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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - It would have been such a shame if it had just ended up trying to outdo The Matrix, or something like that



Feature by: Jack Foley

THE Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been something of a cult phenomenon ever since it first appeared on BBC Radio 4 in 1978.

Douglas Adams' unique story was part sci-fi odyssey, part laugh-out loud satirical comedy and part inquiry into the nature of reality that captured the imaginations of countless listeners.

It subsequently spawned a series of best-selling books and a popular television series - yet it has taken over 20 years to bring to the Big Screen.

Now that it has finally arrived, however, the concensus seems to be that the wait has been worth it.

The Hitchhiker's movie is directed by Garth Jennings and features Martin Freeman, of The Office fame, as Arthur Dent, the everyday hero whose life is transformed when his best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), turns out to be an alien and whisks him off the planet moments before Earth is destroyed to make way for a cosmic super-highway!

Their ensuing adventure brings them into contact with some of the universe's weirdest creations, such as Sam Rockwell's wildly eccentric Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed president of the universe, a manically-depressed super-robot named Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman), and creatures such as the Vogons, who use poetry as a form of torture.

There's also the obligatory love-interest, in the form of Zooey Deschanel's Trillian.

In spite of its lengthy production process, however, the team behind the movie believe they have delivered something that not only appeals to die-hard fans, but also to a new army of converts as well.

"I think that the vast majority of fans' response has been great and we've certainly seen the vast majority of non-fan response has been positive as well - which is just as important to us," explained executive producer, Robbie Stamp, at a recent London press conference.

"One of the crucial moments for all of us was Douglas Adams' family seeing it, especially his daughter, Polly, and her ten-year-old friends - and they all loved it. I mean genuinely, genuinely loved it. Had they not been able to look us in the eye, that would have been awful, it really would.

"But having Polly's 10-year-old saying 'it's cool', that was great for me. I'll take that."

For director, Garth Jennings, the movie represented a once-in-a-lifetime opprtunity to create something unique for the big screen that made the most of advances in special effects without ever compromising the quality of Adams' text.

"My initial reaction, when I first read the script, was 'we definitely can't do this because there are loads of people like us, who are fans, that take it incredibly seriously, and that's just too daunting a task'.

"But once you start to think about 'how would I design Marvin?' Or 'if I was going to do a Vogon poetry scene, how would I do that', you suddenly realise that it's actually the best job in the whole world.

"And to be honest, once I got started, even just drawing the odd little picture and stuff like that, the idea of these hungry fans just waiting to pounce just became abstract.

"Also, when Nick and I first read the script and responded to it, our initial reaction was to make something that wasn't trying to compete with the current trend for just CG-heavy movies. It would have been such a shame if it had just ended up trying to outdo The Matrix, or something like that.

"What's nice for us is that we wanted to do it in a more inventive way, almost old-style as well as the new style."

The result has already won over a considerable amount of critics, even though the unofficial biographer for Douglas Adams posed a 10,000 word criticism of the film on an Internet website.

Commenting on that negative response, however, Stamp was equally candid: "I'm genuinely sad that he didn't like the movie, genuinely sad, and I don't like to think he took much joy in writing that either.

"But you only need to go out there and see dozens of other terrific fan reviews to realise that it didn't represent all the other fan voices out there."

While the film remains largely faithful to Adams' original novels, certain changes have been made to appeal to a wider audience, while each actor brought their own interpretation to each of the characters.

Freeman did, however, admit to feeling a little daunted at taking on the role of such an iconic character as Arthur Dent, telling the press conference.

"I grew up knowing the TV series and I knew what Simon Jones did with it - and very fine it was too. It was part of the reason I thought initially I wasn't going to be good casting for Arthur because I am so different from Simon.

"But when it transpired that wasn't what was required, and what was required was a different take on it, once I got the part, I just knew that if they liked what I'd done in audition, that was pretty much what I should bring to the film."

And his performance has won the admiration of his co-stars, with Sam Rockwell insisting that Freeman has turned Dent into a character who is identifiable with contemporary audiences.

"Martin's Arthur Dent is more of a pint/football guy than a cricket/cup of tea guy. That's what I like about this Arthur Dent, it's a modern Hitchhiker's."

As for the questions the film raises, perhaps one of the most pertinent to modern audiences is that of 'what would you do if you suddenly found out the world was going to end in the next 10 or 12 minutes'?

In keeping with Douglas Adams' tongue-in-cheek, intelligent style, however, the pick of the replies was delivered by another of the film's co-stars, Bill Nighy, who retorted:

"I'd put the kettle on for a cup of Yorkshire tea (they owe me money!), I'd put on a Stones' record (don't ask me which one, or if you forced me, Sticky Fingers), then I would phone my dogs and see how they were doing and say goodbye, formally; and then I'd reach for some poems, The Complete Works of Harold Pinter, and I would read myself a couple of Harold's poems which always cheer me up, and then I'd check my hair! You know what I'm saying, you don't want to go with your hair a mess! And then I'd kick back and relax."

And who wouldn't want to join him?

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