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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Long hitchhike to film cult novel

by Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The journey to bring later author Douglas Adams' creation The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the cinema screen has been convoluted and full of absurd black holes.

It should really be entitled the film at the end of the universe.

The original 1977 radio scripts were fashioned into a book and then a TV series in the early part of the 1980s.

From the moment Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect entered our lives, a movie version, it would seem, has been on the cards.

A British production company, Hammer and Tongs, has recently taken on the task of turning the book into a film.

Producer Nick Goldsmith said there was "more momentum" now than ever before.

Douglas Adams
Movies are the one thing I've not managed to do in any shape or form.
Douglas Adams

But the last two decades of inactivity brings an element of pessimism to proceedings as Hitchhiker's has been stuck in development hell, described by Adams as "20 years of constipation".

He once described the effort of getting the film off the ground as "trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it".

In 1983 Adams sold the concept to Columbia and moved to LA to work on the script with director Ivan Reitman, who would go on to film the globally-successful Ghostbusters.

Adams was unable to agree a screenplay with director Ivan Reitman, who, the author claimed, wanted "Star Wars with laughs".

One of the earliest problems in convincing Hollywood to make a film version was that few believed science fiction comedy would work.


Science fiction was popular in the 1980s, but the big hits like the Star Wars series were played as straight melodrama.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The books mixed humour and sci-fi

Attempts at sci-fi comedy, Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, and Mel Smith's Morons from Outer Space, which owed a lot to Adams' work, failed with audiences.

Adams eventually bought back the rights and tried to film the novel himself, with the former Monkee Mike Nesmith as producer.

But no filming ever took place.

Hollywood eventually changed its mind about science fiction and comedy when Men in Black became a huge hit.

"There were elements in it I found quite familiar, shall I say?" said Adams.

In 1996, Adams told a technology conference in New Orleans that the main problem in adapting the series for film was not special effects and hinted at the trials he faced.


"It's the nature of the story, which is picaresque, which translates to one damn thing after another, and another, and another.

The TV series showed the books could be filmed
"It's very hard to translate that to a 100-minute feature film," he said. "Every script has a beginning and a middle and an end."

Getting the script right was a long-standing obstacle in getting the film off the ground.

In 1998 Disney bought the rights to the book and a year later Adams moved to California to work on a script with Austin Powers' Jay Roach lined up to direct.

But once again there were problems - this time over costs.

Ed Victor, Adams's London-based literary agent, said that Disney had balked because the film was "budgeted more towards $100m (59.5m) than $50m (29.7m)".

Adams once joked about the budget row with a journalist saying: "I think I can tell you with some confidence that it will be less expensive than Titanic and more expensive than this lunch."

Mr Victor said that the delay had been "one of the most substantial frustrations" of Adams's professional life.

'Indefinite hold'

In the months following Adams' death there was widespread hope that the film was close to going into production.

But when Roach said the movie was on "indefinite hold" the buzz around the project quickly disappeared.

British company Hammers and Tongs say it is still too early to say when a film version will go into production although it is hopeful that the film will one day get made.

Adams once said: "Movies are the one thing I've not managed to do in any shape or form. I'd always assumed Hitchhiker would be my way in. But year after year went by without my getting the movie made.

"I feel as though my life has been on hold for 20 years."

Hitchhiker's film 'still in pipeline'
18 Jun 03 |  Entertainment
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12 May 01 |  Entertainment
And now, Hitchhiker the movie
17 Sep 02 |  Entertainment


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