June 01, 2009

Notes from a DVD Geek

By Jeremy Lassen

The big release for science fiction fans this month is a documentary about legendary SF writer Harlan Ellison.  This documentary, "Dreams With Sharp Teeth", is directed by the producer of "Grizzly Man" (You know… the documentary about the guy who disappeared while filming bears in Alaska,) Erik Nelson.

This documentary is not a tell-all attack piece, nor is it an even-handed, balanced documentary that gives equal time to Ellison's critics. Instead, it is a riotous celebration of the man, his work, and the character that he has created, "Harlan Ellison", over the course of his career. Many funny tidbits and gems are in this documentary and in the associated "extras" on the DVD.

In celebration of this documentary, I'd like to point out some of the movies and TV episodes that have been based on Harlan Ellison's work.

Probably the most famous movie adaptation is "A Boy and His Dog", staring a very young Don Johnson.  This story of Ellison's is one of his most memorable, and the movie does it some justice . . . even though the tone of the film does tend to veer wildly from act to act.

One of the most (in)famous movies inspired by Ellison's work is James Cameron's original "Terminator" movie.  Ellison sued to get a credit for this movie, and won, claiming it was inspired by his Outer Limit episodes "Soldier," and "The Demon With a Glass Hand". Despite losing this battle in court, director (and script co-writer) James Cameron has always resented this assertion, and there seems to be a back-and-forth battle of the credit line in the various home video versions of this film, with Ellison's story credit slipping in and out of the credits as each new version of the film is released.

Moving past  "Terminator", we can get to some of Ellison's television writing, which includes the above-mentioned Outer Limits episodes and the famous Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever".  He was also responsible for the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents' "Memo from Purgatory."  There were numerous other lesser-known TV episodes that he banged out early in his tv writing career, from episodes of "Burke's Law", to an episodes from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea".

Much later, several of his stories were adapted for the 1980's "The New Twilight Zone" series ("Crazy as a Soup Sandwich,"  "Gramma," "One Life," "Furnished in Early Poverty," "Paladin of the Lost Hour" and "Shatterday").

There were also a couple of "Babylon 5" episodes written by Ellison, a "New Outer Limits" episode from 1999 based on "The Human Operators", and a "Masters of Science Fiction" episode based on his story "The Discarded."

There were many other legendarily unproduced pilots and scripts, which Ellison chronicles at length in his books, THE GLASS TEAT, and THE OTHER GLASS TEAT. [Editor's note: Both of these volumes are now out of print.]

Moving away from Ellison, to another cult SF personality, Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" hits DVD in June.  This one was the "online only" production that Whedon worked on during the writers' strike last year, and it's now more widely commercially available, with a bunch of extras on the DVD that were not part of the original download.

And, moving from the cult SF side of the house to the cult horror side of the house, I bring you the most unlikely adaptation to ever be made. "Header". A movie based on Edward Lee's "classic" splatter-porn short story, soon to be available on DVD. This looks to be a mostly mediocre low budget horror film, but wow.  "Header".  Edward Lee.  I can't wait.  It's like when I found out "The Girl Next Door" was being made into a movie. But somehow sleazier and seedier.

And that's all I've got for you this month.

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