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The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

UK 1981
produced by
Alan J.W. Bell for BBC
directed by Alan J.W. Bell
starring Peter Jones (voice), Simon Jones, David Dixon, Sandra Dickinson, Mark Wing-Davey, Geoffrey Beevers, Colin Bennett, Martin Benson, Richard Vernon, Peter Davison, Valentine Dyall (voice), David Learner, Colin Jeavons, Dave Prowse, Barry Frank Warren, Jack May, Steve Conway, Antony Carrick, Aubrey Morris, David Neville, Michael Cule, Matthew Scurfield, Charles McKeown, Joe Melia, Stephen Moore, Gil Morris, David Tate, Marc Smith, Matt Zimmerman
screenplay by Douglas Adams, based on his radio shows & novels, electronic effects by Dave Chapman, Dave Jervis

tv-miniseries
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The Earth is doomed, about to be blown away to make space for an intergalactic expressway bypass. Just good luck for earthling Arthur Dent (Simon Jones) that his best friend Ford Prefect (David Dixon) just turns out to be not an earthman at all but an alien researcher for the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, & does therefore not only own a copy of that guide but also possesses the knowledge of how to hitch rides with spaceships.

So soon the 2 of them hitch a ride with the Vogon destroyer, exactly the spaceshipt that has just blown up Earth ... but they are quickly found out, & after the captain of the ship (Martin Benson) has read them some atrocious poetry, he throws them out through an airlock.

Then though the most improbable thing happens: they are picked up by a saceship that was stolen by 2-headed Zaphod Beeblebox (Mark Wing-Davey), a cousin of Ford, who is travelling the universe with Trillian (Sandra Dickinson), incidently a woman Arthur tried to pick up at a party in Islington. How can such an improbable thing happen you might ask ... well, because Zaphod's stolen ship runs on a newly developed improbability drive that just feeds on that sort of improbable incidents.

But where does Zaphod want to take his ship ?

To Magrothea of course, an ancient, fabulously rich planet that made all its money by being big in the terraforming business, but went into decline during recession ... & soon the Magrotheans died out, but legend has it that there is still a vast treasure hidden somewhere on the planet.

Only the Magrotheans didn't die out but went int hibernation, with an index linked alarmcall that would awaken them once recession was over & the universe was rich enough again to afford their services ... which is pretty much ... now.

It is here that Arthur learns, from druid-like Magrothen Slartibartfast (Richard Vernon), that the earth was actually a creation of the Magrotheans too, created as a supercomputer to find the question to the answer to Life, the Universe & Everything, which an older supercomputer calculated to be 42. For that end, Earth was actually comminssioned by pandimensional beings who did disguise themselves as white mice, to observe the progress on earth ...

But Earth, as we know, blew up 5 minutes before the answer was actually found (after 10 million years of running time), & now Arthur is the only human being who remained on earth until the very end (Trillian did leave sooner), so the mice (2 of them) want to have Arthur's brain, to electronically suck the answer from it ... to which Arthur does object since that would mean removing his brain. But since his adversaries are 2 mere mice, it is easy for him & his companions to escape them ... but all too soon they run into 2 cops, who were in pursuit of Zaphod & now want to blast them to Kingdom Come ... but instead blast them merely to the end of the universe, more precisely the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a temporal anomaly where the guests can, every day, witness the very end of the universe (announced by Colin Jeavons) as a tourist attraction & where they are served food (Peter Davison as Dish of the Day) that actually wants to be eaten.

But soon our quartet decides to steal a spaceship with the help of their paranoid android Marvin (David Learner, voice by Stephen Moore) steal a spaceship ... the spaceship of rockstar Hotblack Desiato (Barry Frank Warren), which unfortunately is set on autopilot & is programmed to dive into a sun as one of his shows' highlight ...

Somehow, Arthur, Fort, Zaphod & Trillian find a teleporter though & persuade Marvin to manually control it (& thus give his life) to get them away & save thier lives.

Arthur & Ford are soon stranded on the so-called B-Ark (commandeered by Aubrey Morris) of an alien race, that was thought to be doomed for annihilation if they would stay on their planet (but in fact the ark only contains the worthless third of the planets population, the middleman between the thinker & the doer, mainly hairdressers & marketing experts, while the other 2 thirds of the alien race started to prosper), & which is heading ... for earth at the beginning of time ... & are thus messing up the quest for the question of Life, the Universe & Everything - the answer to which remains 42 - right from the beginning ... as in theend arthur & Ford have to find out when they probe Arthur's mind with letters from Scrabble ... & come up with "What do you get if you multiply Six by Nine ?" (54, in case you wondered.)

 

Of course, my synopsis doesn't do the 6 part tv-miniseries too much justice, as most of its funnier (& indeed more fascinating) bits are hidden away in cleverly made up, often enough non-linear subplots & a certain attitude towards its main narration in general that just can't be recaptured in a simple synopsis.

That said of course, the miniseries itself doesn't do too much justive to Douglas Adams' radioshow & books it was based on in the first place ... much of it gets lost in shoddy effects & sets that make it look more like a Doctor Who for slightly more adult folks (& indeed Douglas Adams had been script editor on Doctor Who in its 17th season - 1979 to the beginning of 1980 - & did script 3 of that series' episodes himself - The Pirate Planet, City of Death & the unfinished Shada). Actually though, Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy did have a relatively decent budget, but most of it was spent on computer graphics that represent the Hitch Hikers Guide itself & that were state of the art for its time, but today they seem of course (charmingly) dated.

That is not to say that Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy would have necessarily profited from a vastly larger budget or fancy special effects, which could just as easily distract from the clever humour. The miniseries as such is not doing bad on that account (& the humour, not the sci-fi-effects, is the centerpiece of this series after all), you just get the feeling that a little more effort & care with certain aspects wouldn't have hurt ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
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ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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Out now from
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On the same day
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
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written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
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out now on DVD