Like many others, I have been a fan of Douglas Adams’ hilarious “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books since they first came out. Incessantly quoting lines from them took up a great deal of my time in high school, way more than, say, calculus. Ultimately this was more useful since I’ve never successfully calculated anything in my life but I did become a humor writer.
This Friday the Hitchhiker’s Guide debuts nationwide as a big screen movie starring big-name stars with special effects and a soundtrack and a budget and everything, just like we’d always thought it should, and I find myself oddly unsettled.
It’s not because the movie won’t perfectly match the books. Thus far the Guide — the ongoing saga of the total explosive destruction of the Earth and the fun-filled adventures afterward — has manifested as a radio series, a record album, a novel, a television series, a computer game, a stage show, a comic book, several Web sites, and a beach towel, all of them conflicting with each other. A motion picture was just the next in line. When it becomes possible to absorb entertainment directly using messenger RNA, there will be a Hitchhiker’s Guide pill that flatly contradicts all the previous versions and quite probably itself.
It’s not because I’m afraid the effects will be overblown or that the MPAA will change Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters into O’Doul’s to prevent the glorification of alcohol to children. I won’t be sitting in the audience in a black turtleneck and a menacing jacket pontificating loudly on how the heretical filmmakers have run roughshod over the underlying theme of Adams’ entire oeuvre. I don’t even know what oeuvre means, or how to run over one.
No, I think it’s closer to why I wince around fanboys who argue over what George Lucas really meant, as if it matters, and why I cringe when Monty Python fanatics start chanting “Spam spam spam spam” as some sort of uncontrollable Pavlovian response to all external stimuli. Some part of my mind believes that they just don’t get it. Not like I do.
There’s also the vague unease I feel whenever any book/show/movie/series I like also inspires others to meet in large, strangely costumed groups — not that there’s anything wrong with that. But couldn’t they be a bit less geeky? Maybe with the proper meds?
Or maybe it’s just like seeing your favorite, best-kept-secret restaurant suddenly become a popular hot spot. You’re thrilled for the owners’ deserved success, but, you know, it was kinda nice when just you and a few friends knew about it. This was my obsession, dammit! Back off!
Not that the best-selling, five-part trilogy was ever a well-kept secret, but remember, this was before the Internet when all the people you knew were within shouting distance. Douglas Adams, with his odd blend of science fiction, satire, and absurdist British humor was a god in our pantheon of strange, right up there with Lord Belushi and Cleese the Allfather. We self-defined ourselves as weird and used the shared interest in these things to bind us together. While the other kids were wasting their time with sports and dating, we alone knew the meaning of life and could doodle it on our notebooks. Ha! Take that, Mr. Hero Quarterback! We’re hoopy froods, and we know where our towels are!
OK, granted, that sounded really amazingly geeky, but that’s entirely beside the point. Whole different kind of geeky, ours was, a good kind. Really.
Thing is, it was a private, shared joke among our little group that will now be plastered across thousands of movie theater screens. And merchandised! Soon there will be wind-up Marvins, Gummi Babel Fish, little plastic Arthurs with little plastic Guides and action towels, the Heart of Gold in Lego form, badly made spin-off cartoons about Vogons who “learn how to be nice” and sound like Gilbert Gotfried, collector’s item limited edition fine porcelain Deep Thought ashtrays, official movie merchandise monogrammed towels made from 800-gram Egyptian cotton, and a new drink from Lipton that tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike really bad tea, with extra carbs or something.
I’ll see it, and I’ll enjoy it, but I’ll still feel a sense of loss over a treasured memory made public and common.
Although, you know, those promo towels look seriously cool…