My visit to the “ Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy ” movie set – The complete and (almost) uncensored truth
Published the 22th July 2004
On Friday 16th of July, I was very lucky to visit the h2g2 movie set. I arrived the day before in England thanks to Eurostar train. Well, it was a very early train (the less expensive one), and as I’ve been to work before, I didn’t sleep at all and ran a lot to not miss the damn train. Spent the day in London and went to Brighton in the evening to see an old friend of mine. The Great Day began with a brutal wake up at 5:30 am to catch the coach to London, then once in the coach station I saw that I misunderstood the departure time, and had to wait an hour for the next one in the cold British summer morning weather! I finally arrived in London at 10:20, forty minutes late. I had to meet Jenz (webmaster of douglasadams.se) and Nick Webb (Douglas’ official biographer and friend) somewhere in Islington. Glad they didn’t kick me! We had quite a busy day ahead. We had first to meet Robbie Stamp, executive producer of the movie and former CEO of The Digital Village, in Elstree, to visit the set and see the storyboard, and then go to Sheperton studios for some real action (the filming).
As soon as I arrived at our meeting point (I recognized Nick but not Jenz, and they had some difficulties to spot a French man amongst the morning London crowd), we took Nick’s car and drove off to Elstree. We found the Mostly Harmless production office without too much difficulty. I was very moved when I saw Mostly Harmless and Hitchhiker’s To The Galaxy’ signs at the entry of the building and on the doors (with the names of the technical and production staff).
Robbie Stamp led us to his office to introduce us to the whole thing. We met Simon, a nice chap from an English university who lived in Devon and who was going to visit the set with us. Robbie is a friendly looking man who is indeed very friendly – rare enough to find. He led us to the Treasure Room. You recognize this one because there is a sign on the door with “Don’t panic” written on it. Well we’re lucky, they could have put a “beware of the leopard” one!
Here, Robbie introduced us to the story thanks to a detailed and really nice storyboard pinned up on the wall. He gave us a lengthy presentation of the script, and my gosh, I have to say that fans are up for a big surprise. This version is really a new one, with a lot of new items, characters and events. There is also a lot of stuff still there of course, but put in a different order and/or with some complementary unheard information. The other good news is that 95% of it comes directly out of Douglas’ mind. This version will be very different from the former versions, as Douglas intended it. In fact this is quite natural. The books are quite different from the original radio series, are very different from each other (how could you compare the first book to the third one, the fourth one or the fifth one) and very different too from the computer game. Each time, Douglas has created a brand new version of the guide, and this time it won’t be any different. So this is very, very exciting. The movie will include an incredible amount of Douglas’ new stuff! Who could have imagined that!?
I’d like to add that the moviemakers have brought an incredible attention to each and every detail. I think it will be possible to see the film several times and still discover new subtle stuff. The DVD, including the making of, will be a very useful tool to have a full grasp of the film. There will even be a lot of references aimed at the fans who know by heart all the previous versions.
As it was predicable, the character of Trillian, a weak point from all the previous versions of hitchhiker’s (excluding maybe the fifth book) has been expanded on a lot. She is now really one of the main characters, equal to Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Marvin.
When Robbie finished his half an hour presentation, we just applauded. His presentation was great, and gave us a good insight of what the movie will be. After that, Robbie showed us, still in the treasure room, on some tables, objects from the Vogon spaceship. There was also two real size Vogon heads plus a model of The heart of gold, the entry of Humma’s temple (bright one!), Deep Thought, and some drawings pinned on the wall of other characters and places. This was really impressive and this is definitely the place where all the fans would dream to be right now.
After a full hour of total bewilderment, Robbie led us for a tour in Elstree studios. We entered the Vogon Spaceship and saw the marvellous work made by the Henson team. The Vogons are simply incredible, fully detailed from their shoes to their facial hairs. Touching the face of the Captain Vogon is an extreme experience I won’t forget, should I live to be 199 years old! Henson also made other things including a really amazing Vogon throne (but I wont say more should you read some Vogon poetry). At last we also saw the Magrathean spaceship used by Arthur and Slartibartfast to travel inside Magrathea…
Back to Robbie’s office, we discussed about the movie and our first impressions (which were quite good as you have certainly already guessed). But it was time to leave for Sheperton studios where the crew was filming some blue screen action. I must say that the journey to Sheperton in car was the worst thing of the day. The traffic was dense and it took us quite a while to get at our destination.
There, while waiting for Robbie, we stole some nice sandwiches of some technical staff currently working on a scene in Viltvodle VI. Impressive to see how every person seems to know what he has to do without somebody telling him. When Robbie came, we went to see Nick Goldsmith, the head producer of Hammer & Tongs, who is really a charming person. Well, he kept telling me that my website was great, fantastic, and that was the first place he checked on the web when he wanted to get news about the movie. So, how could I complain after such kind words! He also took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about the movie. Like Robbie, he’s a very enthusiastic person, so it’s a real pleasure to talk with him.
Robbie and Nick then led us inside a big studio. I can’t say exactly what I saw of course, but the scene being shot featured all our heroes: Arthur, Zaphod, Trillian, Ford and Marvin (it was Warwick’s last day of shooting). In this scene, I can just say that they had to pretend they were cold. It was a hard task, because under a very strong light we were all sweating and we had just t-shirts on. So I just can imagine how the actors suffered in their heavy clothes, and Warwick in Marvin’s suite! They all had quite a hard time, so when they finished we were not very keen to disturb them. It was already late, and some guys (including Kevin Davies who made the TV series’ guide entries and The Illustrated Guide) were waiting for us at Nick Webb’s place for some drinks… and afterwards an Indian meal in Islington, where maybe, years before, Douglas went with the same purpose than us: eating some good curry with friends.