The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // $34.99 // April 30, 2002
Review by Phillip Duncan | posted June 7, 2002
Highly Recommended
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I remember looking forward to watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when I was very young. After Star Wars, anything science fiction quickly caught my interest. When the local PBS station began broadcasting the Tom Baker Dr. Who episodes I was immediately hooked. Later, I caught Guide and was likewise entranced by the sci-fi aspects. Only later would I truly appreciate its intelligent blend of humor and wit. My older cousin introduced me to Douglas Adams years later and after that I eagerly read all the library had of his work.

Guide was a decidedly British adaptation of Douglas' most well known work and still serves as an entertaining and intelligently humorous viewing. For those unfamiliar (shame on you) with the plot, it's can be explained simply as a fish-out-of-water story. Arthur Dent is amicable chap who simply doesn't want his house demolished in order for a freeway to be built. While lying in front of the bulldozer he's approached by interstellar author and field-guide explorer Ford Prefect. He informs Arthur that the Earth is about to be demolished in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Ford decides to save his friend by hitching a ride on the Vogon destroyer fleet that demolishes the Earth. He reveals to Dent that he's a field researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy updated edition that got stuck on Earth. The pair hitchhikes their way across the galaxy with their latest ride, the two-headed, three-armed Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian. Together, the group scours the galaxy looking for Pan Galactic Gargleblasters, Babelfish, and the answer to the question for the meaning of life.

Dated by today's standards, the special effects are crude. If you've seen an episode of Dr. Who, then you know what to expect. Budget restraints and technology at the time allowed for very little and thankfully most was spent animating the various bits that are supposedly from the Hitchhiker's Guide. The hand-drawn animation was done in a computerized style the eerily echoes the World Wide Web of today.

Don't pass this disc up because of dated technology or effects. The real draw here is the interpretations that have been given to Douglas' work. Always witty and sharp, few could match his written conversation style. For younger readers, it would compare to a sci-fi geek version of Kevin Smith's dialog aimed at an educated audience. Visually dated but still as fun as Monty Python, Black Adder, or any of the best the British humor has to offer.

Video: This has to be the most disappointing transfer I've seen on a DVD in quite some time. Similar to other BBC releases (Lord Peter Wimsey) this transfers looks to have come straight from an EP VHS recording. There is no definition to the image is blurred. Considering the time this was produced-1981-this is likely the reason, but some restoration would have been nice.

Audio: A digital stereo mix sounds good enough, but again suffers from its age. The audio often times is isolated to a single left or right channel. All the audio associated with the actual Hitchhiker's Guide is presented sole on the right channel. It's perfectly audible, but annoying at times.

Extras: This is where this set really shines and puts its best foot forward. A second disc is devoted to tons of extras. An animated galaxy represents the menu and individual planets represent the features. First up is Kevin Davies Making of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Originally broadcast in 1993, it offers an exhaustive look at the people that made the original broadcast possible. Everything from the making of the animation to the advance (at the time) prosthetic that was Zaphod's extra head is shown in detail. Watch closely and you'll learn what other body part Zaphod had more than one of. Don't Panic adds another 20 minutes of footage from the documentary. Like deleted scenes, it's not the best of the material, but interesting nonetheless.

The Douglas Adams Omnibus is a short that features clips and comments from his many admirers. Made shortly after his death, it's a great look at his career. An Introduction by Peter Jones is a short introduction by the voice of the book that was screened originally before the first episode at the National Film Theater. Communicate is another BBC short that documents the rehearsal of the radio play. It's an interesting look at the talent that goes into the production of an audio only version of the story.

Also included on the disc are the original trailer for the series, a deleted scene from episode 2, Behind-the-Scenes in another look at the radio recording as the groups studio time starts to run out, out-takes are bloopers that are occasionally funny, and a photo gallery. Tomorrow's World is an episode of the BBC science program that details the workings of Zaphod's second head. Pebble at the Mill is footage of animator Peter Lord and producer Alan J. W. Bell on that program of the same name. Hidden on the first menu screen is also the full 30-second opening credit sequence.

Overall: A great program plagued by a less than stellar transfer is still amazingly entertaining. Definitely a disc for all Hitchhiker lovers to pick up and spend some time with. Until a better film version comes along, this remains a classic, twangy banjo synthesizer theme and all.

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