Last year I posted about the various Star Trek movies and gave them an overall rating. Today, I am going to discuss my view of the Babylon 5 television movies, as well as my thoughts on the swirling discussion over a possible feature film to begin production as soon as 2016. While I am a known fan of B5, this is being written with a rather critical eye. For the purposes of readability, I will proceed in chronological order, vis-à-vis, the story arc, with the movies.
In the Beginning
Synopsis: The Babylon 5 universe is introduced or, refreshed in this case, with a movie which tells the tale of the Earth-Minbari War, told from the point-of-view of ailing Emperor Londo Mollari.
The Good: Sets up the Babylon 5 universe, answers some questions about the series as a whole, the chance to see Michael O’Hare in the series one last time. Good acting and writing.
The Bad: Somewhat clunky cutaways give this a somewhat B-movie feel.
Review: It is a good thing The Gathering was the actual pilot episode, because if this had been the actual first offering, Babylon 5 may have been cancelled straight from the get-go. While JMS does an admirable tale of storytelling through sophisticated CGI and editing, the scenes produced exclusively for this movie do not seem to mesh well with many of the cutaways taken from other B5 episodes. Overacting isn’t so much an issue with this movie as with other franchises, but the back-and-forth nature of the cutaways, along with the ability to fresh material from “borrowed,” makes this movie feel just a little off-rhythm. It is, however, an excellent way to see how far CGI came when it debuted on TNT in 1997.
Synopsis: In the pilot episode of the franchise, station Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is implicated in a plot to assassinate the ambassador of the ultra-powerful Vorlon Empire. The station crew must race against the clock to find the would-be killer before the Vorlons attack and destroy Babylon 5.
The Good: Pilot episode, good plot, original use of an oft-cliche plot device (telepaths.)
The Bad: CGI, though state-of-the-art for the day, was still riddled with errors. Some makeup errors and one-off cast members with little or no explanation of their later whereabouts.
Review: The Gathering is far from the gold standard for science fiction series plots as far as CGI goes, but the acting and storytelling makes up for it. Hardcore Babylon 5 fans are able to forgive the obvious pilot-to-series continuity glitches, such as Delenn and G’Kar’s makeup being near identical, and the leafblower style weapons, as the sort of things to expect in a pilot. Michael O’Hare’s (Sinclair) acting, combined with a wonderfully silly performance by Peter Jurasik (Londo Mollari) and the usual melodramatic, ham-on-wry loftiness of the late Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar) gives the story the feeling of intrigue. An air of compelling mystery is provided by Mira Furlan’s (Delenn) performance, and even the one-off acting jobs provided by Tamlyn Tomita (Lt. Comm. Takashima) and Johnny Sekka (Dr. Benjamin Kyle) add juice to the story. As an interesting aside, this episode takes the near-cliché concept of telepathic humans and turns it into something far more practical, with real-world problems of their old, evidenced by the allure of Patricia Tallman (Lyta Alexander.) This episode carried the franchise into syndicated existence and, looking back at it, the reason Warner Bros. picked this is easy to see – the storytelling and acting was ahead of the CGI, allowing the latter to catch up and create the total package down the road.
Synopsis: The crew stumbles upon a derelict object in hyperspace and allows an Earth-based company to examine and jump-start it, opening a doorway from which a powerful alien race threatens to spill through and conquer the galaxy.
The Good: Great special effects. Captain Sheridan using nukes. Commander Ivanova riding into battle once again. Lyta Alexander looking like she had just had a wild night partying.
The Bad: Mostly CGI and continuity errors. Seeing Vir fighting Zack.
Review: By the time Thirdspace had hit TNT, Babylon 5 was already established as a science-fiction phenomenon of sorts. This movie is a rare instance of a feature which stayed true to the story arc, but is strong enough of a story to stand alone as a feature film, had it been released in theaters. The production team was quoted as saying this particular movie contained more CGI than the first four seasons combined, and it was a masterful work. Rather than overwhelming the viewer with a confusing, popcorn-movie style shoot-em-up, Thirdspace tells a harrowing tale of greed, power, mystery, and heroism while demonstrating the vulnerability and heart of the main cast. Some well placed humor, along with a lack of petty dialogue, makes this movie a fun, exciting, engaging piece of filmmaking which could have easily jumped to the big screen had Warner Bros. decided it was worth it.
The River of Souls
Synopsis: A researcher, looking for the secret to immortality, steals a relic containing thousands of souls. A race devoted to preserving souls at the moment of death sends an emissary to retrieve the relic, but not before a ton of havoc is wreaked.
The Good: Captain Lochley as a holobrothel fantasy girl. The “Love Bat.” Garibaldi being…well, Garibaldi.
The Bad: Somewhat silly plot. A lawyer being a character. Martin Sheen demonstrating why he’s not cut out for sci-fi.
Review: Let’s get one thing out of the way – this review would have been a D+ had it not been for Tracy Scoggins (Capt. Elizabeth Lochley) being shown in a very sweet-looking bustierre and garters. That alone bumped the rating into the C range. That said, the rest of the movie is rather forgettable. Even with Martin Sheen’s guest as a member of the Soul Hunters, a somewhat silly plot could not be overcome with good acting, and there was plenty to spare. Despite Scoggins solid performance, the usual sarcasm of Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi), Jeff Conaway (Zach Allen) tossing in his tough-guy act, and some pretty impressive CGI effects, the story’s main premise – life after death versus a mass evolution event – leaves viewers with more questions than answers. Granted, TNT’s budget restricted the actor usage, but the lack of either John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), or Delenn (Mira Furlan), greatly reduced this movie’s intrigue. This movie felt like a nod to the supporting cast, rather than a mainline feature.
A Call to Arms
Synopsis: Five years after the founding of the Interstellar Alliance, Earth is faced with total destruction from a race which once served the mortal enemies of Babylon 5.
The Good: Sets up Crusade. President Sheridan and Garibaldi working together one last time. Amusing reproductive system reference. Excellent special effects.
The Bad: Lack of closure due to Crusade cancellation. Some small plot glitches (metric vs. English for weight – why not “kilos”).
Review: When A Call to Arms first appeared on TNT, it was intended as a bridge from Babylon 5 to its spinoff, the ill-fated but critically acclaimed Crusade. President John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) bring their usual solid performances, showing why they work so well together. Earthforce Capt. Anderson (Tony Todd) and techomage Galen (Peter Woodward) add some zing to this story, with Theives’ Guild Member Dureena (Carrie Dobro) showing off her acting chops in a very impressive way. This movie could, conceivably, stand alone as the first of a trilogy had JMS chosen to go that route, but instead it was the jumping off point for a spinoff which had great promise, great initial episodes, but died as the result of TNT’s meddling and later desire to cut costs and jump on the more lucrative Law and Order bandwagon. Fortunately, this movie offers answers to several questions, such as the nature of a Shadow Planetkiller, what the Drakh language sounds like, and if we get to see the kind of figure Dureena has (we later learn a killer one!) Unfortunately, the cancellation of Crusade creates many questions which have not been completely answered, and one can only hope that JMS’ reported Babylon 5 feature film will address the Drakh plague unleashed on Earth at the very end of the film.