This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy quite possibly stands as one of the most-adapted works of fiction in modern times. Since the initial broadcast of the radio show in the late ’70s, it’s been a BBC TV show, a novel, a comic book, a stage show, a computer game, and a movie. All it’s missing is an interpretive dance version to complete a full set – and that’s only because a shiny, big-budget US television remake is now on the cards for Hulu, helmed by Lost alumnus Carlton Cuse.
But what can this upcoming Hitchiker’s TV show learn from previous adaptations? And where might the new showrunners take it? Here’s what we think.
Base it on the novels
The radio series might be the original version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, but for many people it’s the novels that rank as the definitive version – they contain the most complete version of the story, and the clearest version of Adams’ voice, unfiltered by budgetary constraints or creative compromises.
Sure, the radio shows were innovative, the movie was superbly designed, and the BBC TV show… existed. But it’s the novels that flesh out the full scope of the Hitchhiker’s universe, its ethos and its boundaries, and perhaps most importantly – pack in the most jokes with which to work. Bring us to our next point.
Don’t cut the jokes
Whether you hate the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy movie or haven’t seen it, the fact that there were no sequels is testament to its failure to connect with its audience. For all the good choices director Garth Jennings made around the look and casting of the film, the poor execution of the comedy is the thing that stopped it working like Hitchhiker’s does at its best.
As well as stripping Adams’ dialogue bare and throwing in a lot of slapstick that didn’t work, the film opens with an extended musical pastiche that, while brilliantly conceived and executed, doesn’t really try to be funny. Whatever Hitchhiker’s Guide is, however much you twist and mangle it, the comedy should be the number one concern. The sense of a universe that isn’t so much cold and indifferent as it is actively vindictive towards Arthur Dent specifically. Get that right and the audience will follow you anywhere.
Just make it American
There’s a certain Britishness to Hitchhiker’s Guide’s voice that comes from Adams himself, represented no more clearly than when Stephen Fry was cast as the voice of the Guide in Jennings’ movie. But Britain doesn’t have the monopoly on petty annoyances. The universe of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy might be British, but the characters don’t have to be. With the possible exception of Ford Prefect, whose name doesn’t really make sense without a footnote already (the Ford Prefect was a largely British car that barely made it out of the 1950s) there’s little in the early stories that wouldn’t happily survive a transplant from suburban London to suburban New York. Rather set it in the US than have a US production straining to appear British.
Follow my casting suggestions to the letter
Picking a cast for Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is tough – the original cast has dated poorly, filled as it is with middle-class white guys who created as middle-class white guys for no more complicated reason than the creator was a white guy. Nationality, ethnicity, and gender are all pretty incidental to every character in the story – which is why we’re disregarding them.
Arthur Dent – William Jackson Harper: Who better to play a character defined by impotent fury than the guy who plays Chidi on The Good Place, a character almost entirely defined by impotent fury? His clipped, restrained performance in The Good Place leads naturally to Arthur Dent – all you have to do is tone down the anxiety a notch.
Ford Prefect – Natasha Lyonne: Admittedly she’s probably got bigger fish to fry as the star of the incredible Russian Doll, but who better to play a character who seems like they’d rather be at a party than here no matter what they’re doing? As both Nicky in Orange is the New Black and Nadia in Russian Doll, Lyonne has the energy of someone who fully grasps every situation but absolutely wants no part of it, and that’s Ford Prefect all over.
Zaphod Beeblebrox – Matt Berry: No screen version of Zaphod has really nailed the character’s hyper-masculine, borderline dangerous-to-know feel, but Matt Berry could absolutely do that. When Zaphod walks in the room you have to be prepared for him to yell, even though he might not, and when you ask him a question he either won’t care or he’ll care a LOT. The only thing predictable about Matt Berry is that he brings unpredictability with him wherever he goes.
Trillian – Zawe Ashton: Trillian’s character is the hardest to nail down, not least because she gets sidelined for a lot of the story. The things that define Trillian are her empathy and kindness, coupled with a sense of adventure that encouraged her to skip the planet in the first place. Perhaps best known as Violet in Fresh Meat, she held her own on stage alongside Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox in a stunning version of Pinter’s Betrayal, and it’s that combination of daring and decisiveness that makes her a perfect Trillian.
Marvin – David Mitchell: Perhaps in an alternate universe we got a Mitchell & Webb version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy on the BBC with Mitchell as Arthur, but we think he’d make a fantastic Marvin. The Eeyore-esque morose versions are a take that’s been done, but let’s face it – depression isn’t that simple. Just imagine David Mitchell saying the line “I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.” in his ruefully uptight tones and that’s Marvin.
The Guide – Ellen McLain: The typical route to go with The Guide is to cast a cut glass-accented statesmanlike font of knowledge. Who sounds like Wikipedia in human form? Stephen Fry in the movie and Neil Gaiman in the stage show spring to mind as definitive, and maybe you could get Sandi Toksvig or Neil Degrasse Tyson to do it. But that’s not how modern devices talk. From Siri to Satnavs, talking devices tend to have female voices with calm, neutral accents, and we can’t help being put in mind of Ellen McLain, the voice of GlaDOS from the Portal series of games. What makes this choice work for us is that later on, when it becomes unclear whether The Guide can be trusted, having the voice of the most psychopathic computer this side of HAL really comes into its own…
But those are just our thoughts for what Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy could do on screen. Feel free to leave yours below…
Thanks to Seb Patrick and Al Kennedy for casting suggestions used in this article.
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