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The meaning of life

Douglas Adams, 'Hitchhiker's Guide' and everything (else)

By Todd Leopold

Mos Def, Martin Freeman and Sam Rockwell in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
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Eye on Entertainment
Douglas Adams
Ice Cube

(CNN) -- 42.

That was the answer, according to the Deep Thought computer in Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series.

When the researchers -- cleverly disguised as mice -- asked how that could be the answer to their Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, the computer responds, "I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

That's quite a problem, which hasn't stopped millennia of philosophers, theologians, scientists, wits and cranks from coming up with their own questions (and answers) to the big ball of Life, the Universe and Everything.

A few of note:

"Life is just one damned thing after another." -- Elbert Hubbard

"Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love, to work, to play, and to look up at the stars." -- Henry Van Dyke

"I've met coal miners who hate coal, thieves who hate what they stole, and they think they've figured it out/ ... It's a great puzzle, but you've got to like games." -- Jules Shear

"Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life." -- Immanuel Kant

"Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it." -- Buckminster Fuller

Adams' fictional researchers obviously didn't go along with Fuller. The whole point of Spaceship Earth was that it was a computer -- the greatest ever designed -- created to come up with the Ultimate Question.

And then, darn the luck, Earth was destroyed five minutes before the question was to be produced. (See Wikipediaexternal link for a fascinating description of the Answer, the Question, and the many ways in which "42" is more of an answer than even Adams may have suspected. Carl Jung would be proud.)

Adams' magnum opus -- a trilogy of five books, as only the puckish author could construct -- finally gets its big-screen bow this weekend with the release of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Eye on Entertainment takes a ride.


"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" originated as a BBC radio series, then became a trilogy of novels by Adams, a Cambridge grad and Monty Python friend. The series includes the eponymous first book, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" and "Life, the Universe and Everything." (Adams later tacked on a fourth and fifth book to the trilogy -- "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" and "Mostly Harmless.")

The works concern Arthur Dent, an Englishman who wakes up one morning and finds bulldozers about to tear down his house. Around the same time, Earth is about to be destroyed by aliens to make way for an interstellar bypass.

Dent is saved in the nick of time by his friend Ford Prefect, an alien who's been masquerading as an actor.

From there, the series is off and running through the galaxies, where Dent is as clueless and overwhelmed as "Futurama's" Fry in the 31st century. (Indeed, Matt Groening's TV series "Futurama" -- which also features a somewhat traditional sci-fi lineup of human male, attractive but caustic female and an easily agitated robot -- shares a sense of humor with Adams' work, which is no surprise, given Groening's love of Pythonesque humor.)

Though "Hitchhiker's Guide" has long been popular, it resisted efforts to become a movie. The project started as a BBC radio series in 1978 created by Adams, who then turned the project into the series of novels. (There were two other radio series and a TV series as well.)

Attempts to make a film date back to the early '80s, and Adams himself worked on a screenplay adaptation for years. He'd finished a solid draft when he died unexpectedly in 2001, and the project was turned over to Karey Kirkpatrick ("Chicken Run").

The film stars Martin Freeman as Dent, Mos Def as Ford Prefect, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian, John Malkovich as Humma Kavula and Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android. (If you don't know who these characters are, see this gallery.)

Examples of Adams' creation abound on the Internet. AltaVista's translator is called BabelFish; an instant-messaging program is called Trillian. Even Deep Thought, Adams' computer, was immortalized in Deep Thought, the IBM machine that lost to Garry Kasparov in 1989. Upon which IBM engineers built an even better computer ...

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" comes out Friday.

On screen

  • Ice Cube jumps into Vin Diesel's shoes in "XXX: State of the Union." Samuel L. Jackson returns; Willem Dafoe joins the cast. Things fly and blow up. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • "JAG" ends its 10-year series run with romance, as Rabb (David James Elliott) and Mac (Catherine Bell) let the long-smoldering sparks fly. 9 p.m. Friday, CBS.
  • Andie MacDowell and Rosie O'Donnell share a seat in "Riding the Bus with My Sister," a Hallmark Hall of Fame production about a photographer (MacDowell) who suddenly has to reconnect with her developmentally disabled sister (O'Donnell). 9 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
  • Sound waves

  • Aimee Mann's cinematic concept album, "The Forgotten Arm" (SuperEgo), comes out Tuesday.
  • Ryan Adams and the Cardinals put out a new album, "Cold Roses" (Lost Highway), on Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • "Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction" by Brendan Mullen (Da Capo), which is exactly what it says it is, comes out Sunday.
  • Rodney Rothman, a former David Letterman writer, decided to take his accumulated savings and retire to Florida -- at age 28. His hilarious memoir, "Early Bird" (Simon & Schuster), comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "National Treasure," complete with its own puzzles and games, comes out on DVD Tuesday.

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