7 Things about Babylon 5
A groundbreaking sci-fi series from the mid 90s, Babylon 5 is now streaming on Amazon Prime, where I have revisited this childhood favorite show, the results... are mixed.
1. The CGI and the Ships
One of the first things that stands out about Babylon 5 is that the ships were very well done. Each race has a distinctive style, and there is a large variety of shapes, and colors. The Omega Class cruisers and Star Fury fighters are top notch and still look great today. Likewise the other alien races are still nice.
buuuuuuuuut, those 90s computer graphics, they aren't slick anymore, and they now look seriously dated. This is even more obvious outside of beauty shots and panning shots, exploding ships just turn into sparkles, and you can see just how far technology has come since the mid 90s. The worst issue is a documented one, the scale of the various ships changes through the series, often between shots. The CG staff was never given definite measurements on some of the alien craft, so there is one particularly offending scene were a Mimbari Sharlin cruiser (comparable in size to an Omega Class) passes BEHIND the 5 mile long Babylon 5 station and is bigger than the station. Oops.
2. Generic Sets
One of the things that wasn't obvious back in 1995 but in 2019 the sets for the show are painfully generic. Everywhere inside the station looks like the inside of a dark industrial warehouse. This would be fine for a more post-apoc setting, but this Babylon 5, a Jewel of the Earth Alliance, and its oddly full of slums, dark corridors, forgotten sectors, and generic bland sets. The personal quarters have a bit of blue/gray flare but not enough to carry the atmosphere.
It gets worse when the cast leave the station to visit alien worlds, where we loop back to the first issue, most of the alien worlds are CG backdrops, giving now dated graphics trying to support wooden acting done in front of a green screen. Sigh, I remember this looking so fantastic when I was 14.
3. Make-Up Effects
While the CG has not held up, the make up and practical effects certainly have. Bill Mumy and Mira Furlani are fantastic in their Mimbari make-up, and others like the Narn simply blow the Klingons out of the water. The Centauri double down with great make-up and hair appliances AND a killer baroque wardrobe. I will freely admit as a kid I did not appreciate things like good make up, hair, and wardrobe, like I do now.
But there there are two things that are painful, Ambassador Kosh looks more like a weird cosplayer and when Furlani's Delenn ends up getting human-hybridized her Mimbari with human hair make-up and hair are atrocious. Previously in the full Mimbari make-up (bony head crest, no hair) she was more facially expressive. After the hair addition, she projects less of a presence and becomes dull and restrained.
4. Great and Terrible Characters
There is no shortage of fantastic characters on the show. Ambassador Molari and G'Kar deliver exemplary performances, while the human side is not let down by the sardonic head of security Garibaldi, tough as nails Ivanova, and the dual captains, the sanguine Jeffrey Sinclair, and the fiery John Sheridan. Between solid writing, good make-up and wardrobe, and top notch actors, much of the series is enjoyable. Garibaldi threatening people with diplomatic immunity, Molari ranting abut his three wives being horsemen of the apocalypse, and more is good, good stuff.
But of course. There are a number of characters who are absolute shit. This might be contentious but Ambassador Kosh is an absolute shit character, and functionally he fails the lamp test, as in could his lines be written on a note and stuck to a lamp and still be effective. They can, because he only speaks in crypticisms and oblique references, which could most of the time fit on a fortune cookie. While I get that he is supposed to be a mysterious and cryptic character, but it is too much and there is nothing about him that was can grab onto as a viewer. Likewise some of the villains like Morden are similarly stilted and drab upon reviewing.
One of the things that made Star Wars a power house was the selection of toys and merchandise. Tee shirts, underpants, lame toys, awesome toys, playsets, vehicles, action figures, and more are still being churned out. Other sci-fi series have had similar issue, Star Trek toys are haphazard, and highly limited. For a series with tons of ships, I hope you like the Enterprise because thats all your getting.
Babylon 5 is worse, there was simply no merchandising at all. No action figures. No playsets. No vehicles. There was no option to just have a Star Fury to swoop around in a dark back yard. No two foot long Omega class with rotating hammer section and light up cannons. No Ambassador Kosh figures to have cryptic butt jokes with Garibaldi figures. No option for the TMNT and GI Joe to team up with the crew to fight the Shadows and the Shredder.
Today almost every successful show is guaranteed a spin-off, continuation, or reboot. There are what, 6 Trek series plus movies. Star Gate had three spin off series with their own spin off movies. Babylon 5 got 5 seasons and the WTF single season spin-off of Crusade.
That's not even counting the fact that today popular shows have podcasts, aftershows, and online fan sites.
7. The Long Way Round
One of the great things about Babylon 5 is that there are no throw away or filler episodes. Alien encounters in the first season that seem like total random moments turn into highly important allies three seasons later, and crazy alien devices introduced in a moralistic episode are later used in strategic purposes in later episodes. Everything that is thrown up comes back down later in the series, it is really well done.
And it is really really damn long. Each season is 20+ episodes and as there are no filler or throw away episodes, it takes a long time to get through them. It is easy to want more, but there are points in each season where you are left holding the remote and looking at how many episodes are left in that season and sighing heavily.
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? Responses (4)
LOVED Bab 5 back in the day.
Curious how you could get through all that and not mention the Psicorp :)
Agree with most of your points here. Good stuff!
The Psi-Corps were fine, and Bester is a solid villain but otherwise the Corps is a by the book group of military psychic villains
I disagree on a lot of your points. I too recently have rediscovred this underrated gem.While you have some valid criticism, I have always thought that B5 needs to be seen as a whole, not focusing on the minutia It's funny that one of your praises(Ivanava) is one of my biggest dislikes, lol. (She is made of WOOD). The first season is terrible and I only saw about 8 or so of the eps. When I watched the begining I thought it was terrible(who can forgot Londos shoes being to tight, I actually commited that speach to memory to taunt fans of the show I ran into at the FLIGS). But fter I got hooked in the second season , I can now look back on season one fondly.
Still great after all these years.