|I have always been a huge fan of Douglas Adams. Anyone capable of writing lines like "He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it" grabs your interest. Whilst I haven't always agreed with him in all that he says, he continually managed to be both flippant and profound at the same time - which is no easy habit to get into. He had an extraordinary amount of ability in the not-so simple art of putting one word after another.
"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
"Don't believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose."
"He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife."
It just makes me laugh. It is not really science-fiction (he described himself as a comedy writer). Most science fiction is poorly written. Adams' work most certainly isn't.
I heard Hollywood was going to make a film of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and at first was pleased that the work would get to a wider audience. Then I panicked. I realised that even if it was done with the best intentions it was not going to translate to the screen. How do you translate "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't" or those I mentioned above into a visual image. It just won't work.
Then I noticed the Hollywood spin machine get into action. Several fake fan sites were set up to promote the film. Unsurprisingly, their reviews were always glowing. The repository for all things Hitchhikers - the 'Planet Magrathea' website - reviewed the film and said it was fairly poor. The man who wrote the review, after years of maintaining a brilliant website for fans chucked it in because of... "unwarranted, ill-informed personal abuse and libel which has been directed towards me on the IMDB, livejournal and many other websites in the wake of my review of the film."
Films cannot and should not replicate books exactly, it is a different medium and things have to be explained in a different way but despite this it often seems that things are not 'specially adapted' for the screen but instead are 'specially ruined' for Hollywood audiences.
Adams himself was asked about the differences between UK and US audiences and whether or not things had to be 'dumbed down' for the US. He replied that there was no great differences between the two and that the 'dumbing down' was not something that US audiences demanded or needed. The decision to do it is made on behalf of the US audiences by TV and film executives.
Happy endings tend to get stuck on as well. The US version of the dutch film 'The Vanishing' is a classic example. The Dutch version is chilling and not a little superb. The US version is the most appalling nonsense. US audiences did not demand this. US executives decided that they should see a version with a preposterous happy-ending and not a straight remake of the Dutch film (better still, why not just watch the Dutch film - there are such things as subtitles). In changing the end they entirely changed the point.
Spielberg's attempt at War of the Worlds is another case. H.G. Wells' book is about the arrogance of the human race in assuming that they are the sum of all things. Spielberg's version is about a few flashy special effects and Tom Cruise 'growing up and accepting his responsibilities.'
This is not to say that remakes cannot be done well. Most often they aren't, but occasionally they can be. Try the Orson Welles version of 'War of the Worlds' here.
Anyway, back to Adams. I still haven't seen the film but I have seen probably 10 minutes worth of clips and it is clear that a book that manages to take the finer points of philosophy (an academic friend of mine informs me that one section is 'inverse Kantian philosophy'), physics, metaphysics, astro-physics[i] and making sandwiches, has been transformed into a piss-poor slapstick with a couple of witty jokes.
I'll adapt an Adams quote to end..."In the beginning Hollywood was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. "
An excellent talk Adams did at the University of California just before he died entitled "Parrots, the universe and everything" is available here
He also wrote the funniest short story I have ever read, which is available here
[i] I don't know of any other writer who could have came up with a line like "in the end he got lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they really couldn't stand was a smartarse."