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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/2/02
updated: 5/4/02

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
1981 (2002) - BBC (Warner)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B-/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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 Captioned

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 Captioned

Arthur 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 told.

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 instead.

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!

Bill Hunt

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 them:

Disc One

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.

Disc Two

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!

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