The first episode, "Midnight on the Firing Line", plays at a breathless pace, introducing Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and establishing the conflict between the Narn and Centauri races as represented by their ambassadors, G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik). Then follow several mediocre episodes which initially give the impression that B5 is a Star Trek clone afflicted with "silly alien of the week" syndrome. Episodes such as "Soul Hunter" and "Infection" are best watched in hindsight, with knowledge of how good the show later became.
With "And the Sky Full of Stars" B5 really begins to hit its stride, Sinclair being forced to relive his mysterious experiences during the Earth-Minbari war. Filler shows such as "TKO" are notable only for being controversially violent, while the disappointing "Grail" points to writer-creator J. Michael Straczynski's fascination with Arthurian mythology. "Signs and Portents" introduces the sinister Mr Morden (Ed Wasser) and offers the chilling first appearance of ancient alien threat, the Shadows. B5 hits warp speed with a run of exceptional episodes building to the season finale. The two-part "A Voice in the Wilderness" has Mars breaking into open revolt against Earth and the discovery of a "Great Machine" on the dead world Epsilon 3. Referencing 1950s SF classic Forbidden Planet, the story leads to the superb time travel-based "Babylon Squared". Season finale "Chrysalis" proves more than just the usual television cliff-hanger, placing Minbari ambassador Delenn in conflict with her ruling Grey Council and forcing on her a decision which laid the groundwork for Babylon 5 eventually to become a great love story. --Gary S Dalkin
Introduction and audio commentary on two key episodes by series creator J. Michael Straczynski
"Behind Babylon 5" dossier of documentaries: "The Making of Babylon 5" and "Back to Babylon 5"
Enter "The Universe of Babylon 5" -- take a station tour and explore the humans, aliens, political situations, scientific data, tech files, weaponry and hardware of this unique futuristic era.
Languages: English, French, German
Subtitles: English, French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Arabic, Turkish
Hearing impaired: English, German
1.77:1 Widescreen Anamorphic
Dolby Digital 5.1
Midnight on the Firing Line, Soul Hunter, Born to the Purple, Infection, The Parliament of Dreams, Mind War, The War Prayer, And the Sky Full of Stars, Deathwalker, Believers, Survivors, By Any Means Necessary, Signs and Portents, Grail, Eyes, Legacies, A Voice in the Wilderness I, A Voice in the Wilderness II, Babylon Squared, The Quality of Mercy, Chrysalis.
The sound has been remastered in Dolby 5.1, and is a huge improvement over the VHS release. It is crisp and clear, with none of the distortion that was occasionally present during loud sections of music. The sounds of the station humming away in the backgroud are much clearer, giving a far more immersive feeling of 'actually bing there'.
The picture is, for the most part, a superb digital remastering from the original prints, and in full 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen. The quality is excellent, with perfect colour and contrast.
There are not a huge number of special features. There are about 15 minutes of clips on technical aspects and two interesting behind the scenes documentaries that run to a combined 30 minutes. While good, I won't particularly watch them again. The real gems are the two director's commentaries by JMS, one for 'Signs and Portents' and the other 'Chrysalis'. These are great, and will be well worth a repeat viewing. As well as jokes and behind the scenes gossip he also slips a few wonderful insights into what he went through to get Babylon 5 on air. One word of caution, though. The special features have been written for the fans, and contain some whopping spoilers for new viewers. You have been warned...
The whole package is so brilliant, that it honestly pains me that there is anything wrong with it, but there is one annoying problem. While 95% of the footage is, as I have said, a new widescreen print, there are a small number of shots that are not. For whatever reason - and I'm sure there'll be a good one - a small number of individual shots in each of the episodes are in fact cropped and expanded from the 4:3 television print, and not true widescreen. As a result a small amount of picture has been lost from the top and bottom, and the quality is noticeably lower. This unfortunately would seem to include ALL of the CGI work, though these are less of a problem than the other shots as the quality was so high in the first place.
While every effort was obviously taken to avoid this, the unfortunate fact remains that it does lower the overall quality. That said, it does not happen very often, and is typically not too obvious, and, had I to choose, I'd probably say it was worth it to have the other 95% in perfect widescreen. Let's just hope that this is an isolated problem with the 1st series.
That said, in all other respects I cannot fault them at all. There has obviously been a lot of attention lavished on this release, and it shows. I can totally recommend it to anyone at all, old and new fans alike. It is a fantastic set, at an excellent price, and the only thing missing now is the other 4.
The show poses a more realistic future than much sci-fi TV: while some of the alien races have their advanced technologies, humanity's future achievements are rooted in the laws of physics and space travel as we know or imagine it today. There is little black and white morality - all the characters are sketched in shades of grey, and there are no easy solutions or guaranteed happy endings.
In hindsight, season one is admittedly shaky in comparison the later years - but that's an extremely high standard to be compared to, and skipping it to start watching from season two or later is rather like flipping to chapter fifteen of a novel because you've heard that's where the good part starts. Don't do it. The amount of foreshadowing and careful setup in this series is phenomenal, and it's not something you can appreciate from reading a brief plot summary. Episodes like "Signs and Portents" and "Babylon Squared" introduce important plot elements that pay off literally years later, and everywhere there are throwaway lines and actions that mean so much more after seeing the whole series.
Season one episodes, when they're bad, can be dull and clunky, but when they're good, they're amazing; as it goes on, the first season's high points more than cancel out its lows. Original leading man Michael O'Hare gets a rather unfair rap for being 'wooden': Sinclair is an unusual character for a male television lead - quite calm and restrained, almost spiritual in some ways - and I personally never had a problem with O'Hare's performance. The friendship between Sinclair and security chief Garibaldi brings a lot of humanity to the show, as does Claudia Christian's performance as cynical Russian second-in-command Ivanova.
The heavyweight acting comes from Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas, as the ambassadors of two perpetually warring alien peoples. Their characters here are quite different from the ones we eventually come to know, and yet the evolution to that point is so perfectly organic that seeing them change and grow over the years is one of the show's greatest strengths. Look out also for Walter Koenig's first appearance as the Machiavellian telepath Bester, a wonderful character that nobody who watched him on Star Trek would ever suspect he had in him.
I won't pretend the first season has no flaws, but I still give it five stars, because it has more than enough merits to balance them out, and it sets up so much of what goes on to become one of the best science fiction shows of all time. Highly recommended.
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