The long-awaited, breathlessly-anticipated, much-debated Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy arrives on UK screens today, with the USA following tomorrow.
I recommend that you go see it. After you have done so, please let me know what you think of it.
As I’ve already said, I love it, as do many others among the hardcore Hitchhiker’s fans I’ve encountered recently. (And, like Richard, I’m having terrible trouble with the idea of writing a an actual review, and not just because of the objectivity problems) But that doesn’t mean that you’ll love it too, or that you won’t. If there’s one thing I’ve realised as the reviews have started pouring in, the opinions are all over the place, and for a very obvious reason:
The secret of Hitchhiker’s success is that it means something different to everyone.
That something could be a mood, or a scene, or even a single line. If your particular something is included in the film, you’ll probably love it. If it isn’t, you probably won’t. It’s very much a rollercoaster of a movie, and rollercoasters tend to exaggerate whichever mood you find yourself in. There’s been a lot of work to ensure that as many somethings as possible are in there, but they couldn’t fit them all. Even so, I expect the majority of fan reactions to be positive, as well as the majority of non-fan reviews. (At time of writing, this expectation is being borne out.)
(Plus, as I’ve said elsewhere, the baggage that Hitchhiker’s fans will bring with them into the theatre means that they’ll probably enjoy it a lot more on second viewing, when they can concentrate on what’s there rather than what isn’t. As this excellent, even-handed review shows, I’m not the only one who thinks so.)
Whether you enjoy it or not, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with this one: it looks bloody gorgeous. Fans’ fears of this being throwaway Hollywood trash made by people who didn’t really get it or care could not have been further from reality. The production team on this were not only highly talented, but incredibly committed to getting it right.
Being involved, even tangentially, in the creation of the movie has been both a privilege and a delight. It’s also been astonishing to witness the movie-making process at work.
Imagine that you have a domino topple pyramid set up, so that the first domino knocks into two dominos, which then knock into three dominos, etc. Imagine that it takes ten years of beating at the first domino to get it to fall over, but when it does, suddenly it goes whoosh – and you look up and see that there are way more dominoes there than you expected, and they’re all going down really fast, in perfect order.
(We think Internet-startup-world moves pretty fast. It’s a drug-addled snail compared to Hollywood movie production, let me tell you. Sure, it takes years to get that green light, but once you’ve got it… suddenly there are hundreds of people working on storyboards and sets and costumes and… it’s all rather overwhelming.)
The reason for my involvement, for those who don’t know me, is not just that I’m a huge Hitchhiker’s fan but that I worked at The Digital Village, a company co-founded by Douglas Adams and Robbie Stamp, among others. While there, I worked with a very talented bunch including Tim Browse, Sean Sollé and Jim Lynn on transforming Douglas’s ideas in interesting new ways. Robbie became Executive Producer of the film, and brought the four of us on board in a kind of casual consultancy role.
It was amazing, after all those years at TDV watching the movie’s prospects getting batted back and forth so slowly, to see the dominos go whoosh. The first time we went on set, we were utterly gobsmacked – Sean’s post about the experience sums it up pretty well, though it doesn’t convey how out-of-place we felt, being treated like experts by people who were showing us imaginitive insights into Douglas’s work that were beyond our wildest dreams. Frankly, as we admitted after the first visit, they didn’t need us.
We were occasionally called on for fiddly little details and fun easter eggs (such as Arthur’s BBC pass, the newspaper article about the dolphins and something to do with Lojban) which we had fun with but took far too long over – not only were we part-time but also total slackers, so I’m grateful that we weren’t thrown off. At the same time we helped out with bits of the various websites and spin–offs, as well as various other bits; Tim’s been doing copywriting all over the place, Sean – while winning a BAFTA with the BBC for the 20th Anniversary Infocom game – did a ton of work on the new mobile adventure game. They both did the bulk of the new Guide entries for iTunes, which I also had a hand in (I’m particularly proud of the Chilean monks).
Overall, the experience has been wonderful (though it’s easy for me to say that, since I didn’t do very much of the work). The Disney web team, headed by Susan Lambert, has been great to work with; as have 8Edge, Preloaded and Digial Outlook, who all produced wonderfully varied and delicious work in very short spaces of time. We also got to know those on the core production team, not only Nick and Garth but the quite-disgustingly-talented lead production designer Joel Collins (who I now openly worship) and the similarly-brilliant Anita Dhillon.
So big thanks to all of the above for making this such a memorable and satisfying experience. Big thanks, obviously, to Douglas for coming up with all this stuff in the first place – I believe that the film stands comfortably and proudly among its predecessors as testament to his brilliance. But most of all, thanks to Robbie, who not only got us far more involved than we deserved but kept us there, all the way through to the end. He’s been at the core of the movie project since the beginning, and if it’s possible to point at one person in the whole thing and say that it was that person who got it done, I believe that person is him. Robbie, it’s been a bonkers and brilliant ride resulting in something truly fantastic. Thank you.