THE HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE
The Book -
Arthur Dent -
Ford Prefect -
Zaphod Beeblebrox -
Marvin's Voice -
OTHER SCI FI COMEDIES
It begins with the end of the world.
First off and before anything else, we hereby pay homage to the great god that is Douglas Adams. Though he no longer walks amongst us, he will always be venerated as the genius who wrote THE HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.
When the show made the transition from brilliant radio serial and hysterical book to the TV, fans were both excited and fearful. How would the bizarre and off-key humour translate? The structure of the story being narrated by the book itself worked superbly on the radio, but could that be made to work visually?
Nobody needed to worry. This version of the story is not the definitive version (that remains the radio serial), but it captures the essence of the humour and expands on it with a delightful visual sense that matches the dialogue and bonkers story. The computer visuals to go with the passages narrated by the book were really a masterstroke and they alone make the TV show stand on its own, apart from the media that spawned it.
Sure, the special effects are a bit stringy at times, but that matters not a jot. There is so much fun and life and invention in this show that we wonder if we shall ever see its like again.
It also shows that the three words 'science fiction comedy' need not always strike fear into the heart of genre fans everywhere.Top
Arthur Dent is trying to stop his house being demolished when his friend Ford Prefect tells him that the world is about to be destroyed. He proves his point by transporting them onto one of the alien ships that is carrying out the demolition. He explains that he is really a field guide for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy reference book who had got stuck on the Earth whilst updating its entry from the single word 'Harmless'. Then an alien guard comes in to catch them and take them to the captain so that he can read them some of his poetry.
The first episode is a set up episode, but it still manages to be deliriously funny, suffused with the off-kilter wit of its author and perfectly played by its cast, many of whom were kept on from the radio show. Both Simon Jones, as the permanently bewildered Arthur Dent, and David Dickson, as Ford Prefect, carry the show on their shoulders and prove to have the comic timing and touch to make the show work.
True, some of the special effects are a bit dodgy, this being done on a BBC budget, but that almost adds to the charm of it all. The visual imagery that illustrates the chapters of the book (still voiced melliflously by Peter Jones) fits the bill perfectly be it snippets of film or the excellent (hand-animated) computer graphics that don't just follow the narration, but manage to expand on it.
But this is really about the writing. There are so many funny lines and delightful ideas that you just can't help but have a stupid grin on your face.Top
The Vogon captain reads Arthur and Ford some of his atrocious poetry and then decides to throw them out into space anyway. Once there, they are picked up by a stolen ship using the new infinite improbability drive. The ship has been stolen by a good friend of Ford's who just happens to be accompanied by a woman that Arthur once tried to get off with at a party.
Whilst it's true that not a lot actually happens plotwise in this second episode there is so much going on in terms of dialogue and invention that you really don't even notice. Witness Ford trying to talk a mindless guard out of killing them by appealing to his love of shouting, see Arthur Dent lose all his limbs whilst Ford turns into a penguin, learn the troubled history of the infinite improbability drive. All of it is wonderful stuff and just allows for the kind of surreal and hilarious dialogue that you can't find anywhere else.
More characters are introduced. Mark Wing-Davey is wonderfully conceited as Zaphod Beeblebrox, though the special effects failure that is his second head is something of a distraction at first. It is to his credit that it only remains a distration for a short time. Sandra Dickinson looks good as Trillian, but then that is all she is there to do. Then there is Marvin the paranoid android. This is one of science fiction's greatest creations, a terminally depressed robot with a mind the size of a planet and a pain in all the diodes down his left side. Stephen Moore voices him beautifully.
The special effects are a bit better this time around with the shiny, bright Heart of Gold spaceship making up for the dingy Vogon one.
The episode ends on a bit of flat note with no real cliffhanger to speak of, but the cast is assembled and we look forward to where the next hitch will take us.Top
In orbit around the mythical planet of Magrathea, the home of the custom luxury planet building industry, the Heart of Gold spaceship is attacked by missiles before heading down to the surface. There Arthur meets Slartibartfast, learns that mice were in charge of the Earth and a new one is currently being built.
It's not often that the life and death of a whale and a bowl of petunias proves to be central to the plot of, well anything really. This is just a taste of the inventiveness that continues to suffuse this show. Once again, the plot moves forwards at a snail's pace, but the incidental delights are more than sufficient to make up for that. Watching Arthur discuss sunsets and oceans with Marvin the depressed robot is pure joy.
The money shot of the new Earth under construction is brilliantly realised and better than the whale, which looks very much like a papier mache model made in a primary school. It still doesn't matter because of what is going on with the whale at the time. The discourses culled from the book continue to be very funny and beautifully illustrated (especially the real little furry creature from Alpha Centauri).
There's no getting away from it - we love THE HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.Top
Following the shock of finding a new Earth under construction, Arthur finds out the truth behind the original. Asked the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, the ultracomputer Deep Thought discovers that the answer is 42. In order to clarify the actual question, it designs a computer of such subtlety that life itself plays a part in the matrix. That computer was the Earth and it was destroyed just before it sorted out the question. Arthur has the question in his brain and the mice want to cut off his head and dice that brain in order to get at it.
This episode is barely about anyone in the cast at all. The history of Deep Thought and the incredibly intelligent pandimensional beings that programmed it, or white mice as they are known in our reality, takes up most of the time, but is so utterly brilliant that it can only be labelled genius. Well, perhaps it could also be labelled utter genius.
If you like science fiction and can watch this without laughing your head off then perhaps you ought to cut your head off.
It just keeps getting better.Top
The exploding computer bank that killed all our heroes at the end of the last episode actually only deposited them at Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe. Whilst Arthur discusses which part of the cow is best to eat with the cow itself, Ford renews his acquaintanceship with a member of the loudest rock band in the universe who is spending a year dead for tax reasons and who usually crashes a space ship into the sun as the climax of the act. Zaphod gets a call from Marvin, who has spent millennia parking cars whilst waiting for them.
As if things hadn't gotten bizarre enough, this is an utterly surreal episode. The idea of restaurant existing at the time when the universe comes to an end is very funny and the details are played with wondefully, but it is really the animal that wants to be eaten and recommends parts of himself that is the highlight.
Marvin the paranoid android continues to be a star, making the most of his limited screen time.Top
Realising that they have stolen the spaceship that is due to be crashed into the sun at the end of the Disaster Area concert, Zaphod, Ford, Arthur and Trillian make us of a handy, but undirected, transporter. Ford and Arthur find themselves on a ship full of completely useless refugees from the planet Golgafrincham. This ship promptly crashes and it becomes clear that these useless beings are, in fact, the ancestors of the human race.
This last episode is a little meandering and unfocussed, without the driving narrative of the earlier episodes, but it still has the askew sensibilities and subversive wit that have made it such a landmark series. The circular nature of the story and the final revelations are particularly satisfying. For a story that is about the ultimate futility of it all, it ends on a surprisingly optimistic note.
There has never been anything quite like this before and it is doubtful that there ever will be again. We should cherish it. And for those people who have yet to discover it, we envy them the experience of seeing it for the first time.Top
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