How Hollywood hitched a ride on 'Galaxy'
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Adams's quest to write something memorable was both his strength and weakness. The author crafted his novels with the meticulous precision of someone setting up a line of dominos along the Great Wall of China - each and every word was carefully selected to give sentences the perfect weight and equilibrium. Not surprisingly, he found the process so painful and daunting that he tended to procrastinate rather than face the blank page. As Adams himself once put it, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." (Sonny Mehta, Adams's editor at Pan, came up with a novel solution: He once locked the author in a hotel room until he finished writing a book.)Skip to next paragraph
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Unfortunately, Adams's sluggish work habits stalled production of the movie. During the '90s, he diverted his attention to devising innovative computer games, and in 1994 he even played guitar on stage with Pink Floyd. Though several big-name producers had expressed interest in Adams's drafts over the decades, the writer struggled to adapt his sci-fi comedy into a workable screenplay. Yet his enthusiasm for the project never waned, and he even went as far as relocating his family to California following a deal with Disney in the late 1990s.
After Adams's untimely passing, however, it seemed the film would never be made. Yet the producers persevered. They hired Karey Kirkpatrick, writer of "Chicken Run," to rework the problematic script. Mr. Kirkpatrick went back to the original radio plays and read the books. He was also given access to Adams's computer hard drive so that he could see earlier drafts of the screenplay.
"I've always said that the book is a very long setup: You meet the characters and then you go right to the end," says Kirkpatrick. "The book is sort of missing its middle, or the 'second act' if you're using film-structure jargon."
Kirkpatrick amplified a romantic plot in which an attractive galactic hitchhiker falls for Dent (even if he is dressed like Hugh Hefner). The writer also worked on a new character, a cult leader named Humma Kavula (played by John Malkovich in the film), that Adams had invented.
For Adams, the most important element of the script was his philosophical ideas, says Nick Webb, author of "Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams." "He was one of the first people who really thought about what information technology could do for us," says Mr. Webb, noting that Adams came up with the idea of the guide long before the Internet and PDAs arrived.
Strip away Adams's comic riffs about planets with pink oceans and the universal utility of the common bath towel, and one also discovers a subtext in the book about the vastness of infinity and mankind's place in it. As Mr. Gaiman puts it, "the delight of the universe Douglas was creating ... was taking all the small human concerns and then painting them on an intergalactic scale ... and realizing that they're still small human concerns."
For his part, Kirkpatrick admits that the script had to lose some of the book's sharp observations, since they didn't translate well to film. But, he says, the movie was careful not to compromise the book's tone or idiosyncrasies.
The film was directed by a British team professionally known as Hammer & Tongs (real names: Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith), who set about the daunting challenge of making a science-fiction comedy for audiences who aren't used to science-fiction comedies, at least not the type without Will Smith. "Hitchhiker" boasts good actors but no big-name stars - it's anyone's guess how it will fare.
"I've seen 'Hitchhiker's' and I would say it's better than most stuff you're going to see out there," concludes Kirkpatrick. "I'm very hopeful that people will find it. It's definitely not going to be criticized for being like other things out there."