A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… wait, wrong franchise. Let’s try that again.

Once upon a time, there was a man, and his name was Douglas. Legend tells us that Douglas was a man of great genius and humility, with a talent for juxtaposing the mundane and the absurd. Douglas, they say, was the master of the Cosmic Joke. In any case, unlike many overly-humble talents, his aptitude was recognised and he was hired by the BBC to write a radio series. You may have heard of it.

If you’re really on the ball, you may even have heard that they’ve just made it into a movie. I tend to use the word ‘film’ over the more American ‘movie’, but occasionally the latter word seems more appropriate. The former seems to emphasise the artistic side of cinema; the latter, its role as popular entertainment. On this reading, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is definitely a movie.

To my mind, Anthony Lane in the New Yorker got it just right when he said the following; his review is a paradigm of good-humoured journalistic honesty, something we don’t see enough of.

There will be two completely separate and, I might add, mutually hostile audiences for the resulting film. One will be composed of “Hitchhiker” fans, millions strong, who will interpret every minute discrepancy between what they are watching onscreen and what they once read on the page as a heresy punishable by law or, where possible, stoning. These people are lunatics, and I am one of them. Opposing us will be hordes of decent, ungeeky humans who will be bewildered and patchily amused by the tale of Arthur Dent and his voyage among the stars.

Watching the film, my experience was rooted in an almost lifelong acquaintance with the source material, and this highlighted a strange disconnect. We speak blithely of ‘layers’ in stories, but at times it seemed as though there were two films playing, not one. They appeared to have shot one film, with the cast playing out their parts on a blue-screen set—and doing an excellent job of it—and then the filmmakers had sneakily pieced together quite another movie out of this footage. Events never quite match up with the dialogue; I got the feeling that the actors weren’t in the same film as the special effects-driven storyline.

That the tension between quirky, character-driven drama and intergalactic adventure story would be massively amplified on screen was evident from the moment it was announced that a Hitchhiker’s film was being made. That the demands of an artistically-illiterate audience would take its toll on such an intelligent piece of comedy was another obvious pitfall. Seemingly, the creators decided to compromise—and judging from the box office results, it worked. However, as one of the aforementioned lunatics I cannot but take them to task for their misjudgements, errors and outright misreadings (mislistenings?) of Holy Writ.

The engineering of the compromise appears to have taken the following form: take the first act or so of the original plot (the demolition of the Earth; the trip to Magrathea), and insert a number of sub-plots to make the whole thing play out towards a denouement in the true Hollywood style. Then toss in quotes from the radio drama and the books, seemingly at random. Add a love interest that actually goes somewhere, and a dolphin-centric music video for the title sequence, and there you have it.

All of which might have worked, were it not for the dissonance between the foreground interactions between the characters and the background pacing and plot. Scenes were edited to the point of non-existence; the storyline zips from one place to another; the characters have barely arrived somewhere before they’re rushing off to somewhere else; in short, the whole experience felt like a mad scrabble to keep up with a story that never gave the cast any space to develop their characters, never let things slow down long enough for us to get to know these people. Everything is pre-packaged, handed out to us in little plastic pots with garish labels stating the blindingly obvious. Adams would have hated it.

And then there was Vogsphere. The Vogons are an alien analogue of that species of bureaucrat who delight in obfuscation, in adhering rigidly to the letter of the law, to technicalities and forms and queues—oh, the queues! Jumping those queues to save your girlfriend from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal just isn’t on the menu; it’s an action-movie convention with no place in Adams’ vision. If the bureaucracy happens to let someone go, it will be by mistake, and after several decades of futile letter-writing by well-meaning busybodies that had absolutely no effect whatsoever on a system impervious to reason. I suppose we should be grateful that the filmmakers managed to restrain themselves from showing the aforementioned Beast; some horrors are just too terrible to contemplate.