Thursday, April 21, 2011

Babylon 5: Lost Tales

My Rating: 3/10  

I loved Babylon 5.  Absolutely loved it.  It remains probably my favorite TV science fiction series - The revamped Battlestar Galactica was pushing it off the throne for a while there, but fell apart in the end, where B5's final episode is one of my favorites ever broadcast.  So it really, really pains me to write this review...

JMS made this in 2007 as an attempt to re-ignite interest in B5 towards the goal of making a series of direct-to-DVD movies, but alas, it was not a successful experiment. The idea was to tell small, character-centric stories set within the B5-verse, and it succeeded at that, but the execution was pretty middling.

The plot: It's 3 short stories wrapped into an hour+ video. The first features Lockley and a priest on B5 dealing with what appears to be a demonic possession, the second is a conversation between Sheridan and an Earth reporter, and the third and longest is a story about Sheridan and Ghaelen dealing with a "future Hitler" in the Centauri empire.

The good: It's really cool to see and hear B5 again, complete with Christopher Franke score. Sheridan has aged into his role excellently and has some terrific lines. He's as likable as ever. It has a lot of that "Visit with old friends" aspect to it. Also, the plots are cerebral, philosophical, dialog-heavy, and loaded with classic B5 monologues about the nature of spirit and hope. For me this was good, though today's 19 year old would be whining about being bored within 2 minutes.

The bad: Oog. Well, for starters, they had no remaining sets or props from the series to work with, and a minimalistic budget, so nearly everything except for a couple of nondescript rooms is set against a CGI background...and not a very big budgetey CGI background, either. Sadly, a lot of the shots reminded me way too much of the Full Motion Video composites from PC games of the mid 90's, where actors would perform Wing Commander cutscenes in front of Playstation backgrounds. 

Also, the choice of characters is bizarre. We went in hoping to be reunited with some of the series regulars, but the only one present is Sheridan... Even Delenn is "Away on a peace mission", and only contacted by phone calls during the show. Opening the show with Commander Lockley (otherwise known as Diet-Ivanova) was weird - She wasn't exactly a beloved character so wasting a third of the running time on a Lockley-centered story was off-putting.

Also, the guy who did the camerawork in the first story NEEDS to find another job, seriously. I have no idea WHAT they thought they were doing, but it became totally laughable and Em and I kept pausing the thing to gag in disbelief. Basically, the guy can't hold the damn camera still. We may have been extra-sensitive to this having just come off watching a run of 40's films over the holidays - Thus being used to the concept of static cameras and actors who could play an entire 15 minute scene without a cut. In Lost Tales, though, aggggg... There's a prolonged conversation between a priest and a supposedly possessed man in a cell. Typical B5 conversation, very long winded and philosophical and dialog-heavy. I can't say what they talked about, though, because I was too distracted by the cameraman rolling the camera, zooming in on random things, filming the actors' hands, ceiling lights, rolling the camera up an actor's nose, and on and on. It seemed he was totally convinced that no one would accept a long dialog scene without some dumbass shakeycam going on, so we're bombarded by this constantly moving camera crawling all over the room and dramatically cutting back and forth between actors and just generally totally fucking the scene up. When my wife and myself are both yelling at the screen, "Hold the goddamned camera still!!!", it's bad. Imagine the handicam from Cloverfield applied to two guys sitting motionless in a cell. [image]

Lack of extras and sets make the whole thing look much more like a webisode of a homemade series than the B5 we know and love. If you are a B5 completist like myself, it is worth watching just to see familiar characters and storytelling styles again, but I can't imagine anyone unfamiliar with B5 enjoying this, and the whole thing came off very half-baked IMO. After the poor sales of this, the idea of ongoing mini-movies was scrapped, so this is likely the last gasp of B5 we're ever going to see - A sad fate for what was my personal favorite SF series ever on TV.

Suggested Accompaniment: A nice snifter of banana-creme-waffle eliquid from Tasty Vapor, delivered in a high tech Janty ecig, will make the whole thing go down a little sweeter.  A little.