the book nor it’s audiobook avatar without also discussing the radio program which spawned it. So, once that box was opened, I thought I’d throw the movie and TV versions in for a lark. 

I did, however, limit this to the first two books (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and the Primary and Secondary Phases of the Radio programs, since those tie to together more or less roughly to each other and the other media which produced this franchise.  They also form the basis for all the other subsequent of Adams’ books in the series, not to mention those not written by Adams and the radio dramas similarly penned by someone else would be a bit much.  I will note, however, that the books and other media deviate quite a bit from the original radio series, and thus for me were a bit disappointing, though still very funny. 

Having said all that, I’ll start by saying that this is one of the funniest and most influential Science Fiction stories I’ve ever encountered.  Oh there are a lot of more recent comments floating about that you will hear saying it really wasn’t that original, or funny, or the like, but if you ask me these critics are a bit like the old lady who went to see Hamlet: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  It’s nothin’ but a bunch of quotations.”

In short, for those of you who live in a black hole, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the story about a book… sort of, but really it is the story of Arthur Dent.  Arthur was a pretty much average Englishman who woke up one morning to find his house was about to be demolished by the local council to make way for a bypass.  This was upsetting enough, but he soon discovered that his friend, Ford Prefect, was actually an alien and was about to take Arthur on a hitchhiking tour of the universe in order to escape Earth before it was destroyed in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass.  Thus, all the tales, in all of their forms, begin with the destruction of the Earth and everyone on it. 

To try and describe the plot as it unfolds thereafter would be a waste of time and nothing but a bunch of spoilers, since the joy of the book is in the gags, not the plot.  Oh, it does have a plot, but that is not the most important part of the book.  The jokes are, and the jokes are funny and full all the way through the read/listen.  Continuity is loose, but consistent in its own comedy-centric way.  As a result, things don’t make a lot of sense, just enough sense to be funny.  Try to ask too much more out of it is like asking for continuity out of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or looking to deeply at Why the Chicken Crossed the Road…

As the story progresses, we come across a wonderful set of characters, including the two most famous of them, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android (who isn’t actually paranoid: he’s depressive).  You get the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, you get Milliways (the Restaurant at the End of the Universe), you get the Heart of Gold and its wonderful Infinite Improbability Drive, and a thousand other gags and one liners that somehow cling together because of their ludicrous logic, rather than despite it. 

It is a wonderfully funny book and radio series that I cannot recommend enough. If you read the first book, you really must read the second.  Beyond that, reading the subsequent books is really up to you, but if you ask me, they lose a bit of their humor and enjoyment as they progress.  I still liked them, but I think Adams got a bit sick of his own creation after a while.  Fair ’nuff.  I haven’t read the latest book, written by the very talented Eoin Colfer, but I just didn’t feel the need to pick it up. 

The first two books, particularly the Hitchhiker’s Guide itself, are well worth the read.  Still, I’d consider listening to the radio drama instead, and if you haven’t… do so… NOW!

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Random House Audio produced a superior quality set of Audiobooks with the release of the narrated versions of Hitchhker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  The first was narrated by the incomparable Stephen Fry, who is a wonderfully talented actor in every genre he approaches… stage, screen and audio, he is superb.  Though I could not quite get used to not hearing Peter Jones (who more or less narrated the radio series), Stephen Fry still did a wonderful job.

I was therefore somewhat surprised when they replaced him in the audio version of The Restaurant at the end of the Universe with Martin Freeman.  After having just taken a whole book to get used to Stephen Fry, I now had to adjust my ear to Martin Freeman.  Fortunately, that wasn’t terribly hard and Freeman did an equally good job in reading the second book of the series. 

To that end, I happily recommend the audiobook versions of these novels.

But even more than that, even more than reading the books yourself, I recommend the Radio Drama versions of this book….

Radio Drama:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Primary and Secondary Phases BBC Audiobooks America: Originally broadcast in 1979 & 1980 respectively, audio drama release: 2008 & 2009 respectively: cast includes: Simon Jones, Georffery McGivern, Susan Sheridam, Mark Wing-Davey, Stephen Moore, Richard Vernon and Peter Jones).

Rating Α:  Great Radio Drama, must be heard and highly enjoyable regardless of what genres you enjoy. 

Reading some of my commentary about audiobooks in general, you may have come to the conclusion that I dislike audio-dramas.  After all, I’m always complaining about too much incidental music or sound effects or the like.  That, however, is because the books in question I am critiquing are NARRATED BOOKS.  Radio or audio drama is a wholly different medium, which I love.

To that end, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: Primary and Secondary Phases produced by BBC Audiobooks America and originally broadcast in 1979 & 1980 are WONDERFUL!

The cast is brilliant and bring the characters to life far better than Adams’ words alone.  Furthermore, the special effects etc. are all highly enjoyable and very funny.  They do not follow the same story line as the book, though there are a great number of parallels, but they are close enough and are highly enjoyable in their own right.

There is, in fact, only one problem with them: the Secondary Phase, which really goes off on its own storyline, just sort of ends.  Even the Tertiary through Quintessential phases don’t pick up the storyline whereAdams’ left it in the radio program. Instead, they just sort of drop it using an old Sci-fi Time travel trope which is consistent to the world, but somewhat disappointing.

To be fair, Adams had clearly abandoned the storyline he started with the Secondary Phase.  Certainly the subsequent books don’t follow that arc. I’m sure the writers of the radio program wanted to be true toAdams’ words when crafting the subsequent radio programs after the authors’ sad demise, but I was disappointed. I liked what he had started, and had wanted to see it end. 

Even so, the radio versions, available on CD and download, are great and any REAL fan of the books should pick them up today. 

Television:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981, BBC)

Rating Δ:  A good enough show, but only watch it if you like the genre or indeed the books/radio series… a lot.

Aired on BBC 2 in 1981, the TV Version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a fun, quirky version of the radio program that used the classic BBC style special effects (sometimes referred to as cheesy), albeit with the serious upgrade of adding well done vector graphic diagrams for elements of the Guide itself.  It used many of the same actors, and was a lot of fun.  Its special effects seemed dated even at the time, but the jokes are the same, and the spirit remained in tact. 

Having said that, I can’t really imagine anyone who doesn’t love the book and/or radio series as really enjoying this show.  It was fun, but is probably best enjoyed by Sci-Fi aficionados. 

Movie:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005, Touchstone Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Everyman Pictures, Hammer & Tongs)

Grade Ζ: How did this get produced? A tragic crime against Adams’ genius.

Pants. 

No really. 

Total Pants.

I cannot tell you how much I hated this show.  Let’s forget for a moment that they cast Zooey Deschanel as Trillion.[1] Even beyond that, this movie just sucked. 

It started as just generally bad, but at one point plummeted into truly appalling: Trillion (aka Zooey “I can’t spell my own name” Deschanel) is upset, and has a gun that basically get’s people to empathize. When Zaphod Beeblebrox comes up with his usual swagger and says something totally inappropriate, Zooey… er… Trillion, uses said gun on Zaphod to get him to understand why she’s so forlorn about the loss of her world… her loss of choices, options, that she may never be truly loved, etc.  AND ZAPHOD GET’S IT and is sorry!  He comes to understand!!!

BELGIUM MAN!!! This is Zaphod Farqing Beeblebrox!!! Did the screenwriters ever read the books?  His ego is so large that he survives the Total Perspective Void!!!  He doesn’t have REGRET!!!  He’s an asshole and that’s why we love him…. CRIKEY!!!  Even if you are going to totally trash one of Science Fiction’s funniest characters in an all-too-cheesy-and-formulaic-American-way, it just doesn’t belong in this story!

Not only does this bit of Hollywood induced saccharin fail to follow the brilliant characterization introduced by Adams, it DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE IN THE MOVIE!!!  !  This is a FARCE for gah.. rrrrggg….firkcisk!!!!

In Closing:

Read or listen to the book, listen to the Audio drama, watch the TV series if you really want to, skip the movie.

And thank you, one and all, for following this blog.  It is a blast to write, and a joy to know that so many people seem to like it.

See you next week.

Tom


[1] OKAY, alright, I can’t forget it.  First off, she’s American, and clearly not an astrophysicist.  In fact, every time I see her on the screen, the term GORMLESS comes to mind.  I mean really… how does this actress keep getting roles? Okay, she’s cute, I get it, but she can’t act.  Really, she always seems like she’s lost in a fog.  In fact, the only role I’ve seen her in that doesn’t seem a stretch of her acting ability was In Your Highness where she plays a somewhat mentally challenged woman.  Mmm….

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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17 Responses to 100th Post: A Total review of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe including the book, audiobook, radio programs, TV programs and movies associated with them!!! by Douglas Adams

  1. Yolanda says:

    I am totally ashamed to say that I’ve never read the books. But thanks to you and Mark Sheldon, they are now on my list to read. Congratulations on your 100th blog post!

  2. William says:

    My first exposure to Hitchhiker’s Guide came at the age of 8 or 9. The Scifi Channel was showing the old BBC TV program, and I absolutely loved it. Took me until high school to read Book 2, and I’ve finally read Book 3. Never really read Book 1. No idea why. I never really considered myself a huge Hitchhiker’s fan. Then one day I went to Dragon Con dressed as a “Bathrobe Jedi” and was mistaken for Arthur Dent. Since then, I’ve learned to accept and embrace my inner Dent and haven’t looked back.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      It is a brilliant book. Personally I always associated with Ford myself, though Arthur is probably a better fit.

      Regardless, I first heard it somewhere in junior high and have never left my house without a towel ever since.

  3. makenzieking says:

    Definitely my favourite book (series of books of all time! I’ve listened to the radio series many times over and seen the t.v show a few times as well. I would really like it if the BBC were to remake them again now. I agree that the movie could have been much better, however, the screenplay itself was written by Douglas Adams. It is different from the other versions, but all the different incarnations seem to have their own little twists, and this was done on purpose. In the end, for me, nothing beats the books. It took me many years to read through the series, mostly because of the long breaks I would take from it, sometimes in the middle of a book, simply because I didn’t want it to end. About a year ago I started reading Eoin Colfer’s ’AND ANOTHER THING…” (which is a sort sixth instalment of the story) And I’m having the same problem of not wanting to finish it because I know that this time it’s really going to be over for good.
    *Remember that may 25th is towel day! 🙂

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I’ve been tempted to pick up the latest, but fear disappointment. Still I’m afraid that while Adams got a screen writing credit , much of that was because they used many of his ideas and dialogue, yet I can’t help but feel the final dorm is far from what he would have written.

      All the same, I love all of the other incarnations.

  4. Charlie says:

    Great review! I first heard the radio show when my British brother-in-law brought it to me on a series of cassette tapes. Laughed myself silly. He gave me the book, but for some reason I never got around to reading it. I also watched some of the TV series at a later point and enjoyed it well enough. I love the audio drama genre, but really good ones are so rare. Alas, as my first, this one may have set the bar too high.Congrats on your 100th post! Looking forward to 100 more.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Thanks Charlie!! I completely agree about the rarity of good audio dramas. Have you heard the Beens version of Lord of the Rings? I loved it, but I know some who didn’t.

      • Charlie says:

        I haven’t heard it. I’ll have to look for it.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        It really is quite good, albeit very long. Like everyone else, they skip the Bombadil bit, but otherwise keep it quite close to the text.

        Amusingly, Ian Holmes, who played Bilbo in Jacksons’ movie version, plays Frodo. Makes a great little circle.

        On a totally different topic, have you read Across the Universe or A Million Suns by any chance? I’d be really interested in hearing your views.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Ps. Can’t believe it’s already 100 posts. Nuts really. Hopefully in the next few weeks things will calm down and I’ll be back to a more active presence on the blogosphere.

  5. Ben says:

    Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and in mine I found the movie highly enjoyable. I thought the casting was all-around brilliant (not just Zooey and Mos Def but also Stephen Fry as as Eddie and Alan Rickman as Marvin. I’m not sure what the OP is talking about when it comes to Zaphod. Zaphod, more so than even Arthur, is the most transformed by the series so really I would never say he is incapable of not being an asshole.

    Yes it was very Hollywood, but really that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I am, believe it or not, delighted you enjoyed the show. I am always happy when someone has a good time (assuming it is not at the expence of others, obviously).

      I would also agree there is some lovely casting in this, especially Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry (though I think you will find he played the narrator and the book, and that Thomas Lennon played Eddie). Indeed, I thought Bill Nighy played Slartlibarfast to perfection.

      I would, however, beg to differ about the character transformation that Zaphod underwent in the book. Oh, perhaps across the whole series he changed a little, but within the two books which this story spans, his character has extremely little growth: which is, of course, the point. Indeed, even across the series as a whole, I am hard pressed to see one point in which he portrays any truly significant growth as a character at all. Oh, we see new depths of his personality, but each time they are revealed, they seem to have been there all the time. He certainly never underwent the kind of transformation to being an understanding character with empathy. Each realization he came to was always hammered into him repeatedly before he got it.

      Heck, his own cousin had to scream Belgium at him in order to get him to lend a hand while he was hanging on to a ledge above a thousand foot precipace (or something, I admit I can’t completely remember, but I believe it was the edge of a giant tea cup).

      Still, as you say, to each their own, and if you feel Zaphod underwent more transformation in the book than other characters, great.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        I should also note that I don’t have anything against Holywood movies, per se. Only that they can introduce sacherine endings, or, in this case, add an element of attempted depth where one is not needed. In this case, rather than adding to the film, it created what to me seemed both forced and cliche.

        But then again, what do I know? I’m just zhis guy, you know?

  6. Josh says:

    I didn’t mind the casting that much… As you detailed in this incredibly exhaustive post, each media of HG2G (radio, print, TV, movie, etc…) has slightly different adaptations. Personally, I loved the John Malkovich cameo in this movie, which I read somewhere that Adams, prior to his death, had actually added. Not the casting choice per se, but the new character. (sorry can’t find the reference).

    But he does allude to adaptations in media in this hilarious letter.

  7. Krishna says:

    I have to shamelessly admit that I never read or listened to the book. I was not even aware that such a book existed till a few weeks after I watched the movie. I loved the movie and it’s one of my favorites (You must be shaking your head now LOL). However, when I talked to a few people about the movie, most of the time I heard things like “It’s a injustice to the book”, “The movie is terrible”, etc and this came from people who read the book. So it seems I am missing something big here. And thanks to your reviews Thomas, I am downloading the BBC radio version and Stephen Fry version of the book as I post this comment. Hope I’ll enjoy them. Cheers!

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