Stephen Fry Thinks The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Could Have Been Made Right If They Waited

The last time we saw "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," it was enjoying a 2018 radio-only follow-up bearing the subtitle "The Hexagonal Phase." It featured an introduction by the late great Stephen Hawking. 

Douglas Adams' 1979 novel, written concurrently with a 1978 BBC radio drama, has been sequelized, adapted, and re-adapted to within an inch of its life. In addition to the original radio shows and novels, there has also been a notable 1981 TV miniseries, a stage production, additional radio shows (including a 2014 live version), comic books, annotated volumes, video games, a 2005 American feature film, and a potential TV series that was announced back in 2019. In his posthumous book "The Salmon of Doubt," Adams (who died in 2001) was asked by an interviewer which "Hitchhiker's Guide" he felt was the best. His answer was emphatic: not the 1981 TV version. He preferred a mix of the original novel and radio show. 

While many "Hitchhiker" fans might disagree with Adams — the 1981 TV version accurately captures much of the book's wry, bitter humor — they will certainly borrow the tone of Adams' rejection for their shared hatred of the 2005 feature film. It's silly, yes, but it alters a great deal from the source material in ways that undercut Adams' underlying playful cynicism.

One such fan, actor Stephen Fry, seems to hold to the author's sentiment that a proper on-screen adaptation hasn't happened quite yet. In a press day for the TV series "The Sandman," attended by /Film's own Danielle Ryan, Fry compared the new, well-moneyed Netflix series to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," feeling that if Netflix was going to "get [Sandman] right," then "Hitchhiker" could have enjoyed similar treatment. But only if they had waited.

Hitchhiking in the age of Netflix

Fry, of course, is much more than a mere Douglas Adams fan. The two of them were friends, and Fry has been closely associated with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" for years. Not only has he narrated an audiobook version, but he played a character named Murray Host Benson in the fourth modern "Hitchhiker's" radio drama "The Quandary Phase," and acted as the voice of the Guide in the 2005 feature film. 

Fry, as such, understood the widespread appeal of Adam's tome, and how its audience finds a similarly passionate parallel in Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," a 1989 alt comic about mopey minor deities. At the press day, Fry pointed out that film technology and attitudes about well-moneyed prestige television needed to evolve a lot in order to realize something like "The Sandman." Ever since "nerd" media proved itself to be a regular studio moneymaker (beyond staples like Batman and Superman), loose-fisted financing became a regular feature of fantasy adaptations. It is 2022, and it's finally time to get excited about a "Sandman" project done properly. 

Fry, in commenting on "The Sandman," postulated a parallel between the treatment of Gaiman's project and a potential "Hitchhiker" adaptation to have been made in the same period. Fry's exact words were:

"It reminded me of how my friend Douglas Adams, with his 'Hitchhiker's Guide,' if only he'd lived another 10 years, they really could have done it properly. The technology, but not just the technology, the budget and the will to make things properly and give them due care and attention, is it a high pitch at the moment. And so it's a kind of easy call I found."

Imagine "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in the "overspending Netflix" era. A fan may salivate.

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It's worth noting that the 2005 film, directed by Garth Jennings, was only lukewarmly received. It currently holds a mere 60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (right on the edge of "fresh," by the website's standard). Roger Ebert wrote that it felt more like a revue than a feature film, reciting Adams' dialogue without making it funny. In conversing with other fans — and this is mere anecdotal evidence — the 2005 version is perhaps the least of all adaptation, possessed of some fun visuals (the Vogons look pretty cool) but none of the dry, apocalyptic joy of Adam's original. The tone is simply "off." 

Adams did not live to see the feature film, so one cannot say what his view of it might have been. He is on record — again in "The Salmon of Doubt" — saying that his fifth "Hitchhiker's" novel, "Mostly Harmless," ended a bit too bleakly for his tastes and that a sixth novel might have been in order. Adams never wrote a sixth "Hitchhiker's" novel, although author Eoin Colfer (of the "Artemis Fowl" books) did write the sequel "And Another Thing..." in 2009. It, too, was adapted for radio, and the audiobook was read by Simon Jones, who played lead character Arthur Dent in the 1981 TV version. So it does bear a mild, distant whiff of authorial approval. 

The last word on the upcoming Hulu series came in March of 2021. Fans await further updates the way Marvin the Paranoid Android waits several eternities parking cars.