Anthony's Film Review
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(TV Series, 1981)
A zany, hilarious science-fiction adventure featuring a splendid, memorable cast...
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams, is a humorous science-fiction story that has existed in various media, including a radio play, a BBC television series, books, and even a computer game. Admittedly, I'm one of those people who first heard about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from people who would say things like "don't panic" or "the meaning of life is 42." I had absolutely no idea what any of those things meant. But years later, being a curious open-minded lover of creative works, I decided to check out the H2G2 novel and the TV show on the BBC.
Now I understand the hype. This is a story so ridiculous and over-the-top that it ends up being one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Part of it is the fact that this is a British work with British humor, which seems to be characterized by a mix of intellectual commentary, delivery of unexpected punchlines at unexpected moments, and a willingness to not be bound by the limits of reality. As a result, the jokes in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy easily generate chuckles because they are so atypical.
So the story begins with Arthur Dent (Simon Jones), an otherwise ordinary English man in a bathrobe, who wakes up one day to find that his house is about to be bulldozed to make way for a new highway. His friend, Ford Prefect (David Dixon), comes over to help prevent the demolition by taking advantage of human idiocy. Afterwards, Arthur and Ford go to a pub where Ford reveals that he is actually an extraterrestrial being from Betelgeuse. Then, Arthur's house does get destroyed for a new highway, moments before the Earth is destroyed by an alien race called the Vogons to make way for an intergalactic bypass. (What is it with creatures destroying homes for new highways?)
From there, Arthur and Ford, who teleport away from Earth just in time, go on a wild adventure through space. The journey takes them from a Vogon ship to another ship with a more benign crew: the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey), the Earthling woman Trillian (Sandra Dickinson), and a depressed robot named Marvin. They also explore a supposedly abandoned planet called Magrathea with an old man named Slartibartfast (Richard Vernon) as well as the Restaurant at the End of the Universe known as Milliways. And in a rather shocking moment, the characters accidentally end up on a spaceship being hurled into the sun as part of an interplanetary rock concert.
So what is the whole point of the story? I can tell you that it's not to celebrate a heroic character, explore a character who changes over time, or even deliver messages about the world we live in. OK, maybe the last one might be partially true, as there are jokes about the stupidity of humans. But all in all, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is just there to make you laugh. That's it. The plot, characters, and settings are just tools to help deliver zany jokes.
For example, Arthur and Ford experience torture when they are forced to listen to Vogon poetry, known to be among the worst in the universe. There's also the improbability drive, a machine that makes impossible events actually occur, which definitely comes in handy when two missiles are headed their way. This leads to another hilarious sequence in which a sperm whale that suddenly appears in space and is falling towards a planet below is trying to orient itself to its surroundings for the first time. Then you have a supercomputer called Deep Thought that determines the answer to the great question about Life, the Universe, and Everything to be 42. The reason behind this is pretty darn funny. And that rock concert I mentioned? Well, the band, called Disaster Area, plays music so loud that audiences have to listen from within soundproof boxes many light-years from the stage.
But wait. There's more. In between segments featuring the characters are segments centering on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself (whose cover says "Don't panic!"). It's an electronic travel guide storing all the knowledge of the universe, and Ford Prefect is working on revising it. The voice of the book, brilliant provided by Peter Jones, hilariously covers a variety of topics, including the powerful alcoholic PanGalactic Gargle Blaster, the lifeform on Earth that is truly the most intelligent (hint: it's not the humans), and what a dolphin might be trying to say when it is doing a double somersault through a hoop and whistling the Star-Spangled Banner. If you're curious about what the Guide says about Earth, it's just one word: harmless. Ford Prefect does, however, wish to update the entry with this description: "mostly harmless."
If you enjoy British comedy, chances are that you are, or would be, interested in Monty Python. I say this because that comedy troupe and Douglas Adams have a similar sense of humor. Both H2G2 and the works of Monty Python are funny because they stretch the bounds of creativity, not letting themselves be limited to jokes that are too related to everyday life experiences. Interestingly enough, David Dixon as Ford Prefect (who is, perhaps, my favorite character here) sounds a lot like Monty Python's Eric Idle, and Simon Jones as Arthur Dent somewhat reminded me of Monty Python's John Cleese. Chances are that if you like Monty Python, you'll probably enjoy H2G2.
So that's my take on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's funny in a strange and unusual way, but it's funny in a way you've probably never seen before. I do wish that the series had lasted longer, as only six episodes were made. Still, I would take quality over quantity any day. This is a series with fine performances by a solid cast and a script that is written quite well. And did I mention that the jokes are funny? OK, I did. The fact that I've repeated the statement should tell you that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is something no fan of comedy would want to miss. You'll want to see it again and again. Maybe at least 42 times.
For more information about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my review of the film The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.