The wrath of Harlan

The imminent re-launch of the Star Trek television series, with younger incarnations of the characters from the original show, is right up there near the very top of my list of unnecessary things — a little lower on the scale than fur-lined sinks but slightly higher than Celine Dion recordings.

But if the reconfigured show does nothing more than get the producers into a pissing match with the legendarily ill-tempered writer Harlan Ellison, it will still have fulfilled all my requirements for an evening’s entertainment.

According to the geek sites, the retooled Trek film will lean very heavily on plot devices and situations from “The City on the Edge of Forever,” the Ellison-scripted episode in which The Big Ham With the Rug — aka, William Shatner — must allow the death of a woman he has come to love in order to avoid a calamitous rewrite of history. I wouldn’t call it the best of the original series — the close-ups of Joan Collins emoting through a Vaseline-fogged camera lens cracked me up even when I was a kid — but it is one of the better ones, which tended to be those few episodes in which actual science fiction writers were hired to bring fresh ideas into a series that tended to rely on recycled tropes from westerns and war movies.

Just as anyone who writes for a living (or even just for pay) should be cheering the writers now on strike in Hollywood, so should anyone who values creative work be grateful to Ellison for his refusal to take any shit from producers and directors who try to steal his ideas. He’s got more than a few scalps on his belt, the biggest being that of James Cameron, whose screenplay for The Terminator had a little too much in common with “Soldier,” Ellison’s script for the old Outer Limits series.

Ellison evidently got word that J.J. Abrams, the producer-writer behind the retooled Trek, was going to use his work without offering due compensation. His response, posted on Ain’t It Cool News, is vintage Ellison:

Would someone go to that site, and suggest to those people there, that “City” and all its elements EXCEPT specific Star Trek characters, belong to Harlan Ellison–author of that much-lauded episode–by terms of the Separation of Rights clause of the Writers Guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), and if Mr. Abrams–with whom I’m currently on strike–or anyone else, at Paramount or elsewhere, thinks they’re going to use MY creations–whether the City, the Guardians, Sister Edith Keeler, or any other elements CREATED BY HARLAN ELLISON…they had damned well better lose the unilateral arrogance, get in touch with me, or my agent, Marty Shapiro, and be prepared to pay for the privilege of mining the lode I own.

Thank you, and thank Peter David, who just called to alert me, as have you, Mark, to yet another gimmegimme grab by Paramount and the Star trek francchise that makes billions, but withholds recognition or recompense to the artists who labored in that vein.

Yr. Pal, Harlan

My advice to Abrams is to pay the man what he’s due and bring him into the fold. His mind has been everywhere you want your movie to go. The Trekkies will show up regardless of whether it’s any good — as long as they can see some pointed ears, they’re happy. Ellison can write you something that the rest of us might want to see.

Incidentally, Ellison is the subject of a documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth, you can read about here.

One thought on “The wrath of Harlan

  1. […] Hart—author of The Last Three Miles—has smart things to say about the wrath of Harlan Ellison, the “generational taste” of Norman Mailer readers, and the obscurity of James Branch […]

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