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Harlan Ellison has a notoriously explosive relationship with Hollywood. His TV credits include work on dozens of series spanning from the ‘60s up through our own fledgling century, most of which seem to have gone off without a hitch. But when things go wrong, they tend to go wrong spectacularly, usually owing to the lunkheadedness of your average studio executive, Ellison’s disdain for compromise when it comes to his writing, and the author’s well-known penchant for vengeance. (His story, “The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge,” could describe quite a few notorious incidents from Ellison’s colorful history.) So it’s not surprising that the person who might finally succeed at bringing one of Ellison’s most-acclaimed stories — the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” — to the big screen is J. Michael Straczynski, Ellison’s friend and occasionally collaborator since the days of Babylon 5.
Deadline reports that Straczynski and his Studio JMS company have optioned the rights to Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin” with the aim of turning it into a film. But Ellison is notoriously protective of his work, so even though he’s chummy with JMS, he still had one requirement before he’d grant the option: Straczynski had to deliver a completed screenplay. JMS did exactly that, and apparently it was up to Ellison’s standards. Moreover, if the combination of Straczynski and Ellison isn’t enough to excite you, Deadline piles it on by pointing out that JMS plans to approach both Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro in his search for production partners and a director.
If you’ve never read “Repent, Harlequin” — and if you haven’t, for god’s sake get on that already — it’s a dystopian tale of rebellion against authority set in a future controlled by the Master Timekeeper (or “the Ticktockman,” as he’s also known), who enforces strict societal schedules, controls the length of everyone’s lives, and can stop your heart at a moment’s notice. From this perfectly ordered society emerges Edward C. Marm, an average Joe who embraces his inner Batman and becomes the Harlequin, a whimsical vigilante who sets about spreading anarchy and generally ruining the Ticktockman’s day. If it sounds vaguely like the 2011 movie In Time, Ellison thought so too — he filed a lawsuit against the film, claiming suspicious similarities between the two, but eventually dismissed it after he saw the film. (Whether because he was convinced of its legitimate differences from his story or just thought it was so bad nobody would remember it, who can say?)
It’ll be interesting to see which burner JMS sticks this project on, as he’s rapidly running out of metaphorical stovetop space. Through his Studio JMS banner, he’s got projects in the works across multiple media. He’s writing and directing the World War II film The Flickering Light, he’s collaborating with the Wachowskis on the upcoming Netflix series Sense8, and he’s writing, at my last count, approximately sixteen billion comic books including series based on The Twilight Zone and Terminator, as well as four (so far) current creator-owned series: Ten Grand, Sidekick, Protectors Inc., and The Adventures of Apocalypse Al.
It’ll be interesting to see if Joe finally manages to bring the Ticktockman and the Harlequin to the silver screen. You can bet we’ll be keeping you up to date.