BOOK REVIEW / New dimensions: 'The Illustrated Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Douglas Adams: Weidenfeld, 25 pounds

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Hands up all those who have not read the cosmic adventures of Arthur Dent? The cult sci-fi classic has been through every time-warp imaginable, from its humble origins as a radio play and paperback to the dizzy heights of a TV series, a record album and a bath towel. A big screen version is planned any decade now.

With the help of the latest in image manipulation - where photographs become digital pictures locked in the virtual space of a computer - the Hitch Hiker's Guide has entered a new dimension: an outsized tome with 42 glossy computer- enhanced photographic spreads depicting various unEarthly scenes from the guide. The fact that 42 was also the answer to life, the universe and everything is surely a co-incidence.

Each photograph is the result of carefully arranged shots with actors, props and models. Little is left to the imagination, which may disappoint the purists: one of the joys of Adams's classic was that he did not bog you down with over- elaborate descriptions. We could all imagine how Zaphod Beeblebrox must have looked with two heads and three arms. But now we can see Zaphod in the flesh, almost literally, and - even when he is wearing nothing but his orange presidential sash - it is quite believable. 'It was probably the most satisfying picture of the whole book,' says Kevin Davies, the graphic artist who provided the ideas for each shot. 'Zaphod has always been a problem and people before tried to do him in so many different ways.'

Davies's long association with the Hitch Hiker's Guide began with the animation for the television series back in 1980. Since then he has developed his techniques as the technology has itself become more sophisticated. His most relevant experience, he says, was working on the animation for the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which successfully combined actors with cartoon characters. In this book, each shot is effectively a montage of about nine photographs, and each photo could have involved more than 100 shots, Davies says. 'It's a bit like making a movie, only in stills.'

What distinguishes these images from ordinary photo-montage is the manipulation by computer. Light, colour and shape can all be subtly altered to make the end product appear as if it really did look just like that. The image (above) of Arthur Dent wearing a dressing-gown and Ford Prefect holding on to Southend pier while fried eggs drift by looks as impressive as the price the publisher is charging for this pictorial extravaganza. Perhaps a glass of Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster would help deaden the pain of parting with all those small pieces of green paper.

(Photograph omitted)

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