I guess having had the expectations set so low by the MJ Simpson Review, I wasn’t expecting much, so as a result we actually quite enjoyed it. Knowing going in that the original story has been hacked around, I guess you’re not looking for missing bits, or surprised when they don’t come along! To some extent the whole middle section was a bit of a mess, and the major plot changes just didn’t really make sense. Whilst some of the changes were bound to be needed to fit the pacing of a movie rather than an episodic series, others just seemed totally unnecesary. (It is worth mentioning that the DVD includes two of the original sequences – namely Earth being ‘mostly harmless’ and the Babel Fish being proof of the non-existence of God as deleted scenes.) Also on that subject of cuts, the whole section about the cafe in Rickmansworth is gone, which is a great shame for one of my home town claims to fame.
As another example, the whole thing with the infinite improbability drive. Here it is just a fancy warp drive where they set the co-ordinates and it takes them there. In the original plot it lives up to it’s name. Here they are going to Magrathea as part of a quest, in the original Magrathea has been long forgotten, is indeed mythical, and they almost accidentally find out about Earth being a giant computer. Amazingly, watching the documentary on the second DVD, they have four guys explaining about the whole improbability drive concept, and how it is the vehicle on which the whole of the rest of the improbable events in the plot are based, and none of this gets through to the final film.
Having said that there were some really nice touches with the improbability drive, for example the sequence where they all turn into knitted dolls – which is just bizarre. The point-of-view gun is funny as well, especially the way it is used in the finale. The whole design of the film is great, and visually spectacular, especially the ‘factory floor’ in Magrathea.
All in all, it was a very similar experience to watching the recent War of the Worlds. We actually quite enjoyed watching it, but it really could have been a whole lot better. You’re left wondering why, if you’re selling a film on an original book, and have obviously paid a lot of money for the rights to the book you then throw away vast chunks of the plot, style and so on that people who love the book will want to see. Whilst I’m aware that a number of the changes were part of Douglas Adams never being satisfied, there is a definite feeling that the reason the film was never actually produced in his lifetime was because he wasn’t satisfied enough with it, indeed he first started negotiating over the film in 1980, before even the TV series was made. Watching the documentary on the second DVD you realise that the only reason it got out of development hell was because Adams died, at which point Karey Kirkpatrick rewrote the script, and without Adams guiding hand the film got made, but with a quest structure of Zaphod searching for the ultimate question, which in some ways nobody in the original book particularly cares about.
If you fancy seeing the film, you can rent or buy it at all good retailers now. Even if you don’t want to see the film again, the 70 minute documentary on the second DVD is well worth a look:
If on the other hand you prefer the original, you can get the TV series on DVD, and entire radio series on CD: