What has J. Michael Straczynski done for us lately? After Babylon 5 and its spinoff Crusade went off the air, he created the post-apocalyptic drama Jeremiah, wrote multiple comics for both Marvel and DC and wrote the BAFTA-award winning screenplay, Changeling. Anything else?
Actually, yes. Straczynski just announced he has optioned Harlan Ellison's famed short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman."
J. Michael Straczynski wrote on his Facebook page:
"Since this has apparently leaked onto several film-oriented websites, I should probably confirm the information and preclude distortion: I have optioned, and adapted into screenplay form, Harlan Ellison's "Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman." It's out to producers, studios and directors now. We hope to find a director who has always wanted to make this story into a movie. More as, if and when it develops."
Considering that Straczynski's screenplay for Changeling was directed by Clint Eastwood, our fingers are crossed that the Ellison story will get the treatment it deserves.
"Repent, Harlequin!" is about a dystopian future where being late is a crime. The protagonist, Harlequin, decides to take matters—and jellybeans—into his own hands. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best science fiction short story in 1966 and has been reprinted dozens of times.
In 2005, Ellison said that the anthology television show Masters of Science Fiction would contain his own adaptation of "Repent, Harlequin!" because he did not trust anyone else for the task:
"Scripts are, in a hundred ways, more difficult and stylistically demanding than a straight story. It takes a conscious paradigm-shift in thinking to adapt something from narrative to visual media. With only a half dozen exceptions in my forty-plus years here, I've never allowed anyone else to stir my porridge. And as far as 'Repent, Harlequin!' is concerned, well, even I consider this gig to be a ball-buster. I wouldn't trust it to anyone else. If anyone should fail at the task, it ought to be me, just to be fair.
However, when it aired on ABC in 2007, "Repent, Harlequin!" was not on the venue; instead, Masters of Science Fiction produced a different Ellison short story, "The Discarded."
The other story was probably filmed because, with its fast-paced stream-of-consciousness writing, it really is "a ball-buster" to adapt. Of course, Ellison has a great deal of faith in Straczynski: Ellison worked for Straczynski as his conceptual consultant on Babylon 5 during its five-year run.