The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Book vs Movie Review

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy directed by Garth Jennings (2005)

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Book Review

I had a good time with this book and found a lot of it quite funny. It seems to be one of the first of its kind-sci-fi mixed with comedy.

I also found some of the ideas really interesting, such as earth being created as a way to find the reason for “life, the universe, and everything”. I found all of the characters entertaining and all in all, a very witty book with the classic dry British humor.

Having said that, I didn’t love it enough to be interested in reading the follow up novels; but I am glad to have read this one.

The audiobook is narrated by Stephen Fry-the same actor who is the narrator for the movie, but I actually found myself enjoying the book more when I was actually reading it rather than listening. I’m not sure why, but I found the humor funnier when I was reading and I found it harder to follow when I listened versus reading.

There is a line in the book that reminded me of scenes in some British movies. The line comes after saying that Arthur has gotten out of bed, then reads, “Kettle, plug, fridge, milk, coffee. Yawn.” I was wondering if this was unique to Douglas Adams and if he started this. In British movies they will have these quick shots as a way to show what the character is doing and so I wondered if Adams was the start or is this was a thing before.

I also wanted to share a couple passages that I found funny.

“Mr L Prosser was, as they say, only human. In other words, he was a carbon-based bipedal life form descended from an ape.”

These next two are from the forward when Adams is telling how Hitchhiker’s Guide came to be.

“I think that the BBC’s attitude towards the show while it was in production was very similar to that which Macbeth had towards murdering people – initial doubts, followed by cautious enthusiasm and then greater and  greater alarm at the sheer scale of the undertaking and still no end in sight.”

“Later I became a writer and worked on a lot of things that were almost incredibly successful but in fact just failed to see the light of day. Other writers will know what I mean.”

Movie

This book started as a radio program, then became a novel, then a British tv show, and later was adapted by American’s. In the forward, Adams says how he changed a lot with each iteration. He started the script for the American version, however he died before it could be finished so we will never know what he thought of the final product.

I had watched this movie before, around the time it came out on DVD. I hadn’t seen it since then and there were few things I had remembered.

Acting

Martin Freeman is in the lead as Arthur Dent, the British man who is friends with Ford Prefect and is taken into space. I like Freeman, but I found the character of Arthur rather annoying in the movie. Mainly his relationship with Trillian. We will get into details later, but the added “romance” with them was so forced and unnecessary. In general, Freeman plays the character in a believable way, but my problem was with how the character was written.

Zooey Deschanel plays the very “Zooey Deschanel” role of Trillian/Tricia. This was one of her first roles being in a lead, and it seems she was typecast as this kind of character from here on out. She is excellent as the adventurous woman who can’t be tied down and wants to see the world, and the universe. She is very likeable, as she is meant to be.

Sam Rockwell is so well cast as the cocky yet charismatic, clever yet dumb Zaphod. I love Rockwell so much and will watch anything if he is in it. I’m surprised I haven’t covered anything he’s been in up until now-I will have to rectify that and make a point to cover more of his movies that are based on books. Anyway, he was hilarious in this and even though the movie tries to get you to dislike him, I couldn’t help but be taken by Rockwell’s portrayal of Zaphod.

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) is Ford Prefect and I really enjoyed his character in this. I was surprised this is such an American heavy cast, but this is an American adaptation after all.

Forced Romance

Why does Hollywood feel the need to put a romance in everything they make?? In the book, Arthur had met Trillian at a party and he tried hitting on her but it wasn’t going well. Zaphod then walked up and said he was from another planet and won her over. In the movie, Arthur and Tricia hit it off and seem to spend much of the party together. Tricia then asks him if he wants to go to Madagascar with her (that manic pixie dream girl thing) and Arthur is the stereotypical guy in this scenario who is too comfortable staying where he is and doesn’t want to get out of his comfort zone and explore the world. This is when Zaphod steps in, in the movie.

Honestly, Zaphod and Trillian seem like a much better match but as said, the movie really tries to force Arthur and Tricia’s romance and tries to make you not like Zaphod. Mainly by showing that he signed the papers to have earth destroyed. In the book he had nothing to do with the destruction of the earth.

Near the third part of the movie, once Trillian realizes the earth is gone, I almost thought maybe she suddenly was “in love” with Arthur because he is literally the only Earth human left. So maybe that caused her to think she loved him, only because he is the only one around that can relate to living on earth. At different times, both Arthur and Trillian talk about how “he’s the only one that gets me”, or “she is who I love and is all that matters” type of talk. And it comes out of nowhere!

Arthur is also just a jerk when he arrives on the Heart of Gold and sees her with Zaphod. What the heck, what gives him the right to be so controlling and jealous when they only saw each other once and it was months ago. Now he sees her again and thinks he is owed something. Give me a break!

They didn’t have a romance at all in the book, at least not the first one, and I liked it that way.

Zaphod

When talking about Zaphod, I will quote part from the book which is also kind of in the movie.

“‘I’ve just thought of something,’ she said. ‘Yeah? Worth interrupting a news bulletin about me for?’ ‘You hear enough about yourself as it is.’ ‘I’m very insecure. We know that.’ ‘Can we drop your ego for a moment? This is important.’ ‘If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.’ Zaphod glared at her again, then laughed.”

This next quote also helps you get a feel for his character.

“One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so – but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence the act. He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous. This above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no longer be bothered to argue about it…”

In the book, Zaphod has a second head which he has through the entire book. In the movie, his “second head” is on the front of his neck and can only be seen when he rolls his head back. He says this was done because you can’t be president of the universe with a full size brain, so he had to secretly separate it.

This second face is taken by the character Humma, played by John Malkovich. This whole scene on this planet was not in the book. But in the movie, while there, Malkovich helps them get to Magrathea, and in return wants a gun that allows the person you shoot to see things from your perspective. He removes Zaphod’s second face as collateral. The scenes on this planet seemed a bit darker than the rest of the movie. Humma takes his glasses off to reveal dark holes, he then gets up and we see he only has a top half of his body and his legs are these weird centipede looking things. Then he removes Zaphod’s head! This is shown with the silhouettes, but I was still surprised by these scenes.

I did think the religous Humma is part of was amusing. Where they believe the universe was created when God sneezed, and they are waiting for God to get a tissue and wipe them away. I am a religious person, but I realize how silly and far-fetched literally all religions are and don’t mind when people poke fun at religion as a whole. The book seems to do this even more than the movie, and I’m guessing the movie made those changes to appease to a larger audience.

Anyway, when Zaphod loses his second face, he gets kind of dumb and has to wear this lemon juicer helmet thing. This wasn’t in the book, and I honestly didn’t find it very funny.

In the book, Zaphod says how someone has been controlling part of his brain and giving him ideas, like to run for president and then to steal the Heart of Gold spaceship. This isn’t shown in the movie, and it is Zaphod himself who is interested in learning the question-and-answer to the universe. We hear all about Deep Thought through Zaphod, whereas in the book we don’t hear about any of this until Arthur meets Slatibartfast. In the book Slatibartfast is telling Arthur all about Magrathea and about Deep Thought and everything.

The Mice

In book and movie, we learn that the earth was created by Deep Thought to find out what the question was that leads to the answer, “42”. The Vogon’s destroy it right before the results were ready.

In both book and movie, in the end, the mice want Arthur’s brain. Since he was on earth right before it was destroyed, they think the answer is contained in his brain. They don’t end up getting his brain though and since they are about to make appearances on various tv programs and such, they need to have a question to go with the answer. They brainstorm and come up with, “how many roads must a man walk down”. They then go on their way.

In the movie, they are about to take Arthur’s brain, and Arthur is desperately giving them questions they could use, one of which being, how many roads must a man walk down. The mice like this, but still plan on killing Arthur. However, Arthur ends up smashing them. I didn’t like this change-why not let the mice live and go on their way??

Also, in the book the mice say to get rid of the second earth because they don’t have the time and energy to go through it all over again. In the movie, the second earth remains intact and we see Arthur deciding he doesn’t want to stay there and instead wants to explore the universe with Trillian.

In the book, when they are going to take Arthur’s brain, they tell him it’ll be fine because it’ll be replaced with a new electronic one. “‘Yes, an electronic brain,’ said Frankie, ‘a simple one would suffice.’ ‘A simple one!’ wailed Arthur. ‘Yeah,’  said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, ‘you’d just have to program it to say What? and I don’t understand and Where’s the tea? – who’d know the difference?’” Again, just another passage showing how great Zaphod is lol and explaining Arthur in a nutshell.

Ending

In the end, after the thing with the mice, in the movie they go outside and the Vogon’s, who have been following them the whole movie are there. Marvin, the depressed robot, who is voiced by Alan Rickman, points the perspective gun at them and they all become incredibly depressed and collapse.

In the book the Vogon’s weren’t chasing them and in the end, it is two Magrathea cops where are going to take them down. I found their interactions with the cops pretty funny, one passage reading “‘Now see here, guy,’ said the voice on the loud hailer, ‘you’re not dealing with any dumb two-bit trigger pumping morons with low hairlines, little piggy eyes and no conversation, we’re a couple of intelligent caring guys that you’d probably quite like if you met us socially! I don’t go around gratuitously shooting people and then bragging about it afterwards in seedy space-rangers’ bars, like some cops I could mention! I go around  shooting people gratuitously and then I agonize about it afterwards for hours to my girlfriend!’ ‘And I write  novels!’ chimed in the other cop. ‘Though I haven’t had any of them published yet, so I better warn you, I’m in a  meeeean mood!’”

Slatibartfast ends up killing the cops and saving Arthur, Zaphod, Trillian and Ford.

Book vs Movie

The movie just wasn’t as clever and witty as the book, and it was also watered down to some degree. However, you can see that they did try to appeal to fans of the book. My biggest complaint is the silly romance with Trillian and Arthur, if it weren’t for that I would have liked the movie much better. The cast is amazing, and I thought it had impressive graphics and practical effects which still stand up today (at least I thought so).

It wasn’t super engaged with either book or movie, if I’m being honest though. I will say the book wins though, because it was funny, entertaining and thought-provoking when it comes to the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. And it didn’t have the dumb love triangle type thing the movie has.