Babylon 5 on DVD
Despite some episodes that could almost have been lifted
from Star Trek, especially Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5 is far more than just
son of Star Trek.
Its actually an epic series designed to tell its story over five complete
seasons (which just happens to be the magic minimum number for optimum syndications
opportunities). This first season gives us the background, sets the scene, and
gets us used to the concept of this five mile long Rama-like (for
Arthur C. Clarke fans) deep space station thats actually more of a floating
city in space than it is a military base.
The time is ten years after the Earth Minbari war, and Babylon 5 is an outpost
where humans and aliens can live and work and, with luck, iron out their differences
without coming to blows. Its run by ex-fighter Pilot Commander Jeffery
Sinclair (Michael O'Hare) backed up by Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry
Doyle) and 2IC Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian). They ride herd on assorted
aliens including Ambassadors GKar of the Narn (Andreas Katsulas), Londo
of the Centauri (Peter Jurasik) and Delenn (Mira Furlan) of the Minbari. Part
of the background is the negotiations, hosted by Earth as personified by Sinclair,
between the Centauri and the Narn.
Part of the backstory comes in later, in the terrific episode And the
Sky Full of Stars, which shows that the Earth/Minbari war ended suddenly
with the Minbari surrender, even though they were just about to put the blocks
to the Earth forces. So why did they throw in the interstellar towel on the
verge of victory?
Anyway, the episode quality (like the video quality) is all over the map,
though enjoyable over all. The first episode, "Midnight on the Firing Line,"
moves along at warp speed, establishing the conflict between the Narn and Centauri.
The next few episodes stray from the big story and really do almost
seem like Star Trek clones. But as the season unfolds Babylon 5 really gets
its legs and were looking forward to seeing the rest of the seasons on
The season builds up momentum as it unfolds, and the closer it gets to the
end the better it seems to get.
Babylon 5 is enjoyable, and features some great imagination. Theyve
also thought seriously about the physics involved in both the gigantic space
station (which is brought to life at times by some wonderful matte paintings)
and the smaller ships that seem to fly through space almost as real ships would.
We wish we could be as glowing about the video transfer. While we were pleasantly
surprised to discover that Babylon 5 is being presented in a new anamorphic
widescreen transfer (and we were amazed to see this TV show offered in widescreen
at all!), the video quality is all over the map. At times it looks great, but
at other times it can be very soft, or very grainy.
We were horrified by many of the special effects shots. Babylon 5 featured
fantastic computer animation for its exterior effects shots and we were really
looking forward to seeing how the razor sharp TV shots would show up on DVD.
Well, theyre reminiscent of Star Trek The
Next Generations effects shots, soft and digitized. A darn shame,
'cause they should have looked terrific.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and its very good. Theres
a tad too much bass at times, but not often, and there isnt as much surround
as wed have liked, but overall its fine.
You get a decent set of extras, too, including introductions and commentary
on a couple of episodes by series creator J. Michael Straczynski. Theres
also "The Making of Babylon 5," "Back to Babylon 5" and a chance to Enter
the Universe of Babylon 5 where you can take a tour of the huge space
station and rub virtual shoulders with the humans, aliens, political situations,
data, tech files, weaponry and hardware of the show.
One thing we really liked was the episode previews. On the discs menu
you get the choice of episodes and beside each episode is a little +
sign with which you can access the trailer to each of the episodes. What a great
way to freshen your memory of the shows, or tease you into watching the next
Although, to be honest, we didnt really watch Babylon 5 when it was new.
This particular writer remembers thinking the worst and most cynical things
of Babylon 5, but on this opportunity to see it again, from the beginning and
with some intervening years to give perspective, it seems better than it seemed
Okay, we obviously werent Babylon 5 die hards back then, but theres
Babylon 5, from Warner Home Video
956 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Michael Pare, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan
Produced by John Copeland, created by J. Michael Straczynski
Season 2 more than fullfills the promise that season 1 showed.
Subtitled "The Coming of Shadows," it starts off with a real dandy of an episode
- "Points of Departure" - which not only sets up the season but which also ties
up some ends left loose in the first.
We kick off meeting a new boss, who is definitely not the same as the old boss.
John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) is assigned to take over running the space
station after Jeff Sinclair is "reassigned" under mysterious circumstances.
So we get Sheridan getting the feel of the station, and the situation, and we're
treated to such knowledge as the real reason the Minbari ended the war with
the humans when they did.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Delenn goes into a strange chrysalis thing and who knows
what'll happen if and when she emerges? And what's going to happen to Garibaldi?
Other questions the season brings up: Who are the Shadows? The Rangers? What
about Delenn and her transformation? What is Talia hiding?
It probably pays to have watched the first season, but even if you didn't you
get enough back story to get you up and running. And as with season one, some
episodes are continuations of previous ones, while others stand on their own.
Things don't always end up neatly, or even happily, in each episode, which
is an interesting change from most episodic TV. There are consequences to actions,
nothing is free, and sometimes sacrifices must be made.
Some of the best episodes of season two include "Comes the Inquisitor," a
philosophical and emotional powerhouse, "In the Shaodw of Z'ha'dum," a Boxleitner
tour de force, and the Hugo Award-winning "Coming of Shadows." Also worth mentioning
is "The Geometry of Shadows," which focuses on the idiocy of some hate (kind
of reminiscent of Star Trek's "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield").
And how about "And Now for a Word," which is interesting in that it presents
"a day-in-the-life of Babylon 5" as seen through the eyes of a video news crew
- just as the Narn declare war on the Centauri. The season ends with "The Fall
of Night," where all hope of peace is lost as an assassination attempt reveals
a shocking secret about Ambassador Kosh.
Star Trek fans will also get a kick out of the fact that a couple of episodes
were written by D.C. Fontana, ex of Trek, and check out Walter Koenig in a guest
It's great stuff, especially for TV, and the DVD boxed set also does a nice
job of presenting the series, with one possible exception: picture quality.
For the most part, this DVD presentation is very good. It's, as with the first
season, anamorphic widescreen (talk about producers thinking ahead!), and is
generally nice and sharp and colorful. There's quite a bit of grain in places,
however, and as with season one the computer-generation effects display plenty
of artifacts. This is a shame because those effects shots are terrific.
Audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 and it's fine, though we would
have liked to hear more surround use..
They've also piled on plenty of extras, including commentary by series creator
J. Michael Straczynski on a couple of episodes. There's also commentary by cast
members Boxleitner, Claudia Christian and Jerry Doyle on 'The Geometry of Shadows.'
Creator Straczynski also gives a new introduction.
There's also a featurette: "Building Babylon: Blueprint of an Episode," as
well as another one called "Shadows and Dreams: Honors of Babylon" featurette,
which includes coverage of the series' Hugo Award.
Add to that personnel files, data files, tech files, a historical timeline,
gag reel and the original episode previews (which are accessed from the menu
and give you a terrific opportunity to either refresh or tease your memory)
- plus a nice liner booklet, and you have a wonderful package that really does
this series justice.
Considered by some to be the show's best year, Season 3 ("Point of No Return")
kicks off with a bang, including a new opening in which the same Babylon project
as described in the credits for the first two seasons (the best hope for peace)
is now admitted to have been a failure.
Now, a much darker opening portrays Babylon 5 as the best hope for victory
in the war.
We're now in the Shadow War, and in the season's opening episode "Matters of
Honor" we're introduced to the White Star, a beautiful Minbari-technology spacecraft
that lets the show take its characters away from the Babylon 5 space station
when the story requires it, adding additional flexibility to the saga.
We're also introduced to new regular character Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) a
lone Ranger who's there not because he wants to be but because he's atoning
for the death of his brother, who wanted to be a Ranger.
In "Voices of Authority" Ivanova seeks the mysterious "First Ones" hoping they
can be allies against the Shadows' threat (we won't tell you if she succeeds),
and the loyal Babylonians discover disturbing evidence about President Santiago's
assassination. There are nasty things afoot on Earth, it appears, and Babylon
5 is about to get swept up in historic events.
The episodes "Messages from Earth," "Point of No Return," and "Severed Dreams"
are pivotal to the continuing story, as Earth descends into dictatorship, the
nasty Nightwatch clique is given control of off-world security (much to the
chagrin of Garibaldi), and Captain Sheridan is forced by circumstances to declare
Babylon 5 independent of Earth.
Other great episodes include "Interludes and Examinations," and the time-travelling
two-parter "War Without End" where a millennium-old paradox is resolved and
the relationship between Sheridan and Delenn is, well we won't tell you.
The season wraps up with "Z'ha'dum" in which Sheridan's dead wife shows up
and invites him to the Shadow homeworld and oblivion. It's a heck of a way to
make you impatient for the series to continue in Season 4.
The production values are outstanding, as are the digital special effects.
We get to see a space battle the likes of which we wouldn't expect from a TV
budget, and even the stories that don't exactly follow the main story arc are
good yarns on their own.
We didn't think much of Marcus Cole at first, but as he warmed up (and was
given more to do) we warmed up to him. We also really like The White Star, which
is an aesthetically beautiful ship we'd love to take a couple of spins in.
Season 3, while darker than the previous two, contains plenty of good drama
As expected, it's a good DVD set as well. The picture, again, is presented
in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and generally it's very good -
although we still noticed plenty of grainy shots and, as before, the outstanding
special effects aren't up to the high resolution standards of the DVD medium.
But good writing makes this forgivable, just.
Extras include a couple of commentaries by creator/writer J. Michael Straczynski
('Severed Dreams' and 'Z'Ha'Dum'), a gang commentary by Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry
Doyle, Richard Biggs, and Ed Wagner on 'Interludes and Examinations,' and an
introduction to the set from Straczynski.
You also get the documentaries "Behind the Mask: Creating the Aliens of Babylon
5" "Designing a Better Narn", "Designing Tomorrow: The Look of Babylon 5," as
well as personnel files, data files and a Shadow dossier.
Season 4 is the best of times and the worst of times. Apparently afraid that
thered be no season 5 and wanting to complete the story, we get a storyline
that rips along at terrific speed though never incoherently. There are
fearsome battles, some touching romance, and even some good humor.
Things are looking bad for Babylon 5 and its heroic crew. Garibaldi and Sheridan
are missing in action, and presumed dead. Even though they are both alive (hey,
theyre cast regulars!), things dont look good.
The Shadow war is coming to a head. The Vorlons and the Shadows launch a full
scale war, Centuri Prime is now being run by whacko Emperor Cartagia (Wortham
Krimmer) and his folly and delusions of grandeur threaten to make the planet
a prime target for Vorlon attack.
Whats a self respecting galaxy to do?
The first six shows bring us to the climax of the war against the Shadows
a war that after all the buildup seems to be ended by the humans and other races
giving the Shadows and Vorlons a dressing down. Still, the action is great and
as always the computer generated special effects are top notch (alas, though,
as with other seasons the effects shots feature the worst of the sets
spotty picture quality).
With the Shadow war over, attention turns back to Earth and the conspiracy,
betrayal and conflict that led to Babylon 5 siding with Mars against the totalitarian
Earth earlier in the series.
Delenn, meanwhile, is in hot water with her own people over her love for Sheridan,
Garibaldi has resigned from the service and moved on, in the process becoming
involved with his ex-fiancée Lise Hampton (Denise Gentile). And whats
happening between Ivanova and Marcus Cole?
Whod have thought that Londo and G'Kar would end up on the same side,
even if only reluctantly and, perhaps, briefly?
Its a wonderful season, with many memorable episodes. One of our favorites
is The Illusion of Truth, which journalism students should be forced
to watch before theyre unleashed onto an unsuspecting public.
Theres so much here that you wonder whats left for Season 5, especially
since this is supposedly the original ideas for 4 and 5 together. We look forward
to finding out.
As with the other seasons, all 22 episodes feature a new widescreen transfer
and remastered soundtrack. Video quality is all over the map, however. Some
scenes are sharp and clean and colorful, others are grainy and the matte
shots look horrible! The effects shots are also not up to the standards wed
like to see, especially since theyre so beautifully done.
Audio quality is good. Your subwoofer wont get the most exercise, though
itll at least go through a warmup, and there isnt a lot of surround.
But overall, the sound is nice and clean.
Extras include an introduction by series creator J. Michael Straczynski, a
couple of commentaries, Celestial sounds, the No Surrender, No Retreat
DVD Suite, Data & Personal Files and a gag reel.
And here it ends. Season 5 wraps up the story arc that is the entire series
but it also brings some terrific episodes to the collection, some interesting
ideas, and some memorable new characters.
Its very interesting, at the least, and while Star Trek has tended to
drown in its own mass of political correctness, B5 hasnt been afraid to
tackle topics in a way that doesn't display a strictly liberal view of society.
And it looks at issues indeed big ideas such as making
choices and accepting the consequences of ones actions, forgiveness, redemption,
peaceful coexistence, etc.
At times the telepath/Jewish connection is a little blatant, but only a little
- and at least its in a pro-telepath way instead being merely more of
the usual Jew-bashing.
The season kicks off with a terrific opener. Sheridan is now president, Ivanova
has left and must be replaced, and the new alliance is just getting up and running.
Sheridan brings in Captain Elizabeth Lochley to replace both himself and Ivanova
a strong military presence (terrifically played by Tracy Scoggins) with
a past connection to Sheridan that comes out after a few episodes. The new kid,
she has to get up to speed and be taken seriously in a place where shes
quite out of place initially.
The second and fourth episodes arent nearly as strong as the first (and
third), but theyre still quite interesting and as the season progresses
it picks up speed until the finale, which is set 20 years beyond the series
time frame, an optimistic and moving episode that wraps things up in fine style.
Having the telepaths endeavor to build a homeland for themselves gives an opportunity
for Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) to fall in love with the telepaths
leader, Byron (Robin Atkin Downs), while the reappearance of Walter Koenig as
telepathic nemesis Bester gives them an enemy to fear and to fight.
Other fine episodes include "The Fall of Centauri Prime," "Objects at Rest,"
(in which Sheridan and Delenn leave Babylon 5 for their new digs on Minbar),
and the final espisode "Sleeping in Light," which was also directed by creator/writer
J. Michael Straczynski.
Its quite incredible to look back on what Straczynski managed to pull
off with this series. Not only did he get it done, he went head to head with
the powerful Star Trek franchise and still flourished (in fact, the show apparently
outlived the network on which it was originally scheduled), but he brought an
intelligence and sense of responsibility to the big picture of the
universe thats rare today. He also managed to pioneer the use of digital
special effects in a TV show (with effects that were, for the time, the best
in the history of the medium).
The DVD includes all 22 episodes of the final season, presented as all seasons
were in anamorphic widescreen (another innovation for a TV show of its age),
16x9 TV compatible. We think the special effects look better with this season,
though the overall picture quality appears slightly worse so far as grain is
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and its fine, though not really spectacular.
For bonuses, you get three episodes that come with commentary tracks, and disc
6 includes some interesting Making of documentaries and retrospective
looks back. There are also data and personal files, a gag reel and some additional
In all, a fitting conclusion to a breakthrough television series.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think