They both took towels to school today

by Harry on May 17, 2005

I knew they’d make a film of it when I first heard it, one of a few thousand apparently, in my teenage bedroom just outside Slough (ironically, as it turns out, for where would Martin Freeman be without Slough?). So I waited. And waited. And waited. 27 years or thereabouts. There have been months (years, perhaps) in which I haven’t thought about it, and when it finally opened I thought, “well, I can wait a few weeks more”. So yesterday I took my 8 year old and her friend. My hopes were not high — I didn’t even care whether it would be good, I was just fulfilling the wish I had 27 years ago. It couldn’t possibly match the radio series, I knew that, not least because Peter Jones is dead and Simon Jones is…over the hill.

I’m not going to review it: I’m already behind the curve.

But for 100 minutes or so I felt that millions of dollars had been spent just to entertain me. Simon Jones appears, if briefly; the original music is reprised briefly half way through; if you can’t resurrect Peter Jones Stephen Fry is exactly who you’d choose; Bill Nighy is so appropriate I can’t even remember who played his role in the original; even the romance doesn’t jar. I don’t know what the non-fans make of it (several told me beforehand they didn’t understand it), but I don’t care. For the subsequent three hours my daughter and friend couldn’t stop talking about it.

They both took towels to school today.



Scott Martens 05.17.05 at 2:38 pm

And it’s not opening in Belgium til $%#@ing August. I’ve been thinking about hoping the ferry to Dover just to go see it.


asg 05.17.05 at 3:02 pm

This post brought a tear to my eye.


des von bladet 05.17.05 at 3:24 pm

Belgium, man, Belgium.


Kieran Healy 05.17.05 at 3:27 pm

I didn’t even care whether it would be good, I was just fulfilling the wish I had 27 years ago

I felt pretty much the same way, Harry. It was a lot better than I was expecting, speaking as someone who wasted a considerable period between the ages of 12 and 14 wholly absorbing the stuff — though I never read the last two novels, which is probably just as well.

And it’s not opening in Belgium til $%#@ing August.

Belgium, man! Belgium!


Scott Martens 05.17.05 at 3:58 pm

Belgium, man! Belgium!

No, the irony is not lost on me. Please tell me there’s a Belgium joke in this movie.


nick 05.17.05 at 4:00 pm

No, the irony is not lost on me.

That the ‘Belgium’ passage in LTU&E was added to satisfy the Americans?


fyreflye 05.17.05 at 4:21 pm

Okay, I’ll admit it – I have no idea what you guys are talking about. Let us poor yanks in on the story, please. We promise to respect your infantile nostalgia.


Ancarett 05.17.05 at 4:38 pm

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, fyreflye! Even I heard of that, growing up in the US. Admittedly, that was forever and a day ago, but still. . . .


b 05.17.05 at 4:40 pm

I think die-hard fans of literary* brands have been very lucky over the last few years, which surprises me. I’m thinking of Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and Harry Potter. For all the (generally well-founded) criticism of Hollywood, it’s quite a feat to make a movie adaptation of a beloved book* that is true enough to the original material to not disappoint the devoted fans but not so arcane as to drive away newcomers. And to have done that thrice (or even seven times if you count the individual films) — impressive.

* I realize (although only recently) that the HHGG books were not the original form of the material, but growing up where and when I did, the books were my introduction to Adams, so they will always be the “true” version to me.


slolernr 05.17.05 at 4:45 pm

Forget the movie. Listen to the dramatizations of the fourth and fifth books on Radio 4. With Simon Jones, and also with William Franklyn (much better as a replacement Peter Jones than Stephen Fry).


Brian 05.17.05 at 4:54 pm

I agree with Kieran and Harry that it was surprisingly good. There were some slow patches, particularly I thought when they deviated from the book. (But I would think that I suppose.) But considering what happened when the last English project Martin Freeman was involved with crossed the pond, that it turned out this good was fairly improbable.


fyreflye 05.17.05 at 5:07 pm

Sorry, Hitchiker lovers; I do now recall having read somewhere that the whole franchise started as a radio series back during the Ted Heath – or was it the Maggie Thatcher – premiership (or sometime like that.) It hadn’t occurred to me that the movie would open on its own turf weeks later than the U S release. So do your local McD’s serve Hitchiker action figures with fries or is it a bit more muted than the blockbuster frenzy here?

Dare I admit that I couldn’t get into the first book at all despite several tries? But then I couldn’t finish LOTR either. But what can you expect from an…an…American?


Jake 05.17.05 at 5:09 pm

It was well worth seeing just for Marvin.

And the powdered wig on the Vogon Captain.


Russell Arben Fox 05.17.05 at 5:11 pm

I agree–could have been much worse. The Vogons were very good, and there were patches that were brilliant. The opening song left Melissa and I in stitches (I’m still singing it to myself, days later), and the bit where the characters are running across the Vogon plain and keep getting whacked every time they think of an idea–I’m talking about the high and behind shot, after Zaphod screams and bolts–was perverse genius. And the animation with the Guide was superb. Unfortunately, for me the romance did jar, terribly: Arthur’s “confession” of love to a dozing Trillian was awful in dozen different ways. And frankly, I would have preferred they just stick a prosthetic head on Zaphod, rather than the worked-on-paper-but-not-on-film buried head they went with.

Melissa’s favorite bit was the ball-of-yarn Heart of Gold, complete with fabric characters, that appeared after one of their improbability jumps. If they’d just had more of that, and to hell with all the supposed “character development,” they could have had a whimsical masterpiece on their hands. Much like Adams’s books, of course.

Kieran, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish is actually pretty good. The fifth book, Mostly Harmless, is, however, horrible.


Scott Martens 05.17.05 at 5:15 pm

I’m with Russell. I liked SL&TFATF – I thought it made an excellent conclusion to the series, especially God’s Final Message to His Creation. If only Adams had actually stopped there.


Harry 05.17.05 at 5:22 pm

I’m in the US – just couldn’t get to the movie for quite a while (had to get younger kid looked after while I took older kid). Try the radio series, which is easily available even here in the US!; I read the first two books only, on the principle that they just might make a radio series from the latter books and that’s what I would want (as slolenrl says, they have, as I advertised when the third series was broadcast back in November: I am currently collecting 4 and 5, and will listen to 3 4 and 5 all together). I disagree, marginally, about Fry and Franklyn, but I confess that Fry can do no wrong for me.


djw 05.17.05 at 5:32 pm

Have to agree with Russell about the romance. That’s contained to relatively few scenes, though, and the rest is a joy to behold. But why couldn’t they make the Vogon construction fleet yellow?


fyreflye 05.17.05 at 5:48 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, Harry.


Russell Arben Fox 05.17.05 at 6:00 pm

Excellent point, David? Why weren’t the Vogon ships yellow? I mean, it’s a little point, but conversely, how could those responsible for the look of the film have determined that yellow “didn’t work”? I suspect they didn’t, but just went ahead with their run-of-the-mill designs, which suggests that the director didn’t impress upon the whole crew (or didn’t realize himself, which is more likely) just how Adams’s inspired lunacy is all of a piece.

Also much missed: Majikthise and Vroomfondel. I wonder if they might make it into the dvd?


A. 05.17.05 at 6:01 pm

Scott, I think Adams’s publishers forced him to write more sequels. (From what I hear, almost literally forced him–he was such a bad procrastinator that they locked him in a hotel room until he finished, the rumor goes.)

I agree, it was two pure hours of fun. Vogons better done than I could have imagined, ditto Guide animations. I did find the romance jarring though, and I didn’t like Marvin–the book version is so much more interesting.


Doug 05.17.05 at 6:17 pm

Majikthise is on the web. But you knew that. Not so sure about Vroomfondel. On strike?


Mary 05.17.05 at 6:39 pm

According to the biographies, he was locked in a hotel room to write #4, not #5. He wrote #5 basically because he’d already spent the advance.

The biographies are an interesting study in the art. Nick Webb’s “authorised” one is a kind of a genial “Douglas was a great bloke, knew him a bit, went to some awesome parties of his” effort. MJ Simpson’s (he was head of the fan club for many years) is more meticulously researched and more critical, to the point where it feels almost cruel, Adams being a comic writer with serious procrastination issues, not, say, lord of the galaxy with a similar affliction.

I liked the movie quite a bit. It seemed like good friendly fun with the books.


yami 05.17.05 at 6:39 pm

Please tell me there’s a Belgium joke in this movie.

“Belgium, man, Belgium” was used as a throwaway line, but the reference was never explained.


cbl 05.17.05 at 6:41 pm

Maybe its because I’m an American… but it seems they left out the two best parts: Disaster Area, and that device that tortures folks via showing them how insignificant they “really” are (even though the idea is nonsense). And, the guide gets replaced by the romance as the driving force of the plot. Yeccch! The Vogons, however, were worth the price of admission alone.

When I first read the book, I didn’t catch that Smarty-whats-his-name is technocrat industrialist. Too much Marx can spoil just about anything! The movie wasn’t bad, I just feel the whole thing is clever but unsophisticated – best when not taken seriously, which I’m sure is what Mr. Adams intended.


adithemopur 05.17.05 at 7:17 pm

i liked the first hour or so, and thought it went downhill after that. i just re-watched teh TV series and it is definitely a lot better. but then it was a disney release, so i didnt expect it to be as good as it turned out to be.


duus 05.17.05 at 8:44 pm

i loved the books. and the movie was good. it departed at times, but I felt the departures kept largely in the spirit of the HHGG. so i’m happy.


Geeoff 05.17.05 at 8:48 pm


jeet 05.17.05 at 9:38 pm

I took my 8 year old and her friend.

I read the first book, watched the entire TV series and listened to some of the radio show so the movie just wasn’t fresh to me. (The HH neophyte I went with found it hit-and-miss. Don’t blame me. I wanted to see Kung Fu Hustle.)

I heard from a mother that her kids – who were completely unfamiliar with HH from other media – loved it. I hope they pick up the books at some point.

As far as the romantic subplot, well, I recently went through the situation that Arthur undergoes in the film, so I’ll indulge it because of the small personal catharsis it provided.


Russell Arben Fox 05.17.05 at 10:52 pm

CBL, both of the plot points you missed in particular are actually from the second book, Restaurant at the End of the Universe–which in many ways is, I think, the best of the lot.


Shelby 05.18.05 at 12:59 am

Better and more faithful to the original (both book and radio) than I expected. But then, I felt the same way about Constantine.

I didn’t really think the departures from the original storyline worked very well, though I can see how from a moviemaking perspective they might have seemed sensible on paper. The romance was dreadful, but had Adams put it in his story, it would’ve been (deliberately) dreadful there, too. It was a pity they left out “yellow”.


cbl 05.18.05 at 1:20 am

Thanks Russell…feeling kind of dumb. I got through three or so of the books years ago and I guess have collapsed them in my memory – college life’ll do that to ya. Now I’m hoping for a sequel!


john b 05.18.05 at 3:29 am

“As far as the romantic subplot, well, I recently went through the situation that Arthur undergoes in the film, so I’ll indulge it because of the small personal catharsis it provided.”

You met a girl at a party who left with a two-headed alien, and then got back together with her on a spaceship after your planet was destroyed?

Many CT readers have more interesting lives than I, clearly.


Mr Ripley 05.18.05 at 3:46 am

I think they did a pretty good job for a hundred-minute movie. And, having eagerly awaited hearing each installment on the radio every Thursday night at 7:30 when I was about twelve (early eighties, when npr broadcast it in the States), I felt an unprecedented amount of warm soppy nostalgia. I found Mr Def to be a big improvement over the Ford from the tv version and liked the way Zaphod was, of necessity, reconceptualized. Disappointed that they had to cut the second half off many of the jokes and add a dollop of Hollywood-standard sexism, but had a great time nevertheless.


Robin Green 05.18.05 at 5:16 am

and add a dollop of Hollywood-standard sexism

Hmm… wasn’t Trillian a dumb blonde who didn’t say or do much of anything in the book, or does my memory deceive me? From that perspective, I think it was a slight improvement.


andrew 05.18.05 at 7:16 am

That was in the TV series, which was horrible. She didn’t do much in the books, either, but she wasn’t dumb. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but I thought Zooey Deschanel was an inspired choice.


Mary 05.18.05 at 7:32 am

Robin: she didn’t spend much time “on stage,” but is instumental to the conclusion of the plot of the third book while Arthur panics, Zaphod looks in the mirror and Ford looks for a party. She also is meant to hold a degree in mathematics and astrophysics, although that’s really only used as a joke about job prospects in those fields. (The parallel universe version in the fifth book is a TV presenter, but with the same qualifications.)

She doesn’t come across as dumb to me: rather the reverse. But she’s just not core to the story, mostly.


nnyhav 05.18.05 at 7:50 am

For Simon Jones to have gone from the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything to The Meaning of Life (for the two Terrys) was a nice segue; thence, Brazil and 12 Monkeys …

But, frighteningly, it looks as if SJ is now doing a weird, scary version crossover SF.

But then he’s had his 15 minutes of Hamlet … (though I only got to see him doin’ The Real Thing).


maurinsky 05.18.05 at 8:14 am

I enjoyed the movie even though it wasn’t entirely true to the book (which was my first exposure to the series). We have the original TV production on DVD, and my complaint about that was that it was *too* faithful to the book – I thought it was kind of plodding and I didn’t care for a lot of the actors, particularly Zaphod.

What I liked about the movie: Martin Freeman was less peevish and pissy than Simon Jones. Mos Def seemed more alien than the guy in the TV series – and he really worked the towel, which I enjoyed. I really love Sam Rockwell, so I’m sad to say I was slightly disappointed with Zaphod, but I guess I enjoyed Zaphod so much in the books that it would be hard for anyone to meet my expectations. Zoey Deschanel was about a trillion times better than the blonde Betty Boop who was in the TV series, but something was missing from her performance.

And the Vogons were awesome, but I think they were overused in the movie.


BingBong 05.18.05 at 9:45 am

There was only one requirement for the movie: to be damned funny. But while it sometimes raised a smile and a chuckle, damned funny it wasn’t.

The director has a good visual sense, sure, but he has little feel for how to direct comic dialogue.

Verdict: Botched.


matt 05.18.05 at 11:51 am

For those of you who (1) have seen this movie and (2) have young children: would this be ok for a five year old boy who has been to movies many times? I’ve read all the books, and seen/heard all other incarnations, so I have some idea going in, but I like to (at least try to) keep him away from overt violence in movies. Slapstick is ok, though. [He’s seen the Shrek movies and the Incredibles, the latter of which was a little past what I’d like him to see at this point.]


JohnGalt 05.18.05 at 1:14 pm

I don’t suppose Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged makes an appearance?

Just curious. I too, have a far too intimate attachment to those books as a result of a vociferous reading habit as a young boy.


Brainster 05.18.05 at 2:25 pm

Some parts were good, some parts were bad. The romance was indeed dreadful; part of the point of Arthur making a big deal out of being aced out at a party was to highlight what a schnook he was. Marvin was horrific; they made him look like a sports team mascot. Where was the Vogon guard intrigued by Beethoven’s fifth? Where were the sensitive cops? Where was the invasion fleet that was swallowed by a dog?


Vanya 05.18.05 at 3:30 pm

I didn’t love the movie, but my 5 and 7 year old did so I’m happy with that. For all the criticisms you could make, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. In fact I went back to watch the old BBC TV series and discovered that was nowhere near as good as I remembered – Trillian is god-awful, Ford Prefect overacts and is too impish, and Zaphod’s ridiculous second head is distracting. The radio series is still the best version out there, followed by the books. And for the record, the Belgium joke originated in the radio series even if the American edition of L,TU&E put it where it didn’t belong.


nnyhav 05.18.05 at 3:44 pm

After deep thought, I believe the next comment will provide the final verdict.


mottyl 05.18.05 at 4:39 pm

You’re not going to like it.


ogmb 05.19.05 at 12:51 am



sanepete 05.19.05 at 7:29 am

The Radio Play will always be the original and best.


Harry 05.19.05 at 11:22 am

I agree about the radio play. Brainster, you missed the invasion fleet? It was there.

Matt — both the girls I took are extremely out-of-touch with contemporary standards — my daughter’s freind has only once before been to the theater, and was scared by Finding Nemo. They are 8, I acknowledge. The Vogons are scary (you can judge for yourself on the movie’s own site) but after a while stop being. There is a lot of slapstick. No-one dies… well, except for the invasion fleet that gets swallowed by a dog, and the entire human race apart from Trillian and Arthur. I am very risk-averse about these things, but think it would be fine for a 5 yr old boy that you describe, as long as you think he can take the Vogons.

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