April 24, 2005


How 'Hitchhiker's' got picked up: It was an ironically circuitous path to the big screen for Douglas Adams' offbeat guide. In the end, a pair of London video wizards took it under their wings. (David Gritten, April 24, 2005, LA Times)

Fans of Douglas Adams, the British writer who created the beloved science fiction comedy "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," were stunned by his sudden death from a heart attack, at age 49, in a Santa Barbara gym four years ago.

There was an extra dimension to the sadness surrounding the author's demise. Two years earlier, he had moved from his north London home to California, having signed a deal with Disney to create a feature film of "The Hitchhiker's Guide." It had been a long time coming; the radio series was first broadcast in Britain in 1978, and the "Guide" empire included books and a TV sitcom. But at the time of his death, Adams was still struggling to create a workable script.

"Douglas always wanted there to be a movie," observes Robbie Stamp, Adams' friend and business partner. "He believed a movie should be taking its place in the canon of his works." Finally, it has happened, but only after plenty of hectic behind-the-scenes maneuvering, with new principals replacing old. Yet there has been a constant determination to keep the film true to the irreverent spirit in which Adams created the story.

"We've worked hard to make sure [the film is] true to itself," observes Stamp, who is now its executive producer. "It's a strange, unique thing. I've always loved the fact that you can't ever describe it as a cross between one movie and another."

There's a sound commercial logic in this approach. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" has become a modern classic, translated into 25 languages. It has sold more than 2 million copies in Britain alone and, according to a spokeswoman for Adams' London-based literary agent, Ed Victor, "16 million copies worldwide thus far."

Its hero is a diffident Englishman, Arthur Dent, who becomes the last surviving man on Earth after the planet is destroyed. He finds himself traveling around space (dressed in a robe and pajamas and clutching a towel) with his best friend, Ford Prefect (who turns out to be an alien), Zaphod Beeblebrox (president of the galaxy) and Trillian, a young woman Arthur met at a fancy-dress party, his last on Earth. "The Hitchhiker's Guide" has a philosophical bent, but its wit is light and brilliant; Adams' humor is self-deprecating and distinctly British.

After his premature death threw film plans into disarray, Disney asked writer Karey Kirkpatrick (who took the screenplay credit on "Chicken Run," another film comedy with a heavily British accent) to work from Adams' last revisions to his story and turn them into a coherent narrative.

We'll keep an open mind, but these kind of cult projects are easy to biff. Remember Howard the Duck?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2005 7:26 AM

The books are quite funny. The movie, who knows? Some big Adams fans who've seen it say it's terrible, others so it's not that bad.

And if Adams referred to his own "canon," I'll bet it was tongue-in-cheek.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 24, 2005 8:33 PM
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