Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Though he wrote other things and got involved in many other projects, Hitchhiker dominated the rest of Douglas Adams' life. It stretched to a trilogy of four and then five volumes, in many different editions, and the BBC TV series, a video game, and even an ongoing attempt to create an Internet Hitchhiker's Guide.

Then there was the movie, which Adams tried to get made for the last 20 years of his life. He'd even moved his family to southern California for that purpose. M.J. Simpson's book is interesting on this point, in that he nearly comes out and says that the frustrations involved in trying to get the movie made, contributed to Adams death. But Simpson also implies that Adams was his own worst enemy in getting the movie made. The project was stymied once again--Adams couldn't complete a script---or at least one short enough to film---and he didn't like the scripts that others did.

Though not known to have a heart condition except a flutter diagnosed days before as not serious, Adams had one heart attack while working out in the gym, and it was fatal. Adams' close friend and business partner, Robbie Stamp was producing the film by then, and after Adams' death, with the encouragement of Douglas' widow, Jane, he went ahead. Director Jay Roach got screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick involved. Kirkpatrick had never met Adams and hadn't read the Hitchhiker books. But he got access to Adams' notes and previous scripts (which included characters and other elements not found in the books), and he soon learned about the vast army of fans that the film needed to please, just to begin with.

So Kirkpatrick tried to change as little as possible, and only add what would make Hitchhiker work as a movie. Apart from coming up with a Hollywood ending, he concentrated on making a relationship out of the Arthur Dent and Trillian encounters. He decided to give each what the other needed and was looking for. Arthur needs the spirit of adventure of a hitchhiker, and Trillian needs to be understood. In the film, Arthur blows their first meeting on earth by not being spontaneous. His "journey" (which has become a film school cliché) is to free himself so he doesn't make that mistake again, so he can get the girl, because he is the guy who does understand her.

I'm not sure it actually makes all that much difference, but it does give this film another element of needed symmetry, and perhaps something for people to relate to who aren't getting the humor. As for the new stuff, much has been made of the new villain played by John Malkovich, but he actually has a pretty small-although striking---and innocuous part. His chief function is as an excuse for our intrepid band to get the empathy gun, which when turned on someone, causes them to feel exactly what the person pointing the gun at them is feeling. I don't know if that's Adams or Kirkpatrick, but it's inspired. Having Trillian kidnapped by the Vogons and rescued when our heroes---just in the nick of time-- fill out the proper form, is also inspired, and very much in the Adams spirit, though it seems to be a plot point Kirkpatrick added.

The funeral service for Douglas Adams in 2002 began with Bach's Schubler Chorales (in his first Dirk Gently novel, Adams had a time traveler bring back one element from an alien culture that hadn't existed on earth before: the music of Bach) and ended with the Beatles' "Paperback Writer."

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