Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(2002) - BBC (Warner)
by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
Disc One: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Approx. 190 mins (6 episodes at approx 30 mins each), NR, full
frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at
29:37 in Episode 4), dual-disc keep case packaging, production notes
subtitle track, 1 Easter egg (see instructions below),
animated program-themed menus with sound effects and music,
episode/scene access (6 episodes/4 chapters per episode), languages:
English (DD 2.0 stereo and 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, Closed
Disc Two: Special Features
Single-sided, dual-layered, dual-disc keep case packaging, The
Making of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
documentary (58 mins), Don't Panic!
additional documentary footage (26 mins), Douglas
Adams Omnibus profile (16x9 - 49 mins), Behind
the Scenes footage of the final minutes of studio
production (7 mins), Communicate!
"behind the scenes" rehearsal footage (10 mins), Pebble
Mill at One interview footage of animator Rod Lord (6
mins), deleted scene (2 mins), outtakes (9 mins), Tomorrow's
World sequence on Zaphod's second head (2 mins), original
introduction by narrator Peter Jones (8 mins), BBC2 trailer, photo
gallery, 2 Easter eggs (see instructions below),
animated program-themed menus with sound effects and music, program
access, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed
Dent: "Don't Panic... that's the first helpful or intelligible
thing anyone's said to me all day."
I first discovered The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy in way back in early 1980-something,
when one of my best friends suggested I read this really funny book
he'd discovered. It was by Douglas Adams and, as you can probably
guess, it was called The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy. In it, a beleaguered Brit named
Arthur Dent suddenly finds out that his best friend Ford is really
from another planet. And while struggling with that tidy and
confounding bit of information, his house is promptly knocked down
to make way for a highway bypass. To make matters worse, the entire
Earth is soon thereafter destroyed to make way for a hyperspace
bypass. And so begins the worst day of poor Arthur's life, and one
of the funniest and strangest adventures through the galaxy ever
Arthur's story would soon become an epic literary trilogy...
encompassing some five novels and a short story (yes, I know you
can't have a trilogy of five books, but somehow Douglas Adams
managed to get away with it). They are, in order, The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The
Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life,
the Universe and Everything, So
Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Mostly
Harmless and the short story Young
Zaphod Plays it Safe. Each novel became a best seller.
But it all started when the BBC broadcast Douglas Adams' original
twelve-part Hitchhiker's Guide
radio series, and then produced a six-episode TV series (both of
which were smash hits in the UK). And now in 2002 (at long last),
that TV series has finally found its way to DVD from the BBC and
Warner Home Video.
Written by Adams himself, the TV series starred some of the same
cast that worked on the radio show, including Simon Jones and Mark
Wing Davey. It also featured animation to bring "The Book"
to life, and brilliantly funny narration by Peter Jones (also of the
radio show). The plot of these six episodes very closely follows the
first two books - The Hitchhiker's Guide
to the Galaxy and The
Restaurant at the End of the Universe (note that the
radio show also follows the story of these first two books, but then
deviates from the plot of the later books through some strange quirk
of Fate involving reverse-parallel universes). All the various
versions of the Guide feature
bug-eyed aliens, paranoid androids, funky spaceships and really
great mixed drinks, and can safely be thought of as Monty
Python meets 2001...
if your definition of safe is having your brains bashed out by a
slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.
The video quality of these DVDs is their one real weakness, and
it's no fault of anyone involved in the production of the discs. The
fact is, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy is a 21 year old TV production shot on film and
analog video tape. State of the art in production quality in 1981
just wasn't what it is today. Accordingly, you should expect the
filmed segments (any outdoor, location scenes) to look grainy and
soft, the video segments (interiors) to be somewhat muddy looking
and lacking in contrast, and everything to suffer from the sorts of
video problems you'd expect from a show that was originated and
stored for years on analog videotape. Don't get me wrong - the show
has probably never looked this good before. And the picture quality
is more than serviceable. But if you're expecting anything like
reference quality, you'll be disappointed.
On the audio side of things, you'll get the original 2-channel mono
soundtrack, along with a remixed Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Now, one
of the hallmarks of the original Hitchhiker's
radio show was its dramatic use of sound mixing. So you'd get
characters and sound effects placed WAY in the left channel, then
panned way over to the right, and so on. The newly remixed DVD sound
uses some of these same techniques. Most of the dialogue comes from
the center channel, but there's tons of effects panning. And right
from the start, you'll notice the voice of narrator Peter Jones
coming from the far left channel. I've already had a few people ask
me if this is a defect in the disc. The answer is no, it's fully
intended. It'll take a while to get used to for most people. And if
you don't like it, you can always listen to the 2.0 mono track
I must say, when I popped Disc One into my player and realized that
the entire series - all six episodes - were contained therein, I
wondered what I might find on Disc Two. Well, the answer is a really
amazing batch of extras. I would never have expected this much
material in the way of supplements, and I'm frankly surprised that
most of this stuff was saved in the first place. Our hats off to you
archivists at the BBC. Disc Two of this set contains just about
everything you'd ever want to see from this series. This is a
goldmine. I'm not going to go through everything - you can see for
yourself from the spec list above that this thing is loaded. But
highlights include a great, hour-long "making of"
documentary on the series done in 1993, a deleted scene from the
second episode, a funny video introduction for the series done by
narrator Peter Jones, an outtake reel (which is funny for the sole
fact that when British actors break character, you get lots of "Oh,
so sorry... sorry, sorry."), a trailer, a photo gallery and
lots more. You'll also find three Easter eggs (one on Disc One and
two on Disc Two) - see the access instructions below.
The best of the extras, however, is a fifty-minute profile of the
late Douglas Adams, produced last year. It's filled with wonderful
interview clips and other great bits of information. It's also the
only thing on either of these discs to be presented in anamorphic
widescreen (as it was recently produced). After watching this, I so
wish Hollywood would get around to finally bringing Hitchhiker's
Guide to the big screen, the way Adams always wanted.
Fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide
should, by now, be trembling like giddy little girls at an N'Sync
concert. This 2-disc DVD release is a real joy. You hard-core
hitchhikers (those of you savvy travellers who understand the
significance of the number 42) should place this third on your list
of necessary travel accessories, right behind a copy of the actual
Guide and a snapping good
towel. And if you're new to The
Hitchhiker's Guide (and I am constantly shocked to learn
that there are people who aren't familiar with it), this is a darned
good way to introduce yourself. But my suggestion is this - read the
books! They are, in my opinion, the most detailed and entertaining
way to enjoy Douglas Adams' gift to the universe. And always
remember kids - Don't Panic!
5/4/02 Update - Easter Egg Instructions
There are three Easter eggs hidden on The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Here's how to access
On the main menu page, highlight "setup" and move right. A
new screen will appear and ask you to enter a code using your remote
to select a 4-digit code. Enter "1146" (the time of
Earth's demolition from the first episode) and you'll get to see a
longer, silent version of Earth's destruction, followed by the
recipe for the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.
On the Outer Planets menu page, turn the subtitles on, then select "Inner
Planets Menu Page" and move left. The words "Don't Panic"
should appear. Hit enter to see video from the computer screens on
the Heart of Gold.
On the Inner Planets menu page, turn the subtitles off (if they were
already off, turn them on and off again). Select "Communicate!"
and move left. A hidden Earth should appear. Hit enter to see the
full version of the opening title sequence.
Thanks to Bits reader Don G.
for the access instructions!