Don't Panic. After decades of attempts and false starts, a film has finally been made of a British book that is a comedy landmark for a generation of readers around the world.
"It's an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem"
Case in point: Arthur Dent awakes to find a squadron of bulldozers converging on his West Country house which is marked for demolition to make way for a bypass; 'you've got to build bypasses,' explains the bureaucrat from the local planning council. As if that were not bad enough, a squadron of spacecraft materializes and the bureaucrat from the galactic planning council announces to the entire planet that Earth is marked for demolition to make way for a hyper-spatial express route. Fortunately for Arthur, however, his good friend Ford Prefect is not really an out-of-work actor from Guildford, but an interstellar traveler from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, who whisks him off the planet just in the nick of time, more or less.
Ford is a writer for the universal best-seller The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, an electronic compendium of valuable information for thrifty space travelers. Arthur has no idea of the exquisite adventure ahead of him: from suffering through Vogon poetry to joining the two-headed, three-armed President of the Galaxy Zaphod Breeblebox in a search for the ultimate question ... the answer to which, of course, is 42.
"You're president of the Galaxy, aren't you?"
"That's right, Armin."
"Whatever. Presidential fame is temporary. I find the question is permanent. It sticks. Plus everyone thinks you're deep. Win-win."
Much of this may make sense, at first, only to fans of the late Douglas Adams, who died in 2001. His original books actually started as radio plays 30 years ago, became a television series and there were always plans to make a feature film.
"Why has it taken so long? The short answer is script. It just took a very long time to get a script that worked," says producer Robbie Stamp, who worked with the author for decades to develop a film script. "One of the things I think is always worth stressing is that "Hitchhiker's" for Douglas was an ever-changing and evolving thing. It's not like a Harry Potter where there is one holy text. It was radio, it was TV, it was books and Douglas always wanted make it work in its new medium. That is why he invented new things, and, of course, we've had to make changes; but my job was very much, having come from discussions with the [Adams] family about the movie, to say to people 'it's all right. We can move on. It's not about changing a dot or a comma."
That's of particular comfort to actor Martin Freeman, known for the hit TV show The Office, who stars as Arthur Dent.
"People do feel a sense of ownership of the story and particularly this person, because he's the last human," he says. "I couldn't feel too much worry about what hardcore fans would think because they would either like me or not. There's very little I can do about that, you know. I just had to approach it the way I would approach anything else, which is 'how do I play this person in the way that I can play him as opposed to somebody else.'"
"We're on a space ship, Arthur, in space. I told you I wanted to get away."
Zoey Deschanel plays Trillian and she understands, but doesn't agree with criticism of 'too many Americans' in this British story.
"Certainly everybody, when they have a book that they love, has an idea in mind. You go 'oh, Trillian should be blonde." In the TV show she was this blonde girl in skimpy clothes. In the book she's described as Arabic and then they end up with me, somewhere in between those two," she says.
Sam Rockwell also drew on a diverse mix to play President Zaphod.
"Some Bill Clinton and a little George W. Bush and a little Freddy Mercury. A little of this and that, that's kind of how it happened," he says.
For director Garth Jennings, the most important challenge was to capture the spirit of the source material.
"We were closely surrounded by Douglas [Adams'] family, people, who worked with Douglas and we had his notes: it felt like we were steeped in Douglas-ness, so I was never worried about doing something that wasn't in the spirit of what he'd intended," he said. "I think that was very important to make something in the spirit of Hitchhiker's and not try to make every single word in the book appear on screen."
"Dolphins, curiously enough, had long known of the impending destruction of the planet Earth," he continued. "They had made many attempts to alert mankind to the danger, but most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for tidbits. So they eventually decided they would leave Earth by their own means. The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-somersault through a hoop while whistling the Star Spangled Banner; but, in fact, the message was this: so long and thanks for all the fish."
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy features Stephen Fry as the voice of the guide. Mos Def plays Ford Prefect and the other-worldly creatures, like the bloated, bureaucratic Vogons, are creations of the Jim Henson Muppet shop.