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Brits picking up ‘Hitchhiker’

Spyglass taps Jennings, Goldsmith to guide project

Five years after Spyglass partner Roger Birnbaum and Disney first engaged Douglas Adams and his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Spyglass has set British commercial and video directing and producing team Hammer & Tongs to make its feature directing debut.

The team is writer-director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith, and they will work with “Chicken Run” scribe Karey Kirkpatrick, who did a polish on a script written by the author. Spyglass is budgeting the film and will soon set a start date.

Disney has first crack at thumbing a ride on the “Hitchhiker” package as domestic distributor, since the Mouse House was involved in the original purchase.

“We finally cracked the story, and hired these clever English fellows to make sure that the picture is visually inventive and funny and accessible to contemporary audiences while still connected to the book Douglas wrote almost 25 years ago,” Birnbaum said.

He first bought the book when he ran Caravan. He, partner Gary Barber and Spyglass’ Jonathan Glickman will produce along with Goldsmith, Jay Roach (who once developed the pic to direct) and Robby Stamp, who was Adams’ partner.

Adams, who passed away nearly two years ago, will have a posthumous exec producer credit. Spyglass’ Derek Evans, who originally found the book, will also be exec producer.

Adams’ book revolved around Arthur Dent, who one day is whisked away by an alien doing research to write “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Dent becomes an intergalactic traveler, which sounds cool until he learns that Earth is about to be flattened to make way for an intergalactic bypass and that aliens want his brain.

Though Adams’ book was adapted for the BBC in the early ’80s, his dream was to have the book made into a feature film. The author spent the final years of his life doing drafts for the likes of Ivan Reitman and ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith.

Birnbaum said Adams’ untimely death — he had a heart attack at age 50 while on a treadmill — brought the project to a standstill and is the major reason it has taken so long to get into production.

“We were frozen for a year and a half until Robby Stamp told us Douglas’ wife wanted us to see it through,” Birnbaum said. “We hired Karey to work on the script, and then we brought it to Spike Jonze, because his sensibilities matched the material. He turned it down but … plugged us into Jennings and Goldsmith.”

Jennings and Goldsmith had turned down every Hollywood script sent their way until “Hitchhiker’s Guide.” They’ve done videos with UB40, Robbie Williams, Fatboy Slim and the Bluetones, and they’ve done a slew of blurbs. Birnbaum said their ability to create visually audacious product for a price should help keep the budget reasonable for an otherworldly film.

“I have less doubt about these guys than I do in hiring some big-time director who is not interested in collaboration and who gets final cut and first-dollar gross,” he said. “It will be fun to collaborate with these guys.”

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