Review: Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy Blu-Ray Launch, BFI, London
Its over 40 years since Douglas Adams classic radio series, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The comedy series, which followed the adventures of human race survivor, Arthur Dent and his alien friend, Ford Prefect after the Earth is destroyed to make way for an intergalactic bypass, has subsequently been adapted in and out of other genres such as book, stage, television, record and film.
Produced and directed by Alan JW Bell, Douglas Adams’ 6-episode television adaptation of his Hitchhikers scripts followed on quickly from the original radio series. Filmed in 1980 and subsequently broadcast in early 1981 on BBC2, before getting a BBC1 repeat early that summer.
As the cult of Hitchhikers has grown over the years, so the TV series has solidified its position in the series canon. Video and subsequent DVD releases having kept its memory alive. Now, the Hitchhikers TV series has evolved again into a 3-disc Blu-Ray set, boasting over 5 hours of additional features.
Setting out from Newport, South Wales to London on the morning of Saturday September 22 with my purchased ticket for the event (which also entitled me to a copy of the new Blu-Ray) I made the official launch at the BFI event in London’s National Film Theatre with minutes to spare but over three hours of Hitchhikers fun ahead of me.
Hosted by the BFI’s Justin Johnson and Dick Fiddy, the event featured a screening of the first three episodes of the series remixed in Hi-Res 5.1 stereo sound by Mark Ayres. Played on a cinema screen the episodes looked and sounded brilliant pulling the viewers further into the Hitchhikers experience than ever before.
Enhanced Blu-Ray Features For Hitchhikers Blu-Ray
One of the Blu-Ray’s new features is the complete animation sequences that were used for the series. Taking inspiration from Douglas Adams writing, animation director Rod Lord and his team literally had a blank canvas when putting together the back-lit and top-lit animations that accompanied Peter Jones linking narration.
Five minutes of the remastered animations were previewed at the event and it was a thrill to see the bright, futuristic and fun animations including the history of the Pangalactic Gargle Blaster to Magrathean missile launches revitalised for a digital age.
The event featured other rare treats including a Radio Times promo voiced by Peter Jones and a behind the scenes look at the original Hitchhikers stage show featuring interviews with creator, Douglas Adams and director Ken Campbell.
Messages from Hitchhikers actors at Blu-Ray Launch
Back in 1981, part of Douglas Adams futuristic vision for Hitchhikers was how people received and accessed information. This was reflected in the tv series and almost prophetically realised, as three of the TV Series central cast sent goodwill messages to the event via differing methods.
Prior to the event, actress Sandra Dickinson recorded some special video inserts which recalled Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect’s first on-screen encounter with her character, Trillian.
“I’m sorry I can’t be with you, but I have an urgent appointment in the Crab Nebula,” joked Sandra (who was actually on holiday in Helsinki), “It’s so thrilling that it’s all happening down there! Have a lovely time and get me a copy!”
Actor, David Dixon (Ford Prefect) sent a text message from stormy Cornwall declaring he had “ran out of towels In the services somewhere on the A303” and was “ just slowing down into a panic”.
Zaphod Beeblebrox actor Mark Wing-Davey, who now resides in America sent a video message from his phone, praising the new Blu-Ray release and hinting that fans will see a few cracks in the production too.
Mark said “The most exciting thing for me is the peril sensitive sunglasses, that is a video experience with no jiggery pokery and is the most exciting technical moment throughout the whole canon!”
Hitchhikers Blu-Ray Launch Q&A Sessions
As well as the visual treats, the Blu-Ray launch also played host to two Q&A sessions lasting approximately 25 minutes each.
Relaxed and informative, Dick Fiddy and Justin Johnson put questions to actor Simon Jones (Arthur Dent), producer/director Alan JW Bell, actors Michael Cule (Vogon Guard) and David Learner (Marvin the Paranoid Android), Animation Director Rod Lord, Hair and Make Up Manager Joan Stribling, Animation Dept and Hitchhikers expert Kevin Jon Davies and biographer of Douglas Adams, Jem Roberts. The Q&A’s revealed anecdotes, little known facts and observations on the Hitchhkers TV series.
Hair and Make Up Manager, Joan Stribling discussed her input to the series.
“With a creative background it’s great to use your imagination” Joan revealed, “It’s always a collaborative effect with the director and producer but also a huge privilege to work with Douglas Adams.”
Kevin Jon Davies, who has produced many of the extras featured on the Blu-Ray feels that despite a film version of Hitchhikers the tv series popularity has endured.
Kevin told the panel, “What I love is that afterwards there was a bit of a backlash against the movie and people were saying “Yeah, but I love the TV version” It does give me a smile that there’s a lot of love for the TV series on the net.”
Animation Director, Rod Lord, on seeing the remastered graphics commented,” I’m absolutely staggered that anyone is still interested in the graphics. It was kind of throwaway at the time, to try and fill a slot as economically as possible. People are here (at the Blu Ray Launch) not just for the graphics - Its Douglas Adams vision, as well as Alan (JW Bell), the actors and everybody!”
Douglas Adams biographer, Jem Roberts also delivered his take on the TV series popularity,
“You’d be surprised about the amount of people who are only aware of the TV Show,” Jem told the panel, “The fact is, we all know that radio has the best pictures but until they’re put on a TV screen, most people never imagine the pictures!”
Simon Jones, who has played the role of Arthur Dent on radio, TV and stage, took time out of his work schedule to take part in the event and gave his take on the TV series
“I have to say with the passage of time some sort of mythology seems to have grown that “it’s a bit tacky” or “it’s the period charm of it.” said Simon, “ I was very impressed by it today. So, all kudos to the design team and to Alan!”
While many were rightly singing the TV series praises, there were also some wonderful insights on offer from those who had appeared in it.
Michael Cule who played the Vogon Guard that is assigned to throwing Ford and Arthur out of an airlock in episode 2 discussed the realism of his Vogon costume.
“There was about 6 inches of fun rubber all around me,” recalled Michael, “I had plenty of movement and enormous fun taking hold of my fellow actors by the throat!”
David Learner, who played Marvin, recalled how he was offered the role of the Paranoid Android,
“My agent rang up and said, “Do you want to play Marvin?” I said “Wooahh!” and she said “Stephen Moore (Marvin in the radio series) is going to do the voice” I thought for a mili second, “No!” and then I thought of today!”
Producer/Director Alan JW Bell offered his own tributes to the cast and crew of Hitchhikers as well as the enthusiasm of Kevin Jon Davies, who has helped keep the flame burning for the series over the decades.
Alan also paid tribute to Hitchhikers creator, the late Douglas Adams who not only adapted his scripts for the TV series but also played an active role in making it from doing walk-ons to helping out behind-the scenes,
“The thing that inspired everybody was the enormous sense of humour,” Alan told the panel and later stated “He (Douglas Adams) would do anything for the success of the series, Nothing was too much trouble and of course its paid off!”
Hitchhikers Blu-Ray Launch - A Unique and Magical Event!
A unique and magical event, the Hitchhikers Blu-ray Launch really gave a sense of a family coming together, be it if they were production team, actors or fans attending the event, or actors sending a message of goodwill from elsewhere.
There were certainly many happy Hitchhikers fans who left the event (clutching copies of their new Blu-ray discs).and several lucky ones even got to meet actors Simon Jones, David Learner and Michael Cule who made time to sign copies at the end.
No doubt, Douglas Adams would have been overjoyed to have seen the outpouring of affection people still have for the series! Long may Hitchhikers continue in all its genres into the future!