The humour is the medium

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie was a travesty. And it’s entirely because they tried to capture the humour of the series – which comes across beautifully in print and on the radio – without acknowledging the realities of the medium.

Consider that most of H2G2 is simply untranslateable to film. I mean, how on earth could you justify the following scene? (wherein Arthur debates with Prosser about the official plans to demolish his house) :

PROSSER: The plans were on display!

ARTHUR: I eventually had to go down to the cellar!

PROSSER: That’s the display department.

ARTHUR: With a torch.

PROSSER: The lights had probably gone.

ARTHUR: So had the stairs.

PROSSER: You found the plans, didn’t you?

ARTHUR: Oh yes, they were on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying, “Beware of the leopard.” Ever thought of going into advertising?

PROSSER: Well, it’s not a particularly nice house anyway…

None of the transcription (from memory, so forgive!) above captures the sheer sarcasm, droll wit, and pointed barbs that the voice actors imbued their lines with in the radio series. Which is why I maintain that the radio series are infinitely superior to the books – what the books offer in increased detail, they simply lack in human warmth. But compare it to the film:

ARTHUR: I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.

PROSSER: But you found the plans, didn’t you?

Now, one might argue that insanely extended monolouges and witty banter between talking heads is not the best use of the visual medium. However, why even try to “import” jokes from the other mediums at all? I suppose that I had a high standard for this film – one that was unlikely to have been met. While DNA had a hand in drafting much of the script, he passed away long before casting and director selection. What was needed for it to work was to find visual equivalents of the material – something that really required the original DNA fount of creativity, one that you might also argue no longer existed even prior to his passing.

Ultimately, I’m a radio series snob. But the movie sucked because it made no attempt to understand British humour. Which is in its own way as exotic and alien as Japanese culture.

And let’s not even mention how completely they massacred the main characters. Zaphod, in particular. I can (and will) write an entire post about Zaphod. Beeblebroxologists have nothing on me. But even a casual reader of the books won’t recognize the big Z in the doofus drunken mean-spirited ass that appears on screen. Except for one scene, a rather pointless scene that for some reason was genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious. Notable for its uniqueness.

Other H2G2 fans who thought the movie was dreadful may also be interested in this extremely detailed rant by one of the most respected fans in H2G2 fandom, MJ Simpson. He also uses the example of Arthur and Prosser as I did above, but goes into staggeringly higher detail.

(BTW, most of the voice cast for the radio series did do a movie version in 1981. It was also dreadful. Trust me. I speak from experience. I bought the bloody thing.)

5 thoughts on “The humour is the medium”

  1. Wow. He really didn’t like it, did he? (I haven’t seen it; I took a look at RottenTomatoes when it came out and decided to save my $9.)

  2. yeah, he hated it – and I completely agreed. I admit I’d read his review earlier but was in a lot of denial that the producers could mangle the basics so thoroughly as MJ claimed. I rented it with my wife a few months after it came out and it almost destroyed my cred with her on movie-picking. I was just in shock. Especially what they did to Zaphod.

    The thing is that I could have forgiven a weak plot, of the kind that Rotten Tomatoes would have probably still hated. But there are two axes here – one, simple plot, and the other, the spirit of H2G2 itself. That this movie failed on both – and wasn’t even funny! – is why the reaction from the hardcore fanbase has been so severe, IMHO.

  3. You mean the 1981 series? I have to go back and watch my tape. That was with the original voice actors from teh radio series and I found it to be dreadful overall. I’ll take a look again and maybe review it here at H.i.

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