In case readers didn’t notice this being posted in the TV section for a SundaySeries hashtag, I just want to make this absolutely clear: I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE AWFUL 2005 MOVIE. Instead, this week’s television spotlight comes in the form of 1981’s pitch-perfect version of the tale – itself the second adaptation following the initial BBC radio series and the eventual book. This alone shows how many different interlocking takes there are on the essential story, but what’s unique about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is how each of them (save the film I’ll make no further mention of) were brought into existence under the core leadership of its creator, Douglas Adams.
This has the knock on effect of making all versions under the helm of Adams remarkably pure and digestible, despite the differences that are apparent across all of them. While they all end at different points, feature many scenes that are unique to their approach and each suffer from the limitations of their mediums, they are all deeply representative of the expanded universe that’s so legendary in science-fiction today. The television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a near perfect visual take on the source material, made vividly alive by virtue of a spot-on cast and some rather unorthodox animation techniques.
The story isn’t an easy one to summarise, with flicks back and forth in space happening at breakneck speed casually. Put briefly, however, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy starts off innocuously enough with the simple Southern English lifestyle of Arthur Dent; a middle-class archetype caught in the same drab cyclones as his peers. That is, all except the enigmatically odd Ford Prefect – someone whose disconnection with the world around him isn’t as obvious to Dent as it should be. By the time Vogon Constructor Fleets are bearing down on Earth (in order to demolish it for an interstellar bypass), Dent has barely enough time to learn that his friend is, in fact, from the planet Betelgeuse – and not Guildford after all – before his home planet is apathetically destroyed.
Saved by his human imposter companion in the nick of time, Dent finds himself as both the only surviving member of his species and a fugitive on the very ship that super-heated Earth to oblivion. Following their exploits as they flirt with time and space, they seem unwillingly bashed around and dragged along by the various characters they encounter across the excursion. Creeping its way ever forward towards an amazingly coherent plot, we land on an exploration of the meanings behind… well, life, the universe and everything. As disturbingly profound as it is extremely funny, the journey we take with Dent and Prefect is one that will stick with us for the remainder of our lives – and hopefully those of the generations that trample us.
There’s a reason why the masterpiece franchise that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has always held appeal. It’s able to travel all over the cosmos while bringing every insane idea back in some way to the mundane lives we all, to differing extents, live. Tackling huge philosophical questions with frightening ease, it gives just as more fore to the little details of our lives and never leaves us behind on its incredible sojourns across space. Instead we’re shown a galaxy that isn’t that advanced from the world we live on today, preoccupied with advertising, petty disputes, money and selfishness. While there is a dark tale being told somewhere, it’s never a dreary one thanks to the consistently hilarious jokes and parodies that have come to immortalise the piece.
With a subjective ending (one of my favourite things) that concludes far earlier than the continuing tale of the books, it ends – for me – on a resoundingly uplifting note. It’s a happy ending that comes tinged with an acceptance of a certain pointlessness to life, bringing a lot of grandeur to the view that nothing is truly real or definitively matters. If you take it in that way, as I do, it seems to be saying that even the fact that nothing matters doesn’t matter (if you understand my meaning). Take in the beauty that surrounds you, and appreciate everything you can – even the madness. Simply enjoy your existence. Find things of wonder. Find humour in everything. Don’t get caught wasting time on the false. These are the messages that I learnt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and they’re masterfully communicated in its television rendition.