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Hunter S. Thompson to Write New "Babylon 5" Telemovie
© Edgar Harris

Los Angeles — The longrunning series Babylon 5 is already known for its efforts to encourage fan interest in literary science fiction and in traditional literature. During its five-year run, creator J. Michael Straczynski included references to the works of Alfred Bester, H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, and Chuck Jones into his scripts. However, with the approval of the SCI FI Channel, which is commissioning a series of Babylon 5 telemovies over the next five years, Straczynski is handing over parts of his universe to other established authors, starting with a stint by noted ESPN.com sports columnist Hunter S. Thompson.

"We've been doing our best to convince the great body of science fiction fans to expand their horizons, and short of going to their houses, chaining them to stakes in the back yard, and forcing them to deal with clean air and sunshine, this is one of the best ways. I've always been an admirer of Hunter's work in [the late magazine] Scanlon's, and this is his last free period before he takes over as editor of Vanity Fair. As he puts it himself, we must do this."

Thompson was equally enthusiastic about his stint as guest creator. "I remember watching the first episode featuring the Shadows and screaming 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?' After that, I was hooked. The whole cast reminded me of people I knew back in the Sixties. When I found that Joe [Straczynski] was a fan, I figured that this endeavor would be an example of everything right and true in the national character, but only for those with true grit. And we're chock full of that."

The new telemovie, tentatively titled Fear and Loathing On Babylon 5, is based on an obscure Thompson novel generally unfamiliar to science fiction fans. Starting with the line "We were somewhere outside of Centauri Prime, on the edge of hyperspace, when the drugs began to take hold," Thompson's script follows the exploits of human journalist Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp) and his 300-pound Narn attorney G'Onzo (Academy Award winner Benecio Del Toro) as they travel in a hallucinogen-influenced race to cover the Zocalo motorcycle race along the main spindle of Babylon 5. In the course of events, the two encounter diplomats, traders, smugglers, and wanderers (as well as bodyguards, groupies, LSD-crazed Barbra Streisand fans, and a very harried security and maintenance force) while Duke struggles to uncover the long-lost Great Earth Alliance Dream.

Explained Thompson, a doctor of journalism with nearly fifty years of writing experience behind him, "Dr. Johnson always said 'He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man,' and these two find that the only way to understand how Babylon 5 works is by immersing themselves in the lowest portions of the local culture. After the motorcycle race is done, they come back to crash a Ranger conference on dangerous technologies and find that they know more about the reality of the illegal organotech community than the Rangers do. This is, of course, after discovering that the Zocalo is what the whole hep galaxy would be doing every Saturday night had the Dilgar won the war."

Fear and Loathing on Babylon 5 is not the only B5 film to be written by a noted author or essayist. Salon.com advice columnist Garrison Keillor is engaged in a spinoff telemovie about the residents of Lake Pak'ma'ra, Rigel 4, where everyone knows and eats each other. Others will be announced as the deals are negotiated, but all of the contacted authors are enthusiastic about their involvement.

Molly Ivins, tentatively signed to write a script involving transplated Texans and other wildlife at the edge of the galaxy, said "I'd been writing about government [pronounce "gummint"] for years, and I realized that I'd been slacking off for years compared to the effort of writing science fiction." Bret Easton Ellis, whose script is unfortunately under intense scrutiny by the SCI FI Standards and Practices Department, said "Here I've been, writing shamelessly gratuitous stories about young professionals doing massive amounts of cocaine, when I could have been working with Joe Straczynski. To hell with urban angst: I wanna kill some Vorlons." Finally, Rolling Stone freelancer Joe Esterhaz joined the burgeoning ranks, saying "You know, I've never written a screenplay that doesn't involve explosions, breasts, or exploding breasts, and doesn't have a single hooker getting an icepick in the eye, until now. I love Joe Straczynski."


Edgar Harris is the former Sports Editor at "Science Fiction Age". Archives of his material are available at http://www.hpoo.com/harris/.

 
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