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J. Michael Straczynski was the Ronald D. Moore of the 90s. As the mind behind Babylon 5 he broke new ground on television and in science fiction. He’s since gone on to mainstream, Hollywood film success as the writer of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar nominated film Changeling and JMS is now a heavily sought after screenwriter. That doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his science fiction roots.
Among the many projects on his plate, Straczynski is working on an adaptation of the classic “Lensman” stories of E.E. "Doc" Smith. Smith was one of the earliest godfathers of science fiction. His work was first published in the thirties and went on to inspire many of genre’s most legendary authors and a lot of the science fiction you spend your time watching now. The Lensman series is complex beyond all reason, a sprawling, epic story which takes follows a group of human beings who travel beyond space and dimension in a far off future to serve as guardians of the universe.
Boiling the Lensman series down into a script is no small feat, but apparently it’s a feat JMS has already accomplished. He recently appeared on the Babylon Podcast where he revealed that, “the second draft is in. Everyone is very happy with it, and we'll now see where that goes.”
As for who decides where it goes from here, last we heard Ron Howard and Universal were behind the project. JMS confirms that they’re still behind it saying, “We're looking to do new things with effects, and of course with Ron Howard involved it's always going to be character-oriented, so we combine what you can do with effects these days with a really strong character story.” Sounds like the film is a lot farther along than it was back then, when they were still trying to secure the rights necessary for making the film. Since JMS has written a script and turned it in, I suspect that means they now have the rights to make it. If they like what he did, this thing may actually move ahead.
If it does move ahead, if this thing actually gets made, we’re talking space opera on a scale not seen in anything since Star Wars. The scope of Lensman is huge. Talking about the size of it all, JMS tells the BabCast, “I think it really does create that world and what's cool about it is all the character stuff that's in there now. It's just the sheer scope and scale of it, which is what the Doc Smith books were always about to me to a large extent; the scale was insane. We found ways to really dramatize that.”
Then he goes on to give us a taste of just what he’s written. Says Straczynski, “Case in point, this is a very small example from the script, take this as being emblematic of the scale of the whole thing: you've got these two fleets battling it out, you've seen it a hundred times before. But now, within that massive fleet battle you have two ships locked on with gravity (lances?) firing at each other, they're linked together like scorpions in a bottle tied with a string, by the gravity beams. Inside that, you have the crew of one ship in EVA suits with armor coming out to try and board the other ship. They send their people out to stop them, so we have hand-to-hand combat.” In Smith’s books warriors use very vicious weapons called “space-axes” in hand to hand combat. Imagine armored attackers flinging themselves into cold of space ready to rip each other to shreds.
JMS is one hell of a writer. I have every confidence that he’s pulled this script off, and if he’s pulled it off, and if Ron Howard does this thing right, then when finally seen on screen there’s a very good chance that Lensman will blow our minds. Right now everyone’s focused on Avatar but if Lensman succeeds then a couple of years ago we’ll be talking about this in precisely the same way as the next big thing.
Make sure you click over to the Babylon Podcast to hear their entire interview with JMS.