Science Fiction: September 2007 Archives

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is the first Babylon 5 story in several years. It is intended to be the first in a series of direct-to-DVD releases that focus on smaller, character-centered stories involving one or two characters from the Babylon 5 universe. The first release involves one story with Colonel Elizabeth Lochley, commander of Babylon 5 since the 5th season of the original show and another starring both President John Sheridan and the technomage Galen. An effects-heavy third story featuring Michael Garibaldi was pushed to the second DVD release due to funding issues related to reconstructing the entire special effects and sets from scratch. The two stories happen simultaneously and converge at the end, even though there is no connection between them other than the fact that Sheridan and Lochley meet up at the end.

Show creator and producer J. Michael Straczynski wrote and directed these stories, and he had complete creative control. Unfortunately, however, Warner Brothers was fairly limiting in the budget they allocated to this project, and advertizing for it has almost been nonexistent. It deserved much more. The stories are excellent and very intelligent, as is typical for Babylon 5. Lockley confronts someone who appears to be demon-possessed, claiming that God has confined demons to this sector of space so that they would remind later, space-faring humans that God does exist despite their encounters with aliens. As usual, the truth is mixed with lies, and what's really going on is something far more fascinating to me and a little surprising coming from Straczynski. My appreciation for the first story was much higher once it was done, and I look forward to watching it again with a friend who loves B5 once we have a working DVD player again.

The second story involves the technomage Galen once again appearing to President Sheridan, telling him to do something urgent that will prevent some terrible consequences in the future. The only problem is that what he has to do is something Sheridan feels a very strong moral compulsion not to do. He wonders if it's really necessary for him to do it. As is often the case with Straczynski's stories, the moral issues are carefully thought-out, and the twists in the storytelling are interesting. In the end, a lot less is clear about what Galen wanted than we were originally supposed to think. I was fairly impressed with the ending.

As stories go, they are well-written and thought-provoking. I had been worried that Straczynski's Bush Derangement Syndrome would influence these stories, but he wisely stayed away from bringing any of that in here. It doesn't have a lot of action, and it seems a bit short (70 minutes total for two stories, less than two 45-minute episodes would be). Even though the special effects are much better than the original series, it still isn't as good as it could have been if Warner Brothers had been willing to fund it based on the excellent evidence they already have of the fanbase who made past B5 products a success on DVD. But they didn't fund it well. I do think it's pretty good given a fairly low budget, as B5 always was. It's not terrible, but it's not cutting edge for the time, as the original had been. I enjoyed it overall, and it's among the better examples of intelligent B5 storytelling, so I recommend it highly to B5 fans who enjoyed the more intellectual stories who can deal with less action and special effects that could have been a little better. I look forward to future installments with other characters.

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