Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

When I heard that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was being made into a movie, I was excited. I remember having read the book many, many years ago. (I should probably read it again.) In looking around Netflix, I came across this version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, which is a release of the miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1981. From what I can recall, it seems to adhere to the book pretty well. However, both the book and the miniseries were based on a radio broadcast.

The story goes that Arthur Dent is about to have his house demolished to make way for a bypass. He only just found out about it when the bulldozers pulled up to demolish the house. While he’s lying there in front of the bulldozer, his friend, Ford Prefect, shows up and informs Arthur that it’s imperative that they go to the local bar for a few drinks. Ford assures Arthur that everything will be all right. While there, Ford informs Arthur that the Earth is about to be destroyed and that Ford is really from a planet in the Betelgeuse system. He’s on Earth to do research for the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but that time is coming to an end.

They hitch a ride on one of the ships sent to destroy the Earth. When they’re discovered, both are thrown out an airlock. You’d think that being thrown out an airlock would be the end of it, but it’s not. The two friends are picked up by The Heart of Gold, which is a ship stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox. (It has to do with the ship’s infinite improbability drive.) It turns out that Zaphod and Arthur have met, although Zaphod didn’t have two heads and three arms at the time. Also on board is Trillian, who was also at the party. Rounding out the group is Marvin, a very depressed robot who thinks that everyone hates him.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could probably have a thousand-word review if I went into the entire plot. It would probably also ruin some of the surprise. The entire miniseries comes in six parts on one disc. I got it from Netflix, so I can’t say anything about packaging. The disc was marked “Vol. 1”, but I couldn’t find any indication of a second disc. I was able to see the entire miniseries, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

Since it’s a miniseries, it was meant to be watched over a period of time. With the exception of the first episode, each one has an introduction that brings you up to speed. I didn’t think it was that bad; each introduction was only a minute or two and I watched the disc over several days.. However, if you’re watching the entire thing in one sitting, it might seem repetitious.

The picture quality is about what you’d expect from a British program in 1981. It’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible. The miniseries makes extensive use of line drawings to illustrate several things contained in the Guide, such as what a Babel Fish is. (The Guide is the origin of the name for Alta Vista’s translation service.)

The acting was good in this miniseries. However, the effects left something to be desired. Zaphod’s third arm looked pretty good, but his second head looked phony. There were several scenes where the second head had to talk; it looked like puppetry. I don’t think that it detracted too much. (I just thought you should know.)

The humor can only be described as a cross between Monty Python and The Far Side, which seems to be the consensus. I can see a lot of people either thinking that it’s hysterical or not getting it at all. Other than Monty Python or The Far Side, I can’t really think of anything to compare it to and even those two suggestions aren’t exact. For instance, Vogons (the race contracted to destroy the Earth) have the third-worst poetry in the universe. We’re even subjected to a little bit of it. It’s the kind of thing that one person might find funny, yet someone else might find annoying.

Personally, I’d give the miniseries four stars. Even though I wasn’t laughing all the way through, it was funny and at least interesting to watch all the way through. If you’re into science fiction, I’d suggest that you at least consider it. And whatever happens, don’t panic.

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