thumping the tub
Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. (from This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
It's a repost but it is one I was quite pleased with. And no, I haven't watched it yet...


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.

Some examples...

"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."
posted by michael the tubthumper @ 12:04 pm  
  • At 12:56 pm, Blogger Left of Center said…

    I've been an Adams fan for a long time. But only really appreciated the depth of his intellect as I got older.

  • At 2:35 pm, Blogger Peacechick Mary said…

    I just finished re-reading the Bromiliad Trilogy and so many references in it pertain to today. I think Douglas had the pulse of humanity. Now I have moved on to Mark Twain - same thing goes for him.

  • At 2:47 pm, Blogger Nölff said…

    Sounds good. I'll have to keep an eye out for that book.

  • At 4:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's funny, I'm also a big Adams fan and may be the only person I know that enjoyed the movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide.

    It wasn't Adams, but I liked it anyway. So much for my taste.

  • At 5:34 pm, Blogger Drew said…

    Don't Panic.

    Or do, actually. The film version sucked.

  • At 6:12 pm, Blogger miken said…

    99% of writing in all genres is crap. SF is no better or worse.

    Peter F. Hamilton
    David Brin
    Greg Bear
    Greg Benford
    Stephen R. Donaldson
    John Varley

    But Hitchhiker's Guide is my Bible. Shame about the movie.

  • At 7:26 pm, Blogger Disillusioned kid said…

    I like the movie. It's certainly better than the TV series.

  • At 9:01 pm, Blogger Delescluze said…

    To claim that 99% of ALL genres as crap is pitching it far too high. Take, say, historical fiction and examine 'The Heart of Midlothian', 'The Three Musketeers', 'Vanity Fair', 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'Kidnapped', 'Treasure Island', 'Brigadier Gerard', 'The Scarlet Letter', 'The Red Badge of Courage', oh, and 'War and Peace'. Er, after the last entry need I go on?

  • At 11:41 pm, Blogger SafeTinspector said…

    "Most science fiction is poorly written."
    I would posit that, in general, most fiction is poorly written; science fiction is no exception to this tendancy.

    Shit, most writing is written poorly.

    I was also an Adams fan, although I found his later, more bitter work less palatable than his earlier stuff.

    Although, as fiction, his Hitchhiker series seemed more of a loosely strung together series of comic tableaus than a plot driven bit of writing. The funny ideas came fast and I loved 'em.

  • At 11:43 pm, Blogger SafeTinspector said…

    Ay, someone else made my first point. That'll teach me to comment prior to peruzing those that came before. Off I slink.

  • At 4:03 am, Blogger Rex Kramer, Danger Seeker said…

    Finally, my Scottish hippie friend posts (or re-posts, as it were) some things on which I consider myself somewhat of an expert. To wit;

    1) The ever-increasing mis-named Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy, and,

    2) Bad movies

    As for the first subject, I first read Hitchhiker while in high school, and last re-read the quintology over the course of a summer's days spent on a bench in Hyde Park (I didn't spend the entire summer on that bench, but it was my favorite reading spot.)His tongue-in-cheek absurdism affects to this day my own writing, which isn't nearly as successful or filled with cricket references, but which serves the purpose of keeping me off the streets.

    As for the second subject, well, I must admit that I'm a fan of the worst of the worst. That said, while the adaptation of Hitchhiker didn't crack my Top Ten Bottom Ten list (btw, "Highlander II" is the standard by which I measure all bad movies,) it did gain immortaility by joining my "DVD Collection of Shame."

    I mean, Mos Def as Ford Prefect? That was a role Steve Buscemi was BORN to play!

  • At 6:44 am, Blogger Binty McShae said…

    It wasn't a bad film, but neither was it great. To be honest the original format - the radio play - remains the best in my eyes (ears?).

    SF writing is shit? Yes, a lot of it but thats only the populist crap. There is some very intelligent and beautifully crafted SF writing - Philip K. Dick is my favourite, Julian May more recently... even some of J. G. Ballard's early stuff can be considered SF, not to mention Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'...

    Yes, you may not consider that last one Science Fiction, but most 'Sci-Fi' fans don't consider what they read to be Science Fiction either... it's such a crap catch-all term!

  • At 8:27 am, Blogger GraemeAnfinson said…

    my brother has been begging me to read Adams. i don't read much science fiction, but i am going to have to check it out

  • At 10:56 am, Blogger a rose is a rose said…

    i LOVE the lines about fools - WONDERFUL.
    i have actually NEVER read him (i will now), but coincidentially enough, just watched (some of) the movie. i was at my dad's (he has on demand cable and i do not have cable at all) and it was on. IT WAS HORRID, HORRID i tell you

    i DID see both versions of 'the vanishing' by the way. the dutch one first (i'm a foreign movie addict) and i couldn't believe my eyes when i saw the american version. why bother, you're right!

    didn't see cruise's war of the worlds and won't if i can help it (i'm NOT a fan)

    thanks for posting a link to adams' short story. i shall read it this weekend!

  • At 4:47 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    lefty - the subtleties in it are amazing. it is one thing to explain some fo the concepts he does but it is another thing to be funny while doing it.

    mary - i like twain too. a connecticut yankee in king arthurs court is v funny

    kvatch - i am still wondering whether i should go and see the whole thing. i just don't want to ruin the books for myself

    D Kid - i quite liked the tv series. especially the animations

    delescluze - i am ashamed to sayi have not read any of the books you mentioned tho i have heard of them all

    Safet (and everyone) - try 'last chance to see' which is his non-fiction book. i think it could be his best

    Rex - that is possibly the worst movie ever made

    biny - i've got the albums, which are slightly different to the radio

    graeme - its worth it

    rose - that short story had me rolling about.

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What is Tubthumping and who is doing it?

Name: michael the tubthumper
Home: Glasgow, Scotland
About Me: Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant. 28 years old, I write and research for a couple of websites and also do my own stuff.
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I have made a few short movies. Here are links to free downloads for them all in the order that I made them (as far as I can remember). Please feel free to use, distribute, disagree with, shout at etc etc

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