THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
opened this weekend in the USA. I went to see it this
Yes, it's worth seeing.
It's terribly hard adapting a literary vehicle to the motion picture medium, particularly one as quirky as HHGTTG, which depends on a lot of verbal humor.
I think that the film is a good one. I had a bone to
pick with some of the casting, but the good actors are
very, very good...particularly Slartibartfast, Arthur, and
Marvin (he has the voice of Alan Rickman, and steals
all his scenes.)
In honor of this film's release, I am reprinting a true
story about its author, Douglas Adams.
Douglas Adams was one of the first web-heads.
Anyone could write to him at his web board,
www.dna.com, and sometimes he'd answer on site if
the question was right. I went online in 1997 and immediately started posting on the DNA board.
Douglas Adams wrote only one nonfiction book: LAST
CHANCE TO SEE, a stunning and moving depiction of
the remnant populations of endangered animal species and the humans who were trying to save them. I thought it was the best nature book I'd ever read and wrote Mr. Adams to say so.
An answer was posted on the board. "It's my favorite of all the books I've written."So I'd made a good impression, something that
impressed me very much.
Now, the film of HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE was being
made at Hollywood Pictures, one of Disney's
divisions. I was working at Disney Features in
development on TREASURE PLANET. Why, I
reasoned, could we not invite Douglas Adams over to
the studio for a visit? This would not be difficult to
arrange since Adams was in the process of moving his
family to Santa Barbara, California so that he could be
closer to the studio while writing the screenplay.
TREASURE PLANET's Producer Roy Conli found the
idea agreeable, and so after months of email and phone conversations, Douglas Adams agreed to visit Disney's as a guest of our production. I was appointed tour guide.
The big day, September 29, 1998, arrived.I waited nervously by my office phone. Suppose my
directions from Beverly Hills to the Disney studio were
We waited a long time. No sign of Mr. Adams. I was beginning to feel like a complete fool.
Then the phone rang.
"I seem to be lost," Mr. Adams said. "I can't find the sign that says Glendale/Pasadena." This was because he had gone the wrong way on the freeway andwas nearly into Ventura County. It seems he was so
fond of SantaBarbara, he told me later, that he just automatically turned the car northward.Eventually Mr. Adams arrived at the studio and directors John Musker and RonClements, Ian Gooding (one of the art directors of TREASURE PLANET) and I accompanied him to The Rotunda, the executive dining room where they serve Executive Meals. The artists only come up here when accompanied by a producer.
Adams kept hopping up and running around the room
when his cell phone rang; he was always getting calls
and reception was poor inside the restaurant.
He was a wonderful racounteur.
He had dozens of hilarious anecdotes about British and American cartoonists, and one story about James Cameron (withwhom Adams was having dinner later that evening.) It seems that Cameron and Adams shared a whitewater raft a few weeks earlier. Adam's STARSHIP TITANIC game had just been published, so Cameron turned to Adams and inquired, deadpan,
whether 'two TITANICauthors should attempt to steer a boat?'
There was one about an $8 million dollar party thrown by billionaire Paul Allen, who, according to Adams, was 'the only person at the party without a date'.
There was a moment of silence.
I piped up. "If he needs an 'extra woman' for the next one I am emphatically available, and I'd even bring a caricature pad and my own pencils if they need entertainment."
Adams burst out laughing.
The others looked embarrassed. I smiled.
Douglas Adams was assuredly the best talker I ever met. He could converse with someone he had just met
and, within thirty seconds, he would know something
that they were interested in, or some person whom they
also knew. He would have them eating out of his hand,
mesmerized by his eloquence. It was something to
watch him in action.I was impressed with Adams' knowledge of different cartoon styles and art direction styles, not to mention computer programs. He had definite ideas about how to
art direct the various planets in the HITCHHIKER
I took Mr. Adams to the studio employee's store so that
he could buy a Disney toy for his daughter. On the way
across to the Hat Building (where the animation was
done on TP) Adams remarked casusally, "How much
does it cost to make one of these films?"
"HERCULES came in at about 100 million," I said.
Adams stopped in his tracks, wide-eyed.
"Good God," he said. "You can't be serious."
"Well, sir, there is someone I know who thinks that two
million is a good sum. Reality is probably somewhere in between." We continued to the art and animation department and continued the tour. I walked Adams all through the animation and story floors. Most of the people did not recognize him. Those who did looked completely gobsmacked. One very tall animator stood like a cartoon character who's just been hit on the head with a brick, with a fixed grin on his face and unblinking eyes.
He didn't even respond to his name.
I think I was able to justify the reason for the films' cost by explaining the sheer amount of work that goes into one of these films.
Not everyone at Disney had read HITCHHIKER.
Those who had recognized Mr. Adams at once. He was
easy to spot; he was nearly seven feet high. I am five
foot four. We made a very interesting pair as we
walked around the building.
I introduced Douglas Adams to Floyd Norman, veteran
storyman and Macintosh fan.Floyd and Adams also rhapsodized about the MacIntosh. Adams was so eloquent it almost made this PC gal wish she had
one. It was such a good speech I wish I could have bottled it. Unfortunately I did not have a tape recorder. But Apple had a great salesman in Douglas Adams.
Mr. Adams said that he loved Santa Barbara. He hated L.A. when he lived here (can't say I blame him for that.)Most of the animators and story people were over the
moon to be meeting a famous author.
There were plans to have Douglas Adams do a
LunchBox lecture at the studio. Adams seemed very excited about the prospect at the end of
the tour; he mentioned LAST CHANCE TO SEE. "What if I did a presentation on that?" he asked me.
"I think that would be ideal for Disney, and the studio
would really appreciate it," I said.
Sadly, this never came to pass. It was our Last Chance
to See the greatest science fiction humorist of the last
thirty years. I believe that I met a genius that day.