Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Babylon 5: The Lost Is Found

We just finished watching Babylon 5: The Lost Tales and all of its extra features. I'm happy to report that it was several hours very well spent! Here are my thoughts, for the few of you out there who might actually care. (And by the way, Spoilers Lie Ahead, if you plan to watch it but just haven't done so yet!)

I really liked both of the stories included in this debut direct-to-DVD offering. If the quality of the writing and acting are indicative of what's to come, then I truly hope we get many, many more of these in the years to come. Tammy commented that each of the two segments seemed like they could've been pretty good episodes of the original series, which is presumably what writer-director (and B5 creator) Straczynski was going for. And it was definitely a good idea to have the two plots intertwine, as JMS did, since it allows you to enjoy each on its own - and the DVD setup makes it possible to watch each separately - while still presenting a complete seventy-minute experience if watched together. I wonder if all future DVDs in the series will stick to that format, or if they'll experiment?

The Lockley story did something that, to the best of my knowledge, JMS had successfully avoided in over 100 episodes (and half a dozen movies), which was to come pretty damned close to proving the existence of God (and all that goes with that). I kept expecting that it would all turn out to be a Technomage trick, since the alternative - that the character in question really was possessed by a demonic power - seemed outside the normal realm of B5 lore. In fact, had anyone other than JMS written the episode in question, I'd have imagined him pulling out what little hair he has left upon hearing about it. So that made it interesting in a way that I hadn't expected. As I'd read in an early review of this story, there was a noticeable lack of station personnel in some of the shots. It's not that there weren't any personnel; just that B5 didn't feel like the hustling, bustling port of call that we'd come to know and love over five seasons. I suspect that they simply didn't have the budget for it, although I always though extras worked for peanuts (you do have to clothe and, in many cases, add prosthetics to them, however, so...) At any rate, I was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed Lockley's tale than I'd expected to. I'm still not a big Lockley fan, but this didn't hurt in that regard. Now if only we could get a new Susan Ivanova tale sometime soon...

And there's no doubt that I had been more looking forward to seeing President Sheridan and Galen in action, because I liked both characters more than I ever took to Tracy Scoggins' "Ivanova-replacement" role. Happily, the second half of The Lost Tales also delivered, as it worked really well on nearly all levels! Both Sheridan and Galen were perfectly in character, with layers upon layers of (sometimes hidden) motivations evident in their actions. Galen sets the leader of the Alliance down a certain path, and even appears visibly angered when it's not followed, and yet we're left to wonder if perhaps he got exactly the result that he'd hoped for. Sheridan, for his part, is put in a position where a very difficult decision is being asked of him, and yet he chooses to side-step it by taking on an even greater - and more personal - responsibility in its place. That's a beautifully fitting outcome, especially where Bruce Boxleitner's character is concerned, as we'd been treated to four incredible years of personal growth over the final four seasons of the TV series. Sheridan's compassion here, tinged with a willingness to "do the deed" in the future if there really were no other choice, just adds further luster to an already-great fictional leader.

I really only had two complaints about this movie. The first is that no mention whatsoever was made about the resolution of the storyline that Crusade's cancellation left hanging. I mean, sure, we know Earth survived the Drakh attack (perpetrated in the Babylon 5: A Call To Arms TV movie and then continuing through Crusade's aborted run) thanks to various glimpses of the future provided during Babylon 5's tenure, but some sort of acknowledgment of how that happened would've been good, especially considering the inclusion of two of the principles to that story, John Sheridan and Galen. That felt like a missing piece, to me.

And the "beyond the rim" classification of G'Kar and Dr Franklin, made by Lockley, were certainly touching enough, but struck me immediately as being in contradiction to what we already know about the characters. G'Kar, after all, was supposed to be traveling to parts unknown with uber-telepath Lyta Alexander, so what had happened to that relationship in the 9 years between Season 5 and this story? Are we to believe he returned, dumped Lyta and took on the doctor, and then headed back out once again? Also, we'd seen Dr Franklin leave for an important 'Xenobiology' position on Earth at the end of Season 5, and then in the final Babylon 5 episode, "Sleeping in Light" (which takes place 19 years later, or 10 years after this movie), Franklin is seen visiting Garibaldi on Mars, and refers to his vital work that's underway on Earth. So the continuity cop in me says, "Huh?" Yes, I know both actors have died and won't be in any future B5 tales, but the story's still king, isn't it?

But those are minor quibbles with an overwhelmingly favourable experience. At $20, I felt like our money was extremely well-spent, especially considering that I expect to watch it a few more times over the next few years. And I certainly hope my contribution was a drop in the bucket and that sales leave no doubt about how viable future editions would be. JMS was quoted as saying that the series has earned something like half a billion dollars over its lifetime (while costing under $100 million to produce) so clearly there's a big fan base out there. I know there were at least three of them in our house tonight!

1 comment:

Croptop said...

I, too, enjoyed my all to brief return to the B5 universe.

It was also interesting to see the dramatic improvements to the CGI (particularly the level of detail present in the exterior shots of the station).

One other (minor) quibble for me was the "promotion" of Elizabeth Lockley to Colonel.

I'd always assumed (wrongly, obviously) that Lockley was a naval Captain (a "four-ringer") which is the equivalent of a Colonel. If that were true, she should have been promoted to Rear Admiral.

Instead, her promotion to Colonel implies that she was an Army or Air Force Captain (a "two-ringer"). This is an awfully junior rank to be commanding a space station.

But perhaps it's just my military experience causing me to nitpick.