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More captivating stories from the pen of the master!!
on 5 April 2005
I own all three of these captivating Babylon 5 adventures on videotape, but I couldn't resist this DVD, not sad or a waste of money I tell myself because after all this is one of the best, no THE best television series OF ALL TIME. Whether these are the best examples of the Babylon 5 universe i.e. the inter-species strife, political manoeuvring, cosmic inter-stellar battles, character decisions that always strike painful emotional cords and all the rest that J. Michael Straczynski has provided so abundantly in the past I would have to say...almost definitely.
I also feel this is the correct choice of extra-length episodes for a movie box-set, after all...the first episode- 'The Gathering' is provided in the Season One Box-set (albeit in a lesser form) and 'In the Beginning' in my opinion is a stand-alone story that should be bought separately, as it outshines these three movies effortlessly. But having said that...'Thirdsapce', 'A River of Souls' and 'A Call to Arms' remain top-notch sci-fi, gloriously entertaining television and visual spectaculars, even more so now that they've been given a new lease of life in this quality, well-presented, movie-compilation DVD. In contrast the bonus material is disappointingly limited, but my expectations weren't incredibly high as I don't rate the Babylon 5 DVD Season compilations much either (too much information unaccompanied by the creator, production team and actors) and besides I'd much prefer experiencing the Babylon 5 universe than trawling through miscellaneous data.
Nine times out of ten it's the writing and plot (all credit to Straczinski) of this legendary show that keeps me engaged, but this is a rare example of how style surpasses substance to make this one of the most intense, absorbing, beautifully realised and chilling stories in the universe of Babylon 5. When fear is cultivated in the audience through the use of shadows and allusions almost unaided by specific illustrations of the physical threat, it's simply the mark of a talented director who's acutely aware of how to manipulate the camera and his characters to achieve the required reaction of his audience. All the best horror is subtle suggestions designed to unnerve rather than buckets of blood and mountains of gore and this is exactly what makes the previously theorised, but until recently undiscovered area known as thirdspace so spooky and intriguing.
The main characters employed to deliver to us the mysteries of Thirdspace are Captain Sheridan, Lyta Alexander, Commander Susan Ivanova and the consistently captivating Delenn. The protagonist thwarting their efforts to save the world from the dangers of this alien realm is Doctor Trent excellently portrayed by (the otherwise completely unknown to me) Shari Belafonte who captures the drive, ambition and greed of her character, which result in some fantastic scenes charged with tension.
Of course the writing is as intelligent and original as always, of course the space battles are as ever beautifully choreographed and tremendous fun and of course scintillating new depths of characters (our favourite and new ones besides) are explored, but this story has an extra quality that I believe makes it one of the most unrivalled of fear-inducing stories ever brought to us by the ingenious Babylon 5 creative team.
RIVER OF SOULS
This is a return to what the show does best and how refreshing that still is in comparison with all other television shows (and not just science-fiction)!! We've been introduced to soul hunters before, but never has there been an exploration of their race and calling, which is what's fascinatingly served up here. Martin Sheen is recognisable as the Soul Hunter but that never detracts from the gravity of his performance, such is the subtlety of his portrayal of this character and the peculiarity and confliction of his position. Ian McShane (of Lovejoy fame) however, really gets under the skin of his character Doctor Bryson, who is the more sympathetic version of Thirdspace's Doctor Trent. Another similarity between this story and that one is the heart-rending quality that infects the viewer, this time the horror is of a different kind, but is no less powerful, as the story reaches a crescendo of realisation that almost paralyses. This is the best of the three features simply because of the guest characters who enter the Babylon 5 universe and who not only fit in, but also take the show to new depths of character deconstruction.
A CALL TO ARMS
I was deeply disappointed by this movie, but since viewing for the first time and getting another chance with this DVD...it has definitely grown on me, perhaps because the development of the new characters (show-cased here for the first time) in the short-lived Crusade series has given me a new perspective, because they don't work as well here mixed in with the Babylon 5 characters as they are able in their own specific environment in Crusade. I am a big fan of techno mages, having read Jeanne Cavelos 'The Passing of the Techno Mages' books, but I am still on the fence about Peter Woodward as Galen, maybe it's the clash of American and British, maybe it's his exaggerated performance or maybe I just don't rate him as an actor, but whichever is the case it unfortunately mars the techno mage plot line for me. This is one of the many minor quibbles I have with this movie, which are probably all entirely due to my making unfair comparisons between traditional Babylon 5 and this Babylon 5/Crusade amalgamation. But in conclusion it's an involving and well-made adventure, even if it does sometimes feel as though Captain Sheridan has been brought out of retirement a little prematurely.