J. Michael Straczynski Says Repent, Harlequin!

Adapting Harlan Ellison's short story

J. Michael Straczynski Says Repent, Harlequin!

by James White |
Published on

Speculative fiction legend Harlan Ellison has, to put it charitably, had a prickly relationship with Hollywood. Several creative types have been the recipients of his unfiltered criticism and more than one (including James Cameron) have felt his legal sting for stories that borrow from his work. So it takes a brave person to directly adapt one of his stories, but Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski is that person, scoring the rights to **Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Straczynski and Ellison have been friends for years and occasionally collaborators (Ellison was a consultant on B5), nor that Straczynski wrote the script on spec and presented it to Ellison before asking for the rights.

With the current arguments on privacy and the cracks in society, it certainly seems a topical time to turn the story into a film. Repent is set in a dystopian future where time is strictly controlled and everything must be done to a precise schedule. Here, tardiness is not an inconvenience, but a crime punishable by the authorities removing time from an individual’s life. If they run out, the Master Timekeeper known as the Ticktockman stops their heart with his cardioplate. In an attempt to fight back, a man named Everett C. Marm disrupts the system by disguising himself as the anarchical Harlequin and spreading whimsy to make people late. Naturally, the authorities decide to go all 1984 on him.

If the concept sounds familiar, it’s because Ellison – who published the original tale in science fiction magazine Galaxy in 1965 – sued the filmmakers of I****n Time for credit. The lawsuit was later dropped for unexplained reasons, though it could partly be because Ellison then saw In Time

Straczynski, who had a hand in the Thor script and wrote early drafts of World War Z, will develop the script via his production company Studio JMS. He’s reportedly targeting the likes of Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro as potential directors, but he might also want to approach people whose slates aren’t already bulging with possible movies. In related JMS news, he’s also working with Andy and Lana Wachowski on Sense8, a new series for Netflix.

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