Babylon 5

Posted on Monday 24 September 2007

Well, my wife was away for the weekend, and while I could have taken on all sorts of tasks and outstanding “things” that needed to be done, I decided to catch up on one of my personal interests “Babylon 5“.

This year, as a gift for our Anniversary and my birthday, I received DVD sets of the entire original Babylon 5 series, as well as Babylon 5, The Movie Collection which included all the TV movies created to date. What an exciting gift it was.

I have always been a major fan of Babylon 5, not because it was Science Fiction , although it surely helped, but because it was a rarity in Television Programming. It told a story over a complete 5 year span and from the very first episode there were activities and comments and characters that would play an integral part in an episode three, four or even five years down the road!

Not only that, but actions and reactions that happened in one episode would be reflected in all future episodes. Things would not return to a “normal” or standard setting ever! What was done, was done and stayed that way!

Some may refer to it as a space “Soap Opera”, but I don’t think that would be a good description. I’m not a soap opera fan but I grew up with them. Not in my own house but my Aunt next door loved them and when I was boarding in Toronto the people there were addicted to them. Now these particular shows may have changed over time, I don’t know, but I have found them to be very superficial and especially slow. You could miss a whole weeks worth of episodes (five) and find not much had changed in that time. Not so with Babylon 5!

If you missed five episodes of Babylon 5, dramatic changes had taken place. Those who were enemies could very well be allies and characters that you had become comfortable with may very well have been killed off, never to be seen again! Whole empires could have risen and fallen within that time and all the hints and clues for episodes two years from then could have been missed! Things moved very fast on Babylon5!

Babylon 5 also tried something new and extremely inventive. Due to budget constraints they could not afford to do all their special effects using models. They cost way too much and dramatically restricted their creativity. As a result, they tried something never tried before, computer generated graphics or “CGI”.

Today hardly any movie made doesn’t include some form of CGI back but back then it was unheard of! But they did, and it added tremendously to the story line. Instead of just one or two ships shooting at each other, there could be hundreds, with closeups, zoom ins flybys, explosions and each and every ship doing their own thing. None of which would be possible if models were used.

Today, the CGI looks a little “immature”, (not bad for something almost 15 years old) but back then there was no state of the art, multi-million dollar computer graphics shop set up to help them. For those of us who were excited about computers back then, it was done on a network of “home computers” called Amiga’s using a piece of hardware called a Video Toaster. Here is a link to a really great article about how they did it all, it was published in an old, and really respected computer magazine called Compute! which thanks to the Internet, is still available online.

My wife has always enjoyed a good science fiction show. That’s one of the many, many reasons that I married her, but she can only take Babylon 5 in small doses as she finds it very dark. I think this is due in part to the intricacies of the plot line. The traditional good versus evil, could take time to resolve and was then compounded by the fact that characters changed and grew in this show. You could never really stay comfortable with any of them, and if you did, then they sometimes got written out of the show! As a result, it took a while to get through just one DVD.

So with my wife away for the weekend, I had an opportunity that I could not miss and dove into my unseen episodes with relish! Watching the last of the series, followed by the last of the movie DVD’s and then all 13 episodes of the proposed spin-off series – Crusade – followed by yet another spin-off pilot that didn’t fly – The Legend of the Rangers. Wow!

Not only did I watch all my outstanding shows, but all the behind the scenes extras as well as the commentaries, especially those by the creator and writer of the series J. Michael Straczynski, also known as JMS. This man is a genius, and has a phenomenal following! He has created a fictional world so intricate and interwoven, covering such a span of time (much greater than his originally proposed five years) with so many details that it rivals anything else out there, written or otherwise!

Listening to the behind the scenes comments on the first 13 episodes of Crusade, I was able to see and appreciate where the episodes were going and how they fit into the great scheme of things Babylon and his description of how things were to dramatically change would have made yet another amazing series. Which would have run in parallel with the original and eventually included some of the original characters! It is a pity that Warner Brother did not let him pursue it.

I finally finished my viewing with the last related movie “Legend of the Rangers”. It too, was a pilot movie, with the hopes of yet regenerating a new series hosted on The Space Channel. It’s focus was to fill in some of the gaps that JMS wanted to cover, yet again interweaving with the original story line. Unfortunately it too died, apparently there was rumored to be a conflict between the Space Channel and Warner Brothers. Both insisted on keeping all rights to the show.

There are obviously still a lot of stories about Babylon 5 locked up inside JMS’s mind, all still trying to get out. Hopefully one day they will, and I will get to enjoy yet other, newer episodes on my TV screen. Until then what I have is phenomenal and I will watch it again and again. Finding yet more insights and getting even more enjoyment from them.

If you love really, really excellent science fiction then you have to get the original five years of Bablyon 5. You will not be sorry, the story content is rich beyond your wildest imagination. When you are done you will want more – guaranteed. So then get the movies, then Crusade and finally Legend of the Rangers. Who knows by then there may be even more…

As a matter of fact I have just discovered on the Warner Brothers Babylon website, that a small set of new episodes has been released less than a week ago. It’s called “The Lost Tales”. I’m looking forward to watching them. 🙂

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