In my reviews of classic sci fi, I had one major rule I tried to keep, all my reviews had to have been from earlier than the 80s so 79 was the cutoff point. Well now we are into a new decade, so let’s push that decade limit up now. Yes I can new review stuff from the 80s, so that’s the start of Star Trek The Next Generation, all the remaining series of classic Who and the mountain upon mountain of masterpieces of practical special effects (I’m going to have to do a proper review of The Thing this year aren’t I… ah well nightmares for later). So with a new decade let’s start with, the end of the world.
Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams stands up there with Dr Who and War Of The Worlds as one of the best pieces of science fiction from the British Isles. Originally written for radio then adapted into a series of books the series has a unique approach and tone. In the 80s it was adapted for television and it was in this format I first encountered it.
The story is told over 6 half hour episodes starting with Arthur Dent a Englishman who gets whisked away from the Earth by his friend Ford Prefect who turns out not to be from Gilford but rather a planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. The series keeps getting weirder and weirder but at the same point making fun of such silly Earth notions especially for those delusional about their own concept of being important in the grand cosmic sense of the thing such as still thinking digital watches is a neat idea.
Arthur Dent is played by Simon Jones who reprises his role from the radio series while Ford Prefect is played by David Dixon (who didn’t play him in the radio). Simon Jones is perfectly on point in all his appearances, but then given this is technically him redoing his lines only acting too, probably expected.
I COULD talk about the plot more but much like War Of The Worlds, most people know the plot, it’s been told 4 different times, and the 4th one was that movie that got everything so wrong it’s best ignored. The writing is however still on par with the radio. The tone and dialog, the whimsical nihilism as one YouTuber put it. The jokes and word play are masterfully done and anyone who has never experienced the works of Douglas Adams is missing out.
Given this was the early 80s the TV series does a surprisingly good job of bringing the weird universe the great Douglas Adams created to life. Sure people will find this and that a bit different but unlike that movie they actually make the aliens look… alien, sure some are just people painted an odd colour but that’s more than the movie did (sorry I’ll get back to point). Through use of model and mat painting we get to see the interior of a Vogon ship to the coast of an alien world that’s sea was just the wrong shade of pink.
Overall I’d say the radio series is better though, certain small pieces of details are missing that do add to the story and to be honest some things like Ford turning into a penguin and the then impressive work on Zaphod Beeblebrox’s (the coolest man in the universe) second head do show their age (still better than the movie though… sorry but had to be said) but overall these are minor parts and the effects mostly work and as mentioned before, if you consider this is 40 years old it’s not bad especially when compared to other works on at the time (Star Trek Next Generation wasn’t till the end of the decade, around the time the BBC did that moronic anti TV sci fi campaign that we still call them out on how idiotic it was to this day)….. Also I’m fairly sure Trillian wasn’t meant to have an American accent (or whatever weird accent they told her to have).
One thing the TV series does do better though is the sequences with the book. For those not in the know The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is in the story an electronic book that tells hitchhikers what they need to know to get about. The book has since its publication been considered more useful than the Galactic Encyclopedia for 2 reasons. 1 it’s slightly cheaper 2 it has in big friendly letters on the cover the words “don’t panic”. The sequences for showing entries in the book are done so masterfully people mistake them for actually being done by a computer (my copy of the series has bonus material showing how they did the effect). To me the book portions of the show are some of the best moments.
The show is now nearly 40 years old but still very entertaining. But wait I did mention that I thought the radio version was overall superior, and a good friend of mine does reviews of audio works.