Babylon 5 creator set to adapt Harlan Ellison's most-read short story

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Feb 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EST (Updated)

If all goes according to plan, one of the most famous sci-fi stories of the 20th century could finally be coming to the big screen.

Even in a career as storied and decades-spanning as Harlan Ellison's, the short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" stands out. Ellison famously wrote the satirical dystopian tale in just six hours, then got it published in a 1965 issue of Galaxy magazine. It's the story of Everett C. Marm, a normal guy living life in a dystopian future in which time is strictly regulated by a timekeeper known as "The Ticktockman" and simply being late for something is a crime. In an effort to rebel against this strictly regulated society, Marm poses as the anarchic Harlequin, and sets out to disrupt everyone's schedule with a number of whimsical distractions. If the Ticktockman finds out who he really is, though, death will be his punishment.

The story won the 1965 Nebula Award and the 1966 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and has since become one of the most reprinted short stories ever. The one thing it's never been, though, is a film, because Ellison -- whose relationship with Hollywood has ranged from cautious to combative over the years -- has never trusted anyone enough to allow them the license to adapt the iconic work. Until now, that is.

Deadline reported yesterday that Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski has been given a film option on the story by Ellison. The two previously worked together on Babylon 5, where Ellison served as a creative consultant, but Straczynski still had to work to convince Ellison to let him have the story. According to Deadline, it was only after Straczysnki submitted a finished script that Ellison granted him the option. 

The film adaptation will be produced in part by Straczynski's own company, Studio JMS, but in order to get it off the ground he's got to snag more production muscle and, of course, a director, and he's going straight for the big guns. So who does he want? Apparently, he's starting the process at the top by pitching it to the likes of Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro.

That's an ambitious starting point, but after all, this is one of the most beloved science fiction stories of all time, so surely some big-name filmmaker wants to join Straczysnki in adaptating it, right? We'll keep an eye out for any more "Repent ..." movie news. In the meantime, let's just ponder the idea that, nearly 50 years after its publication, a film adaptation of this story could finally happen.

(Via Deadline)