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Babylon 5, The Complete First Season

Babylon 5 on DVD

Season One
Season Two
Season Three

Season Four
Season Five

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.”

It’s 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 that’s 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. It’s 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 G’Kar 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 we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the seasons on DVD.

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. They’ve 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, they’re reminiscent of Star Trek The Next Generation’s effects shots, soft and digitized. A darn shame, 'cause they should have looked terrific.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it’s very good. There’s a tad too much bass at times, but not often, and there isn’t as much surround as we’d have liked, but overall it’s fine.

You get a decent set of extras, too, including introductions and commentary on a couple of episodes by series creator J. Michael Straczynski. There’s 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 episode!

Although, to be honest, we didn’t 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 back then.

Okay, we obviously weren’t Babylon 5 die hards back then, but there’s still time.

Babylon 5, from Warner Home Video
956 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio
Starring Michael Pare, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan
Produced by John Copeland, created by J. Michael Straczynski

Babylon 5

Season Two

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 starring role.

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.

Oh well.

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.

Babylon 5, Season 3

Season Three

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 and situations.

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

Season 4

Season 4 is the best of times and the worst of times. Apparently afraid that there’d 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, they’re cast regulars!), things don’t 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.

What’s 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 set’s 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 what’s happening between Ivanova and Marcus Cole?

Who’d have thought that Londo and G'Kar would end up on the same side, even if only reluctantly and, perhaps, briefly?

It’s 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 they’re unleashed onto an unsuspecting public.

There’s so much here that you wonder what’s 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 we’d like to see, especially since they’re so beautifully done.

Audio quality is good. Your subwoofer won’t get the most exercise, though it’ll at least go through a warmup, and there isn’t 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.

Season 5

Season 5

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.

It’s very interesting, at the least, and while Star Trek has tended to drown in its own mass of political correctness, B5 hasn’t 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 one’s actions, forgiveness, redemption, peaceful coexistence, etc.

At times the telepath/Jewish connection is a little blatant, but only a little - and at least it’s 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 she’s quite out of place initially.

The second and fourth episodes aren’t nearly as strong as the first (and third), but they’re 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.

It’s 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 that’s 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 concerned.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it’s 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 scenes.

In all, a fitting conclusion to a breakthrough television series.


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