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Douglas Adams

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And Thanks For All the Fish.

At first, divers will play back one of eight “words” coined by the team to mean “seaweed” or “bow wave ride”, for example. The software will listen to see if the dolphins mimic them. Once the system can recognise these mimicked words, the idea is to use it to crack a much harder problem: listening to natural dolphin sounds and pulling out salient features that may be the ‘fundamental units’ of dolphin communication.

As it happens, the iPad wasn’t the only modern technology predicted by Douglas Adams. Researchers at Georgia Tech and the Wild Dolphin Project develop a machine that will (hopefully) speak dolphin — or at least speak at dolphins. Says a skeptic: “‘Imagine if an alien species landed on Earth wearing elaborate spacesuits and walked through Manhattan speaking random lines from The Godfather to passers-by.’

Still a Hoopy Frood.

I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

In remembrance of Douglas Adams, ten years after his untimely passing: His 1999 essay, “How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet” (although I think he too would have despised the term “webinar.”) If only he lived to see the actual, honest-to-goodness Hitchhiker’s Guides! (Pic via here, which also tells the story of Adams’ lost Doctor Who episodes.)

wokka wokka wokka wokka wokka wokka wokka…

‘Pretty much anyone could watch someone playing it for 10 seconds and understand everything about it,’ said Steve Meretzky, a veteran game designer who created famous Infocom titles like Leather Goddesses of Phobos and the game version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ‘It was a game everyone felt comfortable playing, even in the setting of an arcade, and that’s why it became so universally popular.

Also turning thirty this weekend, those original Ghosts in the Machine — Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde. Gratz, guys, and thanks for the handy, binary thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviewing scheme. (Oh, yes, it’s Pac-Man’s birthday too, and the coin-operated Google homepage today is a great way to pay one’s respects.)

Mostly Harmless.

As I said in my Two Towers review, assessing films I’ve been eagerly anticipating since I was ten years old, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, can be tough going after only one viewing. And I expect I’ll be popping back into the HHGTTG-verse sometime in the next few days to see how it hangs together after a second go-round. But, for now, I’ll say that I enjoyed much of the Guide…with some reservations. If anything, the experience reminded me of the first X-Men — everybody looks and acts right, and there are several really great moments, but I also wish Hitchhiker’s had spent more time letting the characters be themselves and less time trying to shoe-horn Hollywood-style plot devices into the narrative. (Spoilers to follow)

First, the good, and there’s a lot of good here. I have a feeling people who haven’t read the books are going to be completely lost in very short order, but I kinda liked how quickly the movie got off Earth, without lingering on all the Mr. Prosser stuff. I also enjoyed the numerous Adamsian digressions and visual flourishes throughout, particularly those revolving around The Guide and the Infinite Improbability Drive. (Ok, the bowl of petunias was a mite overdone, and Deep Thought could’ve been funnier, but string-vision was a marvel.) Some of the new stuff worked splendidly, most notably the Malkovich detour. (Others, less so, such as the POV-gun.) I loved the creature designs — not only the Vogons but all the random lo-fi denizens in the queue at Vogsphere.

The central characters are all solid too, I’d say. While Martin Freeman is a bit more frantic than I would have liked — I always envisioned Arthur to be more resigned, laconic, and stiff-upper-lip in the face of all these hypergalactic indignities — Mos Def’s Ford and Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod are pretty much pitch-perfect. Mos Def steals a number of the early scenes, and it’s too bad he kinda falls out of the movie in the second half. And every time I thought Rockwell’s Zaphod was starting to get old, he’d pull out another rock-star-pose or goofy line reading that’d rehabilitate him in my mind. (Alas, Marvin, for his part, isn’t given very much to do…but what did you expect? Everyone always forgets about the androids and their feelings.)

And Trillian? Well, it’s not Zooey Deschanel’s fault — she’s fine, if a bit bland. But for some ghastly reason, either Douglas Adams or his scriptwriting successors made the decision to try and put an Arthur-Trillian romance front-and-center. And it just doesn’t work. From very early on, when we see Arthur and Tricia’s first meeting in flashback, throughout the rest of the film, it’s all, well, fluff. Trillian’s gratuitous shower scene (I kid you not) and the POV-gun stuff end up being bad enough, but when Arthur professes his love for her to the buzzsaw-wielding mice on Earth-2, I found my fingers itching to press the nearest big improbability-eject button.

Arthur and Trillian aside, the film also goes curiously flat at times, particularly once the crew hits Magrathea. In fact, everything that occurs on Earth-2, and particularly the Vogon Shoot-out, seems both lifeless and another rather lame concession to Hollywood plot dynamics. It’s strange, because for the most part, like LotR, Hitchhiker’s feels like a movie by fans for fans. But for one reason or another, it loses its footing in the final reel.

Despite these sizable lapses, though, my thumb is still cocked in the upward direction (That is, if you know what you’re getting into — I’m very curious to discover if non-readers can even make head-or-tail of this film.) Like I said, Hitchhiker’s feels a lot like the first X-Men to me – promising but flawed. Here’s hoping, now that we’ve been introduced to everybody and finished the origin-story, so to speak, that Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and Marvin will get more of a chance to cut loose in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.Update: Ok, after a second viewing, I thought it held together less well. And the score is, well, both terribly distracting and not very good. But, I’d still be up for Restaurant.



The Education of Douglas Adams.

“That he was born is just one of the many undeniable facts about the life of the late Douglas Adams –author, humorist, raconteur, speaker, and thinker (although it should be noted that, on at least one parallel Earth, Mr. Adams was born a spring-toed lemur with a predilection for grassy fields and the works of Byron — a poetic lemur whose work was not terribly springy).” With two days to go until Hitchhiker’s — you have picked out a towel by now, right? — IGN assembles a worthy cast of Adamsian roustabouts — including Terry Jones, Neil Gaiman, Michael Nesmith, and Stephen Fry — to offer their remembrances. (Unfortunately, Graham Chapman could not be reached for comment.)

Thumbs Up…

With only four short days before the destruction of Earth (Don’t Panic, but do get your towel ready, and be sure to stock up on beer and peanuts), Coming Soon obtains a wealth of new stills from the Hitchhiker’s film, including this shot of Marvin at right. (I think you ought to know he’s feeling very depressed.)


Moviefone obtains a full scene from Hitchhiker’s (and one not in the book), namely Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, and Marvin trying to cross a field of those slap-happy doodads from the first trailer. A bit goofy on its own, but if the rest of the movie has succeeded into lulling you into Douglas Adams‘ trademark sense of humor by this point, I could see this being pretty funny.

Pardon me for breathing.

Attention, People of Earth: Touchstone releases eight character-specific and guide-themed posters for Hitchhiker’s. Also, some of y’all might have seen this extremely negative first review of the film over at Metafilter. Well, I’d take it with a grain of salt. Not only does this guy seem Marvin-like in the extreme, he has a nasty purist streak that rivals those of the most-impossible-to-satisfy Tolkien fans. At least in this corner, the jury’s still out.

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