James D. Hudnall:
Creating Harsh Realm

by Michelle Erica Green

When Chris Carter's Harsh Realm debuts on FOX this Friday night in the former time slot of his two previous series, no one will be more eagerly interested in the ratings than writer James D. Hudnall. The writer who created the original comic book Harsh Realm is a fan of X-Files and Millennium...whose creators in turn are fans of Hudnall's work.

Though Harsh Realm the series is quite different from Harsh Realm the comic, Hudnall told Mania that he enjoyed the pilot and will look forward to seeing what Carter and Co. do with the concept, which came to him in a dream in 1988. Published by Harris Comics in 1992 with illustrations by Andrew Paquette, Harsh Realm was originally set far in the future. The hero specialized in finding people lost in "pocket universes" - alternate dimensions created by corporate computers. Magic was real in the constructed dimension of Harsh Realm, which catered to fans of fantasy role playing games.

Dreaming a World

"In my comic, I dealt with pocket universes instead of virtual reality, which I feel is less interesting - it's not as original as my original idea," explained the writer earlier this week. Hudnall added that he does not believe the recent success of films like The Matrix influenced the series, which was in the works long before the current VR craze.

"Chris Carter decided to recreate Harsh Realm in his own vision, which meant he took out my characters and the setting - the future - and made it present day and a military setting. He wanted the show to say 'Created by Chris Carter,' so he made enough changes to satisfy that."

Hudnall has seen the pilot episode, and praised the casting and Daniel Sackheim's direction. "It's still the same basic story and some scenes are reminicent of the comic, but other than that, it's a whole other animal. I am disappointed Carter decided to change so much...that's Hollywood for you."

"Like I said, I don't care much for virtual reality as a story concept, but I think he did a good job," Hudnall added. "It's much better than most anything I have seen dealing with that premise. The Matrix was a successful exporation of the concept, and Harsh Realm is more like The Matrix than anything else. The pilot shows a lot of promise...my only complaint is the messianic plot element, and the character Sophie being kind of a dumb chick character. Hopefully that will be improved."

The first episode begins with retiring Lt. Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow) getting one last assignment from the military: they want him to test out a new combat training simulation known as Harsh Realm. Inside the virtual reality world, Hobbes must fight for his life, forming an uneasy alliance with virtual man Mike Pinnochio (D.B. Sweeney) and challenging highly skilled player Omar Santiago (Terry O'Quinn) as he makes the terrible realization that Harsh Realm isn't just a game, and he's trapped inside.

"D.B. Sweeney is great, and Scott Bairstow is really cool," enthused Hudnall, who confirmed reports that Millennium's Lance Henriksen and The X-Files' Gillian Anderson appear in the pilot, though they do not play Frank Black and Dana Scully. The writer noted that he was excited about potential crossovers with the other Carter shows.

"I am an X-Files fan and I liked Millennium; I was sorry to see it go, but I am looking forward to the crossover Carter plans. I was very excited to have Carter pick up my comic. At the time, my agent said two different parties were intersted in Harsh Realm: Chris Carter and James Cameron. I went with Carter because I felt it had a better chance of getting made if Carter was involved, even though I am a huge Cameron fan."

In the case of Carter's production team, the admiration appears to be mutual. Long-time collaborators Glen Morgan and James Wong have cited Hudnall's Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography as an inspiration for the popular X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man." Carter himself has said Hudnall's premise had to be changed because the premise was too expensive to work as a weekly series.

Dogma Bites

Hudnall, whose life story and personal philosophy can be studied in detail on his official web site, www.thehud.com, lives in Las Vegas and worked as a computer consultant following a stint in the Air Force before the success of Espers allowed him to write full-time. A fan of Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Jim Thompson, and Charlotte Bronte, he writes, "I deplore dogma, rules, and restrictions...I try very hard not to be judgemental, but I don't suffer fools gladly."

Thus, the controversy over violence on television which erupted this summer and which reportedly caused Carter to make changes in Harsh Realm is a sore subject with Hudnall. "I think all this violence in the media stuff is sheer nonsense, and I really hate it whenever it comes up - it's such a pass the buck notion," he scoffed. "There have always been violent crazy people. There probably always will be. What TV shows inspired Hitler? Please!"

"My stuff tends to have violence in it but I never glamorize it," he continued. "In fact, the basic premise of the Harsh Realm comic was that you can get too caught up in the violent morality of role-playing games and lose a sense of your values. The main character of my comic is sent into Harsh Realm to find a teenaged boy who went into the game and didn't come out. It turns out the kid became addicted to the world and wanted to become a god there - an evil god."

"Carter kept that as the basis of the TV show, only in his case it's a Colonel Kurtz-type character instead of a teenager. And he's a despotic ruler instead of a god," added Hudnall, drawing parallels to Apocalypse Now. Having noted on his web site that "during my high school years I became interested in the occult and UFOs in a big way...I was your classic loner/weirdo," Hudnall scoffs at the notion that any given youth-directed dogma can have the impact which the media currently claims.

A youthful comics fan who became disenchanted with the industry, the writer came back when he discovered Alan Moore. "His work set me on fire. He brought a whole new sophistication to the medium and made silly characters seem cool and complex," wrote Hudnall on his web page. After moving to California, he stumbled into a job at Eclipse Comics, to whom he proposed the very successful Espers. That book in turn impressed executives at Marvel, where he took over Strikeforce: Morituri< and at DC, where he did the Lex Luthor book.

Coming Soon To a Screen Near You

Hudnall always wanted to write screenplays and to date has penned several. So far, adaptations of his comics have been a bigger lure in Hollywood, where the writer toiled for several years when the comics market collapsed and Malibu, which created the Ultraverse project on which he had worked, was sold to Marvel.

"We're talking to some major directors about my stuff now, and who knows, I might be working with them," he said hopefully. "I can't name names, but they are people I think are really good." Although Chris Carter won the rights to Harsh Realm, Hudnall would still like an opportunity to create a project with James Cameron. He would also love to work with Martin Scorsese - "it would be cool to see him take a shot at something SF-oriented."

"I want to do it all," conceded the California native. "I especially want to write and produce movies and TV shows based on my ideas. As for my comics, I only do what I want to do these days, so I am excited about them all." Right now he is "really into these online comics I am doing at www.3mcomics.com," the new online comics company Third Millennium. "All the comics are free to read. So please check them out."

Hudnall is writing several projects for Third Millennium, including Aftermath, "a science fiction series I have been wanting to do for ages. It's coming out great. I hope to have the first episode up in a few weeks." He has two other new series for the web site: Bad Romance and Stalker. "I think the internet is the future of entertainment and just may be the place for comics to evolve to," the writer noted.

In terms of his past work, Hudnall says he is especially proud of Sinking, Chiller, Espers, The Age of Heroes, Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography, Strikeforce: Morituri, Shut Up and Die, and Devastator. For him, Harsh Realm was, well, just a game, as the opening credits say of the new TV show say about the scenario. It may become the title that opens new dimensions for him, however.

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