DISNEY GUIDES 'HITCHHIKER'
by Michael Fleming
The success of science-fiction comedies such as "Men in Black" has made the time ripe for the screen adaptation of the Douglas Adams sci-fi cult novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
Hollywood Pictures president David Vogel has purchased screen rights to the book, with "Austin Powers" helmer Jay Roach to direct and Caravan's Roger Birnbaum to produce. Adams will write the script with Roach*, with Vogel hoping to be in preproduction this time next year, to make it a summer event film for 2000.
"The single most substantial frustration of my entire career was that this was not a movie," said Adams' longtime literary agent Ed Victor, who with CAA's Bob Bookman closed a Disney deal he called "substantial and special."
The piece has succeeded as a novel, radio play, computer game and TV show (a BBC adaptation, starring Peter Jones and Simon Jones, aired in the U.S. in 1982). But the big screen has been a different story. "For nearly 20 years, I went around saying there's this great science-fiction comedy where earthlings and aliens mingle, and they'd say yes, maybe, no," said Victor. "But after 'Men in Black,' they were all asking 'how can I get a sci-fi comedy where earthlings and aliens mingle,' and there it is, laying in the road like a golden nugget."
The novel centers around Arthur Dent, who lays himself in front of a bulldozer that is preparing to flatten his house to make room for a highway. Suddenly Dent is whisked away by Ford Prefect, an alien researching "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." It turns out Planet Earth is similarly scheduled to be flattened to make way for an intergalactic bypass.
Dent becomes a galaxy traveller who discovers that mice actually created Earth as an experiment that didn't work out. For their next, they want Dent's brain and he's soon racing across the galaxy to get away from them.
Vogel said the novel is highly adaptable and that Roach has the right take.
"It's a timeless book, which works in people's consciousness and is appropriate for the millennium as people wonder if there's anything else out there," Vogel said.
Caravan's Birnbaum was brought the book by his execs Jon Glickman and Derek Evans, and Roach brought in the book separately to Vogel.
Also for Vogel, Roach is about to direct an untitled David E. Kelley script about hockey, to star Russell Crowe ("L.A. Confidential"). Once that puck is in the nets, Roach will write "Galaxy" with Adams*. Roach is repped by ICM's Paul Haas.
Adams has worked on two different drafts so far, one with Ivan Reitman and former Monkee Mike Nesmith. Vogel said they'll start fresh, but Nesmith will maintain some kind of "godfather" role, with Adams exec producing with Robbie Stamp.