The Big Picture
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been adapted into various forms of media, including radio, novels, stage shows, and a motion picture.
- Previous attempts at adapting the franchise for the big screen faced challenges due to differences in vision between the author and directors.
- The death of author Douglas Adams initially put the movie on hold, but it eventually resumed production with director Garth Jennings, finally bringing the beloved story to the silver screen.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has never been contained to just one medium of artistic expression. First appearing as a radio show in 1978, the humorous sci-fi worlds that creator Douglas Adams concocted would eventually transition over into novels in 1979. From there, Guide to the Galaxy would spawn endless sequels and further adaptations, such as stage show recreations and even a 1981 BBC TV show. The biggest of these adaptations, though, was a 2005 motion picture from director Garth Jennings entitled (appropriately enough) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Debuting in theaters courtesy of Disney’s Touchstone Pictures division, the feature wasn’t a massive box office hit, but its very existence solidified the enduring appeal of its source material.
Given how ubiquitous The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been over the years, not to mention how widely influential it’s proven to so many different sci-fi properties, it’s somewhat shocking to consider that it took nearly 30 years for a big-screen adaptation of this franchise to emerge. Of course, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. There were countless attempts to get The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy off the ground over the years, as various filmmakers tried their hand at cracking the code on how to get this source material to the silver screen. Even if these attempts never got realized, their existence reaffirms how popular and beloved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is for audiences of multiple generations.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- Release Date
- April 29, 2005
- 109 minutes
The 1980s Attempts at Adapting ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’
While Adams flirted with the idea of letting other creators craft a Hitchhiker’s movie in the late 1970s, serious movement on such a project really got rolling in the early 1980s. Columbia Pictures and producer Ivan Reitman secured the rights to the book in 1982. Reitman was quickly becoming a premier comedic talent in movies in this era, so the thought of combining him with a famously witty piece of sci-fi literature must’ve seemed like a perfect combo. In an April 2002 interview, associate producer Michael C. Gross revealed that the impetus to get the rights to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was that a potential sequel to Heavy Metal fell through. Looking for something new and potentially animated to work on, the film rights to Galaxy came up.
Gross recalled that Adams had some real hesitations about working with Reitman, since the author felt that the director’s comedic works like Animal House weren’t quite in the same comedic tonal sphere as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Gross later explained that several key problems capsized the movie, including Adams simply being worn out on working on so many Galaxy adaptations, as well as Reitman’s strict adherence to conventional narratives conflicting with the book’s rambling charms. Adams and Reitman had very different ideas about how stories should play out and that led to plenty of conflicts in getting this incarnation of a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie off the ground.
In a 1998 interview with The A.V. Club, Adams would disparagingly reference the development of this potential feature as a nightmare, particularly since, per Adams, Reitman was only interested in exploiting the brand name of Galaxy rather than the intricacies of the story itself. He also expressed distress over how his name was on the 1980s screenplay adaptation despite him having no involvement in the script and despising the final product. Adams went on to note that, once Reitman moved on from the feature, any potential film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was always shot down by studio executives because of a perception that mixing comedy and science-fiction together simply wouldn’t work. Despite the original Galaxy novels being bestsellers for decades at that point, studio executives were convinced this tonal mash-up would alienate moviegoers rather than enthrall them.
In this interview at the end of the 20th century, Adams noted that the huge success of Men in Black in 1997 had finally convinced studio executives to give his text a chance as a movie, with Disney securing the film rights to the property. Adams also expressed excitement over the choice of Jay Roach to direct the motion picture, especially since this filmmaker wanted the author to collaborate closely on the film adaptation. Though the decades had changed, a movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was once again connected to a major mainstream comedy movie director. While Stripes helmer Reitman was in charge of the original incarnation of this film, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery director Roach was now handling this highly anticipated project. Studios were finally coming around to the appeal of humorous sci-fi and a big director was signed on. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was picking up serious steam!
Fans have been waiting for years!
‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ Finally Took Off With Garth Jennings & Martin Freeman
In May 2001, Douglas Adams passed away as a result of a sudden heart attack. This tremendous loss left a gaping hole in the world of genre literature and devastated his closest friends and family. In the weeks and months that followed his demise, it initially seemed, per the Sun Journal, that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie would not be going forward. However, eventually, the producers in charge of this project decided that continuing the movie would be a fantastic way to continue the legacy of Adams. He may have been gone, but his characters and worlds could live on in exciting new forms.
As this feature got back up and running again, another major roadblock emerged: Roach was out as director. Now in desperate need of another filmmaker, Spike Jonze, fresh off his acclaimed 2002 motion picture Adaptation, was approached to take on this zany property. The thought of Jonze, who makes such idiosyncratic works that revel in the unabashedly peculiar, tackling this text as a movie sounded like a dream come true. Alas, it was not meant to be, as Jonze decided not to pursue the movie. However, Jonze didn’t just turn down the job, he also offered up a suggestion for who should tackle The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: fellow famous music video helmer Garth Jennings.
With the hiring of Jennings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy finally got a British filmmaker to helm the feature, a strong departure from the likes of Reitman and Roach. While the final product would be financed by an American studio and largely star American actors (though the lead role of Arthur would be inhabited by Martin Freeman), the person steering the ship creatively would be from the same country as the source material. How serendipitous, then, that the version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy led by Freeman would also be the film adaptation of this text that finally got off the ground. It took decades to get it just right, but Hollywood finally got the proper team in place to bring The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to the silver screen.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.