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Captain James T. Who?,
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This review is from: Babylon 5: The Complete Universe [DVD] (DVD)
Babylon 5: space-opera extrodinaire. Genius and visionary scriptwriting that encompassed every eventuality that could befall such an ambitious project combined with believable plots that worked their way through a pre-planned 5 year arc. At the time - the mid-to-late 1990s - this show was groundbreaking, fresh, and, above all, always watchable. Babylon 5 is is the type of television that DVD box sets are made for, especially as we will in all probability never see its like again.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Babylon 5 - and since terrestrial TV don't appear to be in any rush to rescreen the series, I guess this may be the younger sci-fi fan who has been drawn in by its reputation without ever having seen the show - the titular object of the series is a giant space station somewhere in deepest space, the 5th of its kind (the 1st 3 having been destroyed by pro-Earth extremists; the 4th vanished in mysterious circumstances that become explained during the series). Babylon 5 is conceived as neutral territory for the various species that mankind has encountered; although a military installation ultimately governed by Earth, the station has its own council and serves to provide the needs of the various ambassadors and commercial transactions of the people that pass through it.
Where B5 differed to other sci-fi shows that preceeded it was in presenting the stories of its inhabitants. From the command staff that run B5, to the alien ambassadors and other wanderers that drift in and out of the story as required, to the 'lurkers' who dwell in, and combine to become, B5's social underbelly, no-one is exempt from consideration. Add to this detail-driven backgrounds for the major characters, and the growth of relationships (both the good and the bad) with a complete disregard for the type of schmaltz and sentimentalism that typify much of American prime-time TV, and B5 was already streets ahead of its competitors. The addition of a believable backdrop to the Human empire (for example, a war against the Minbari that takes place about 10 years prior to the series adds an aura of tension to the show), and the slow revelation of other secrets held by the universe, further underline the mammoth task the writers had in order to sell the show to the TV executives. I can only thank them for their persistence. Even my girlfriend, notoriously anti-sci-fi, found herself spellbound at the first appearance of the Shadows (find out more by buying, sci-fi fans...)
OK, in watching the show years later I realise that it wasn't perfect. At times, mainly during the 1st season, B5 does have a tendancy to fall back in to soap-opera mode, so much so that it can be like watching 'Days of Our Lives' with carrion-eating aliens in the background. But then, the 1st series was never an indication of the way the show shaped out to be, and the acting (especially from Andreas Katsulas and Bill Mummy) increasingly get better and better. As for the complaints I've seen about sub-standard CGI - pah! OK, compared to films such as 'Over the Hedge', or 'Toy Story', or any other multi-billion dollar budgeted, CGI reliant animation, B5 does come up wanting. But since the programme was aired more than 10 years ago - and the fact that CGI has evolved considerably since then - the CGI in B5 is fairly impressive; and some of the long-distance shots of the station itself still make my jaw drop.
The only downside to the boxset is the lack of extras on the individual discs; but then again, I bought the boxset on the strength of the TV show, not the bits and pieces that I don't really miss having anyway. The inclusion of all 6 B5 feature films and the complete Crusade series more than make up for these anyhow. Babylon 5: it's sci-fi, Jim, but not as we know it...