Monday, 19 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #807: "REPENT HOLLYWOOD!" Said The EllisonMan

Ever since I was a kid, I've been a Harlan Ellison fan. The man can do more with a short story than most writers can do with a novel. He's also a scrapper for the rights of writers to get paid for their work, and will come down on you like a grumpy deity with a thunder-making hammer if he thinks you poached said work and claimed it as your own.

Well, he's doing it again. This time he's suing the makers of the upcoming science fiction movie In Time, claiming that it's too close to his short story "Repent Harlequin," Said The Ticktockman. He's not only demanding monetary damages, he also wants to block the film's Oct. 28 release.

Now I normally cheer on Ellison's suits, it feeds that little "stick it to the man" goblin that sits on my left shoulder. However, this time, the goblin's noticing that it may not be as fresh and tasty as all the others.

Let's look at the facts....

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

This 1965 short story is a satire about a dystopian future when everyone's lives are strictly scheduled. You must do everything the state says and, this is really important, do it
when the state says you should do it. Being late is a crime, and when you're late a proportionate amount of time is deducted from your estimated lifespan by an agent officially called the Timekeeper, but nicknamed The Ticktockman. Commit enough crimes against time to use up your estimated lifespan, and he'll kill you with a device that stops your heart. Into this society pops up The Harlequin, a rebel in a clown outfit who tries to throw a spanner into the societal works with surreal pranks and stunts.

In Time

It's set in a "retro-future" where aging doesn't happen beyond 25, but to control the population everyone has a built in timer. When the timer runs out you die. However, time is literally money in this culture and if you play your cards right you can accumulate enough time to become effectively immortal. The main plot involves a poor young man (Justin Timberlake) who inherits a fortune in time, and then gets blamed for murder. He goes on the run with a hot chick (Amanda Seyfried) to clear his name and avoid policemen, called Timekeepers, who will stop his clock if they catch him.

Now apparently the heart of the suit is by the use of the name "Timekeepers" and their ability to shorten or stop someone's life if they see fit. That makes this different from Ellison's other suits. Ellison's past litigation had to do with the core idea of a story. The core of
"Repent Harlequin" is all about the use of time as a form of state control. Be on time, doing your duty, or die.

In Time is about immortality, the timers implanted in people in the name of population control, and how those timers led to the use of lifespan as a currency that can be traded, or accumulated. The fact that the people who regulate this trade are called "timekeepers" like Ellison's punctuality enforcers doesn't strike me as coming from a desire to "rip-off" Ellison, but from the simple fact that there really isn't a better word to use.

It's like someone suing everyone who has ever made a movie about space travel because he wrote a story about space travel that used the word "spaceship."

Now if the leader of the
In Time Timekeepers is called The Ticktockman, then he might have a case, but right now I'm not feeling it.

What I am feeling is a bit of unease over Ellison's demand that the producers not only pay him damages, but that the film's release be cancelled. I hope it's just a bargaining chip Ellison is setting up for the settlement negotiations, because demanding a film be essentially banned because someone finds it displeasing enough to sue is a tad discomfiting coming from someone who claims to be a champion of free expression. If someone made a film that displeased Rupert Murdoch, would he support Murdoch's call to ban the film?

All in all I find that he's suing more over a vague concept, one which only lay at the fringe of his 1965 story, which the creators of In Time use as a central conceit of their film, and they're using a radically different interpretation that had no place in Ellison's story. I'm sure the Ticktockman would be consider the use of lifespan as currency as needlessly chaotic and a promoter of tardiness.

Because of that I find myself unable to bring up my usual ardor for this new crusade of Ellison's. They'll probably settle to shut him up, but I think he's gone a step too far this time.


  1. I don't know, that sounds a lot more like a riff on Logan's Run than "Repent, Harlequin."

  2. Ken,

    I thought that too for a moment, but D simply choose an unfortunate wording. In the movie, you STOP AGING at 25, not stop living completely.

  3. I think I should edit that.

  4. Dirty McDingus Sezs:
    I gave up on ellison when he found out that camoron was caught saying he was INSPIRED by the works of his to make 'The Terminator' and sued because camoron STOLE from two episodes out of 'the Outer Limits'~
    I then watched mentioned episodes and there wasn't a SINGLE THING similar outside of both being TIME TRIPs to the PAST! No machine coming back to kill anyone or even a actual machine to kill anything! There was a machine in one eps. but that WAS IT.
    ellison has gone after other people before too and since he hasn't written anything new for DECADES, I'm guessing he's living off all that litigation and what profits off all his old books being reprinted now.
    Since he's doing squat I guess this is his past time while he slowly crawls into his 6' ft hole...

  5. Ken Begg left a comment???

    Time to retire Furious D, you've reached the pinnacle when the high priest of Jabootu has visited you.

    (hey - what can I say I'm a fan of the old site)

    Also, this movie actually sounds kind of interesting. I'll be disappointed if it gets stop.

    Unless it really sucks. That's a story for Ellison: "Writer discovers horrifically bad movie. Must do everything in his power to stop it. Hits upon a long shot lawsuit based upon a flimsy premise but the fate of humanity's sanity is at stake..."

    (unrelated note: my anti-spam word is "vagies" which just seems dirty to me)

  6. In hollywood It's not plagiarism it called paying homage.

  7. I will now boast of the fact that I was PERSONALLY INSULTED by Harlan Ellison back in 1992. He even sneered at me. It was because I was a video games developer and that made me (almost) beneath contempt. So that made my day. He was wearing a WW2 Flying Tigers leather jacket.

    Not one story about Harlan Ellison I've ever heard has made me think he was anything other than a talented, pretentious asshole. I'm sure this lawsuit is to (a) remind Hollywood he's alive and (b) steal some money.