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January 13, 2011

Babylon 5 Rewatch: A Dream Given Form
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:04 PM * 166 comments

It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call, a home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal…all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.

In the world of science fiction TV, Babylon 5 is generally considered the first of the modern* story-arc series. It’s a genuine departure from the “Wagon Train to the Stars” paradigm that Old Trek created. I don’t think we’d have had Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the Battlestar Galactica reboot without it and Deep Space Nine to convince the studios that genre audiences had long attention spans and an appetite for moral complexity.

For me personally, Bab 5 was the the TV series of my mid-twenties. I watched it as I settled into married life and into the strange rhythms of being an expat. I watched it as my professional life and a good deal of my interior life fell apart. I watched it as I built both back up and started to become who I am now.

And then I never watched it again.

But I realized this past November that I wanted to go back through the whole series, to see how it looks to a 40 year old. I’ve grown up enough, and seen enough of the real world, to more deeply appreciate the themes of failure and redemption that run through it. And I’ve become more aware of the technical side of storytelling; another thing I’m doing right now is reading Learn Writing with Uncle Jim. Straczynski planned the series as a novel-length story, and I’m interested to see the techniques he used to tell it.

Or perhaps it will be pyrite: fool’s gold. Perhaps the Suck Fairy will have visited it in the 16 years since it first aired.

It also strikes me that it might be amusing to blog this process. I’m not planning on going episode by episode, but rather tackling it in somewhat larger chunks of plot. I don’t know how many people on Making Light are fans, or have seen it, and might be interested in discussing it. But I can’t think of a more interesting community to try such a thing with.

SPOILER POLICY: This is a TV series from the last century. I’m not going to put entries behind the cut, or discourage digressions and side discussions in the threads. If you haven’t seen the series and don’t want to know what happens in it, scroll on by. I’m not going to reveal things I remember but haven’t yet seen again. I may foreshadow them—for instance, mentioning how terribly sad Lennier’s placid innocence makes me feel—but I won’t reveal things out of sequence in my write-ups. But I don’t have a problem with people doing so in the threads.

We’re already about halfway through the first series, so I have some catching up to do. I’ll post the first-episode reflections tomorrow, but I wanted to start with a few general observations.

First of all, I notice that the main characters are now my contemporaries. In 1996, I identified with the juniors: Vir, Lennir, Na’Toth, Ivanova‡, Dr. Franklin. Characters like Delenn, Londo and G’Kar were additionally alien to me because they were older.

But now the junior characters look young and rather gormless. In the meantime, I’ve discovered in myself a deep and unexpected affection for Londo, a lot less alarm at G’Kar, and a kind of collegial affection for Sinclair. I’m interested to see how this changes as first two evolve.

On a more cinematic level, I have to say that the special effects hold up better than I feared. The CGI stuff doesn’t look bad to my inexpert eyes, and the alien makeup is still plausibly transformative (once you accept the premise that all intelligent life is roughly humaniform). The set is nicely grubby and workmanlike. The only place that really creaks is when live action and CGI mix; the bluescreening is awful.

The off-duty human hair and costumes are often dreadfully dated; fluffy perms and blouson jackets really are the future of the past. But apart from the leatherette panels on the crew uniforms, the on-duty costumes and alien clothes are well-designed and made from reasonably classic materials. The individual tastes of each species are well-represented, from the proto-steampunk Centauri to the oddly Khan-esque Narn. And I still want Delenn’s wardrobe.

Overall, I’d say the accidents of the show don’t damage my suspension of disbelief. I’m willing to relax into the story.

Index of Babylon 5 posts


* Blakes Seven did it a generation earlier, but in Britain and with worse special effects†.
† possibly redundant phrasing there
‡ My particular aim, back in the 1990’s, was to grow up to be Susan Ivanova. Looking at the work I do now, I see that somewhere in the intervening years, I’ve pretty much achieved that.§
§ Now I can go on to my next goal, which is to grow up to be Cordelia Vorkosigan.

Comments on Babylon 5 Rewatch: A Dream Given Form:
#1 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 04:34 PM:

I haven't watched it in years, either. Lennier and Vir both make me sad, although Vir's moment of triumph made me physically stand up and cheer.

I could never decide whether I wanted to be Ivanova or Delenn. I don't think I've managed either one--but I'd rather be Cordelia anyway.

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 04:38 PM:

Sinclair always was my favorite. That's why I stuck with Sheridan for one year then I quit.

#3 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 04:42 PM:

I developed an affection towards Londo pretty much instantly, possibly because I have Hungarian relatives.

I stopped watching early in the first season, as part of a general policy of trying to read more SF and watch less. (I read a whole bunch of Delany, Wolfe, and LeGuin right around this time, and decided that nothing on TV even came close.) By the time I came back to the show, G'Kar was well into being a sympathetic character. Going back over the earlier episodes, I read him as something like an early Zionist.

These two remain my favorite characters of the series. It doesn't hurt that they're both very well-acted.

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 04:44 PM:

TexAnne @1:

I think my desire to be Ivanova was predicated, at least somewhat, on the fact that it was the lack of her particular ruthless sensibility that precipitated my personal implosion in 1996. I don't know that Delenn would have fit into Price Waterhouse's Edinburgh office in the mid-Nineties. But Susan Ivanova would have eaten all of my bugbears for breakfast.

I forgot, in the intervening years, about wanting to be that scary. But somehow it happened anyway, and now I have to take care to dial it back when I don't need to alarm everyone in the room.

Also, you know, I look a lot more like Ivanova than I do like Delenn.

#5 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 04:48 PM:

We bought the DVDs a few years back, and thoroughly enjoyed watching them. I had hoped that there might be a big-screen movie to come out of the series, but alas.

#6 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 04:59 PM:

Shaenon Garrity (http://shaenon.livejournal.com/) is doing much the same.

I like that you're doing it--and I'll be chiming in.

(I didn't watch the show in first run--too young, didn't really know it existed--but I watched it some time during my freshman year of college. I've also read a bunch of the tie-in books, the ones declared within canonical boundaries, for what that's worth.)

#7 ::: elaine ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:03 PM:

I don't think that I'm "capable" enough to be Cordelia...but maybe I could aspire to Royina Ista from Lois' Chalion series. (it was generally accepted that she was nuts)

I'm looking forward to your reflections on the series. Being a bit older when the series first aired, I was really torn between G'Kar and Londo.

#8 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:03 PM:

I love this show. I love that it maintained this balance between being dark and being earnest. (As opposed to the Battlestar Galactica reboot, which I think was swallowed whole by its cynicism.)

True story: I saw Claudia Christian at a con in the late 90's. During the Q&A someone asked her one of those stupid questions that always seem to mar Q&A's at these things: "What do you think is your most beautiful body part and can you describe it?"

She kind of looked at him and said, "Yes. My brain. Would you like me to describe it to you? It's kind of gray and wet and squiggly."

And yes, I should rewatch this too...

#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:07 PM:

Avram @3:
Going back over the earlier episodes, I read him as something like an early Zionist.

An interesting analogy. I'd certainly agree, though Straczynski does simplify the matter by giving him the perpetrators of his race's genocide to battle directly.

#10 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:08 PM:

I recently attempted to do a B5 rewatch, having recently finished a Buffy rewatch. I'd agree with your overall assessment of the aesthetics of the show; slightly dated but not hokey enough to pull me out of the show. The only thing that gets me at times is the pacing, which is a bit on the slow side. I've become accustomed to TV dramas where things move at a significant clip and you are either right with the characters or one step behind. At least in the early episodes, I was a good couple of paces ahead of them and not just because I was rewatching, either.

The acting is a bit uneven in the early episodes as well. Looking back now, I realize why the Centauri have those incisors; because Londo chews scenery like a hamster escaped form his cage. I may need to pick this up again and soldier through the early episodes.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:11 PM:

Carrie V @8:

Great story.

I'm planning "Favorite Ivanova Quotes" sections in my posts. Inevitably.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:19 PM:

I watched the first season on and off. Mostly off. I was kind of turned off by the fact that the baddies were these anonymous "raiders." Early G'Kar struck me as a unimaginative villain.

Then, something happened. I tuned back in and the show had suddenly gotten . . . epic. Suddenly the depth of things was apparent.

I stuck with it to the end, putting up with the plot patches and revisionism (Come ON JMS, you didn't plan on switching leading men from the beginning . . .) and the rushed climax when it looked like the plug was being pulled a season early.

Loved it. Truly great stuff. It was inspiring watching a series written by "one of us."

But, *sigh*, a few years back I tried watching some repeats in hopes of catching the episodes I'd missed. I really had trouble enjoying the show the second time around.

* * *

Oh . . . avoid, avoid, avoid the follow-up series (Legend of the Rangers or something like that), and don't feel obliged to watch the sequel-movies.

#13 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:24 PM:

Totally tangentially: when I first glanced at the post title, what I saw was "Babylon 5 Baywatch". I am now trying to scrub my brain of the vision of certain characters loping through station corridors in slow motion.

#14 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:26 PM:

Thinking back, I'm realizing just what an interesting touch it was for the Vorlons to ask "Who are you?" while the Shadows always ask, "What do you want?".

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:26 PM:

Stefan @12:

I agree; having seen Reavers, I do find that Raiders make fairly bland Wandering Monsters.

(I never did like the "roll die to have random monsters wander up to your characters and die for their XP" thing in AD&D. It's bad plot design. Likewise, random enemies that pitch up and attack with no greater role in the story than strategic tension generation tire me out.)

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:28 PM:

Steve C @14:
Thinking back, I'm realizing just what an interesting touch it was for the Vorlons to ask "Who are you?" while the Shadows always ask, "What do you want?".

Another cut at do vs be?

#17 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:35 PM:

I missed most of the first season and quit during the last season, which was painfully crippled by "will there even be a season" uncertainty. my eldest son is grinding through them, though not in any particular order. He has also taken to prowling around the house with a decided Londo accent.

Most geekiest moment: when Sheridan jumps clear of the exploding tram and Ivanova points out that the real danger to him is when the rotating wall of the station hits him sideways. Even Arthur C. Clarke blew that one.

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:43 PM:

I'm not sure that Blake's Seven ever had the long-term structure of Babylon 5, but I think British television had more room for long-term stories. They may have been more the "classic serial" mode, but Doctor Who did season-long story-arcs occasionally, and there were such things as The Forsyte Saga.

Both sides of the Atlantic had their soaps.

Maybe the big thing about Babylon 5 was that so much of the writing was done by one man. I think that might be the most significant aspect: the strength of the personal vision.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:49 PM:

Who else noticed that two B5 actors also were in the original "Tron"?
No peeking at imdb.com!

#20 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:55 PM:

I'm also in the midst of rewatching this via Netflix streaming. I was in my early 30s when it first aired.

At least half the fun of seeing it all again is watching the tiny plot seeds get planted, sprout, and bear fruit.

I agree that it can be uneven, but a majority of episodes have at least one dramatic beat that makes you think, "Yeah, that was =right=." I stuck it out the first time for those moments.

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:56 PM:

Trivia:

For a while, you could buy neat collections of Babylon 5 spaceships.

They weren't a big success; I picked some up at a deep discount sale. They stayed in their boxes.

A college friend, in announcing the birth of his daughter, wrote something to the effect of "now I have done everything I've wanted except to become Galactic Emperor."

As a New Dad present, I relabled the B5 spaceship boxes and sent them to him as his personal Imperial Navy.

#22 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 06:02 PM:

Abi @4 I forgot, in the intervening years, about wanting to be that scary. But somehow it happened anyway, and now I have to take care to dial it back when I don't need to alarm everyone in the room.

One day in my early 20s I realised that when I was annoyed the psychic power that stops people noticing that I'm six foot five* turns off and they get nervous. It's much more under concious control nowadays.

@15 I never did like the "roll die to have random monsters wander up to your characters and die for their XP" thing in AD&D. It's bad plot design.

In a game, these monsters can easily become part of the plot, or at least the story. In fact, in a game, you don't know what the story was until you've come to the end so random encounters may become important plot points. Depends on how strongly pre-plotted you like your games.


* Once in a crowded pub I spotted someone coming in across the room and tried to attract their attention and all my friends suddenly said "Hey, you're really tall!" This power manifests very strongly in memories; I'm often greeted with "have you grown?"

#23 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 06:28 PM:

I watched large chunks of the show when it was originally broadcast, but missed some of the 4th and 5th seasons because of significant events in RL. I've thought about rebooting my NetFlix account to see at least some of it (and the longer pieces I also didn't see), but haven't gotten to doing it yet because we've got so much to watch as it is.

Londo was a very interesting character, almost Shakespearean in the way he went from being a buffoon (and poltroon) to a deeply tragic figure, one who sees where his actions are taking him and not only can't stop, but ultimately doesn't want to.

I don't think Ivanova could ever grow up to be Cordelia, she's too rigid, and too steeped in the idea of the honor of the warrior; I think she might, given Cordelia's love and help, grow up to be Aral Vorkosigan. Given a choice, I'd rather be Cordelia than Ivanova, if for no other reason than that I've been through the kind of family trouble that Ivanova had; I'd rather consider that done and have a family like Cordelia's, problems and all. Besides which, I covet that wisdom of hers.

Delenn always bugged me; she seemed to be playing way too cryptic a game for her own good or Sinclair's. But then I guess that's all part of keeping things going over long story arcs.

And being a real fan of finely-crafted structure, the one detail of Babylon 5 that gave me the most pleasure was how the scene on Centauri in the first episode foreshadows the last season's arc. That took some very careful writing to bring off.

#24 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 06:34 PM:

Heather Rose Jones@13

But at least they have a nice tan...

#25 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 06:40 PM:

I feel like I am not culturally literate here because I have not seen that TV show, and many others.

#26 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 06:57 PM:

Serge@19:

Last month we had a Tron rewatch party in preparation for the new movie. When the less easily spotted of the two actors you mentioned came on screen, I announced, "By the way, that's Londo Mulari there on the right," and got a satisfying geeky squee from just about everyone.

#27 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 06:58 PM:

abi @ 15:

I never did like the "roll die to have random monsters wander up to your characters and die for their XP" thing in AD&D.

The best handling of random events on quest I've seen was when our party was riding through the countryside and took a turn we'd never taken before. After letting us ride into unbuilt scenery for awhile, the GM decided he really didn't want to roll up a bunch of monsters just to give us something to do, so he vouchsafed us a vision of a huge pencil travelling over a plain of hexagons, accompanied by the rattle of dice. When one of the party was suddenly enlightened and said, "Oh, you haven't drawn this part of the dungeon up yet. We turn around and ride back the way we came." the GM replied, "Exactly. Your party survives."

#28 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 07:01 PM:

This is very exciting! I was a young teenager when B5 premiered, and the show introduced me to obsession and the internet. Season 3 is possibly my favorite TV season ever.

I rewatched the series maybe 5 years ago and had the same reactions as others in this thread -- dated styles, slow pacing, awful CGI, and some cringeworthy dialogue, but on the whole, a show that holds up very well and tells a good story.

#29 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 07:04 PM:

There must be something in the water, given the number of us who seem to have decided to re-watch B5 recently...

#30 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 07:21 PM:

B5 was one of the ways that my older son and I bonded, as he developed an interest in science fiction, and I came to see it as a marvellously told tale.

If there's a character in B5 with whom I identified, it was definitely Londo, as he moved from being a somewhat shallow and self-serving aristocrat to developing a conscience, and, ultimately to becoming a tragic hero capable, in the end of recognising, and transcending, his flaws. Sinclair's and Sheridan's different apotheoses, both, in their way amazing, didn't do as much for me.

#31 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 07:22 PM:

After comments here on other threads, I am watching this series for the first time. I'm to the second disc in the last season.

It's hard to pace myself.

#32 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 07:41 PM:

This is interesting. I have never watched B5. I did not like the early Star Trek, and only starting watching about the time of Star Trek: Voyager, which I enjoyed. I loved the original Star Wars movie, and disliked the second: never went further.

I watched Buffy on DVD, and loved it. I watched Firefly on DVD, and loved it.

I am old enough to have watched the original Twilight Zone episodes.

All of this is a preamble to a question: should I try B5 on DVD? Is it more like Buffy than like the original Star Trek?

#33 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 08:22 PM:

Lizzy: Quite honestly, I find it hard to judge whether you'd find it to be more like Buffy than like original Trek. I think it's at least worth a try. Be warned that there are a couple of rather weak episodes right at the beginning -- give it until "The Parliament of Dreams" and "Mind War" (which if I recall correctly are the fourth and fifth episodes) and then judge.

Okay, looking at a list of episodes those are the fifth and sixth. Perhaps watch the very first one, and then skip forward to those and if you decide you like it go back and watch the intervening ones. I don't think there's anything that would be spoiled by doing that.

I used to be a huge B5 fan. The end of season 1 and the start of season 2 ("Chrysalis", "Points of Departure", and "Revelations") made me more excited about a television series (indeed, about nearly any story in any medium) than I have ever been, before or since. It doesn't hold up to that level, but I still remember it with fondness and will be following these rewatch posts.

#34 ::: Shinydan Howells ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 08:26 PM:

Lizzy L @32 ;

Far more like Buffy than Trek, yes. Each episode of Trek can be watched on it's own; try that with B5 and you'll get very confused indeed. The show also gives its characters an emotional depth that even Next Gen Trek didn't often match.

I could go on about B5 for hours, so I'll stop now. But watch it. Please.

#35 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 08:54 PM:

I still want to be Ivanova; on Live Journal I occasionally wear an "Ivanova is God" icon. Londo was my second favorite, and was one of the classic tragic heros of TV, in my opinion, right up there with Angel.

It was really hard for us to keep up with the first couple of seasons of B5. We didn't have access to cable service, back in the old days with no neighbors, when there were bears across the road instead of apartments, and it was on a station with really bad antenna reception. So the kids and I watched the last season in first broadcast, and concurrently rewatched the first four, which Sci Fi ran it as a strip on weekday afternoons. We also watched Crusade (a better series for the actors than the writing, but sorely missed when it was cancelled).

It's interesting to watch on dvd; there are subtleties of the environment which I missed in our earlier watching. I'm not as likely to rewatch it as I am Buffy or Angel or Firefly or Farscape or something in the Paul Gross oevre, but I still enjoy it when I catch it.

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:11 PM:

"No boom?"
"No boom."
"No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow. What? Look, somebody's got to have some damn perspective around here. Boom, sooner or later...Boom!"

#37 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:20 PM:

Ohhh, B5. I'm tempted to do a re-watch, too. I've kind of avoided doing that because I'm afraid that no matter how much I want it to be otherwise, on the DVDs Ivanova is still not there for the final season. :P

(Yes, count me as another one who wanted(s) to be Ivanova.)

And I still can't think about the final episode without getting all varklempt.

I was a wee bit obsessed with that show...

#38 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:21 PM:

Stefan #21:

I'm pretty sure we have the entire set of B5 action figures (some in duplicate), with their attending little spaceships.

I consider it a criminal failure of marketing that nobody ever came up with the idea to manufacture a Old Kosh/New Kosh salt-and-pepper set.

#39 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:25 PM:

Inspired by this post, I just started my own rewatch. Only the first episode so far, but give me time.

meredith (38): a Old Kosh/New Kosh salt-and-pepper set

I want one!

#40 ::: anaea ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:38 PM:

How interesting that you should do this when I've been thinking about B5 a lot, because I've just discovered V from the '80's. I'd always thought B5 was the precursor to continuity driven TV sci-fi, but (based on the first chunk of the first season), V seems to have beaten them to it. It's not very good, but between the continuity and the gender politics, I'm hooked.

All of this is a preamble to a question: should I try B5 on DVD? Is it more like Buffy than like the original Star Trek?

That really depends on which parts of the show you're comparing it to. Plot structure and character development, yes. Dialog, pacing, and visually? Not remotely. I introduced a bunch of friends to B5 last year and lost the chunk who I'd just gotten hooked on Buffy. The dialog in B5 was too bad for them to get hooked.

If you haven't seen it before, I'd recommend watching it the way I did, i.e. with a friend who loves the show, wants you to love the show, and is not blind to its flaws. He skipped the useless, painful episodes and I walked away thinking the show was utterly brilliant. When I in turn showed it to people they insisted on watching it all. I would never have made it through S1 if I didn't know what was coming.

#41 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:45 PM:

It must be something in the air, or the water. A couple of friends and I decided to do a rewatch of B5, which would have started by now if I hadn't gotten bronchitis. Starts tomorrow, for sure.

I have all 5 seasons on DVD, and watched some of the first 3, picking and choosing and fast forwarding. Some episodes held up better than others. The writing and acting is certainly above the average TV show.

The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5 is still up, in case anyone wants to use it:
http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/universe/intro.html

#42 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:55 PM:

Lizzy L: In addition to the good things other folks have said, I'll add one more. Joe Michael Straczynski's very best thing is the monologue. Most of the powerful moments in the show come when a character gets a chance to say something important, just right. Many of the more discordant and annoying thumps come when someone should have shut up and let the action move along. There are some moments of truly brilliant banter, but it's not a thing JMS can do as reliably as Whedon.

Xeger, I'm pretty sure I know what's in the water: searching for renewals of hope. A lot of us need to recharge our sense that struggle really can pay off, that even very great sacrifice can turn out to be worth it all, and that's at the heart of B5.

Abi, you may be missing some of the most conceptually interesting CGI in the series. I know I was. There's the big circular room with windows looking out onto space and the docking spindle overhead. It turns out that that whole room is CGI - as a shooting stage it was a blank floor and tape lines to mark spaces. Same with a bunch of other locales. That's one of B5's legacies in TV and film, really, the filling out of spaces in remarkably unobtrusive ways.

Oh, there are blooper reels on Youtube, and they are well worth watching. Particularly for the "bloopers" assembled by the effects team, including a Starfury on a giant wind-up key, and one on a string that breaks and leaves it dangling.

#43 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:16 PM:

I re-watched almost* the entire series back in '09, and thought that some of it held up really well, and some of it really didn't.

Some things that annoyed me the first time around worked much better now that I knew where they were going. Other things were just as annoying as ever.

One thing that startled me was stuff that I remembered as slowly-developing mysteries actually only lasted two or three episodes -- it seemed a lot longer when I had to wait a week in between.


* I skipped one or two episodes that I remembered were just too damned depressing.

#44 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:35 PM:

Our neighborhood video rental place has a new deal: for all TV series on DVD, Disk 1 of Season 1 is a free rental.

I'd been wondering what series I should try. B5 sounds like a good bet.

#45 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:42 PM:

Something praiseworthy about B5:

The human characters were significantly more human than those of contemporary Trek series.

One character was as addict. He left the station for a while to deal with it.

Religion was more than vague new age goo. JMS wasn't a believer, but he respected religion. He knew it had importance.

#46 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:44 PM:

While I was living in Canbrrra, my partner bought me a mixed bag of various science fiction bits and pieces. Among them was the first season of Babylon 5 on DVD. I didn't watch it immediately - there were other things which caught my attention first, like the Blakes 7 first season. But I did wind up watching it, and I was immediately impressed - it struck me as BBC story quality with US production values, the best of both worlds. I was watching this in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century (somewhere around 2004 - 2006, I think) and as someone who pretty much grew up on BBC production values (Dr Who, Blakes 7) I could cope easily with outmoded outfits, somewhat hokey dialogue, and wobbly CGI. What impressed me was the range of characters, the depth of the plot, and the amount of work which had gone into creating characters who were interesting people.

Of course, being a geeky woman, I fell for Ivanova, and yes, I wanted to grow up to be her. I think what was amazing about her depiction was the way she was shown as a woman with authority, who could be harsh at times ("and if this happens again, Ivanova will tear your lungs out") but who wasn't a bitch - she wasn't malicious, or nasty, or anything like that. She was a woman with authority who acted in much the same way as a man with authority, and was treated in the same way too. It was amazing.

Hmmm... maybe it's time to haul the DVDs down off the shelf, and rewatch them again.

#47 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:52 PM:

I always thought they missed an opportunity to have Kate Jackson guest star as a character named Amanda King, just once.

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:59 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 42... searching for renewals of hope. A lot of us need to recharge our sense that struggle really can pay off, that even very great sacrifice can turn out to be worth it all, and that's at the heart of B5

...and of the original "Star Trek". It was saying that things look bad, but not only will we not kill each other in a bloodbath, but we will embrace our differences and flourish. That's why I consider "The Corbomite Manoeuver" their best episode, and that's what was epitomized in Tiptree's "Beam Me Home".

My apologies for going off-topic.

#49 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 11:08 PM:

Ivanova has a lot of good quotes, but I am partial to tiny little Delenn and the great big Earth warships.

"Only one human has faced the Minbari fleet and emerged victorious. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else."

PWN.

#50 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 11:59 PM:

There were a lot of things that hooked me in the early episodes, mostly stuff saying "This isn't just episodic fluff, we're telling an _SF_ _story_ here."

The Starfury executing a 180-rotation while continuing to move in the same direction, so it could shoot the fighter chasing it. (Hey! Someone who finally gets Newtonian mechanics!)

Garibaldi tackling Sinclair about "why are you, the captain, always diving into dangerous situations like that?"

The Shadow ship coming out of nowhere to vaporize the raiders' carrier.

Londo and G'kar gradually changing places, till you had to sympathize with both.

#51 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:00 AM:

#49: my favorite quote of the entire series, by far. :)

#52 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:01 AM:

Also, for those who've announced that they have never watched B5 s5, do yourself a favor and find Day of the Dead and watch it; it's one of the best hours of television I've ever seen. It's full of what Meg Thornton has so aptly described as was the range of characters, the depth of the plot, and the amount of work which had gone into creating characters who were interesting people.

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:05 AM:

"According to the translator, it's either an aphrodisiac or a floor wax."

I always got a kick out of Garibaldi, head of B5's security, having a portrait of Daffy Duck in his quarters.

#54 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:18 AM:

Okay, now you've got me way curious. I'll try it. I'm currently watching the Brother Cadfael stories with Derek Jacobi, in order, but when I finish that...

#55 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:24 AM:

My TV watching has been very erratic since the early 1980's; there's a lot of worthy stuff I've missed since that time, and often when I do watch something it's months or even years after everyone else has heard about it, and B5 is no exception. The first episode I saw was "Severed Dreams", projected on a big screen at Lonestarcon the night after it won the Dramatic Presentation Hugo (if I remember correctly--definitely it was at that convention). Though I was obviously coming in in the middle of the story arc, the story still grabbed me, and I was amazed at a TV episode presenting a life and death dilemma in which nothing would be the same again no matter what the choice.

I did catch up with the earlier episodes in cable reruns, but somehow never followed the series all the way to the end. Your current rewatch might be a good excuse for me to follow suit. After I finish my current rewatch of Futurama (which I discovered in Cartoon Network reruns, natch), that is.

#56 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:28 AM:

Lizzy L#32:

FWIW, I saw the pilot (the original, not the later re-packaged version) and didn't find enough there to keep my interest. Then I happened to catch episode 4(?) by chance one Saturday afternoon*, and the rest is history.

It broke new ground in a number of ways that I adore, including the season-arc story that is now common-place. Straczynski's strategy of having a number of trap-doors & back-up plans so he wasn't caught out if any of the actors left the show was genius. Sure, it's not a new idea, Dickens did it for his periodicals, but I thought it was done well in B5.

*An indication of how well the TV programme schedulers rated B5.

#57 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:41 AM:

I loved the SF-ness of Bab5, and the storytelling: it was one long narrative, and if hampered by network interference (recasting the lead, for instance) and unforeseen difficulties (cancellation! an actress failing to sign her contract in time!), they did a better job telling one continuous story from start to finish than any other genre show has done before or since. (Erm, leaving aside season 5...)

That said, I still find much of the dialogue actively painful and trite, on a sentence-by-sentence level. JMS should have done the story-editing and let other people craft the dialogue occasionally.

And for all of my fondness for Garibaldi and Ivanova, I thought the acting for the non-human cast was far superior than it was for the human cast. G'Kar and Londo, in particular, were fabulous, and I was quite sad to hear of Andreas Katsulas' death.

But I still enjoyed the hell out of it, and I respect the ambitious vision that JMS was able to fulfill, mostly. He knew where he was going, and he got there, and very few showrunners can say that.

#58 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 01:11 AM:

Straczynski's strategy of having a number of trap-doors & back-up plans so he wasn't caught out if any of the actors left the show was genius... not a new idea, Dickens did it for his periodicals,

I find it plausible that Dickens did this, but very hard to believe he had to worry about characters leaving unexpectedly...

#59 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 01:18 AM:

Abi @9: I'd certainly agree, though Straczynski does simplify the matter by giving him the perpetrators of his race's genocide to battle directly.

Zionism was founded in the late 19th century, and existed through WW2. I can see a bit of, maybe, Ze'ev Jabotinsky in G'Kar.

(Note to everyone: This is not an invitation to start an argument about Zionism, or Israeli politics, or the Middle East.)

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 01:38 AM:

Avram @59:

Intellectually, I knew that, even though I somehow leapt immediately to "early days of Israel". But my knowledge of that strain of history isn't sufficient to sustain the comparison beyond, "Huh. That's an interesting point."

(No, you're right, this is not an invitation to start an argument. But drawing parallels between history and drama is always interesting.)

#61 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 02:09 AM:

I must be tired because I'm starting to see the thread's title as "Babylon 5 Baywatch".
I'd better get some sleep.

#62 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 02:12 AM:

For me, the worst "accident of the show" is Bruce Boxleitner's grin. Every time he smiles, I want to punch him.

Apparently Bruce Boxleitner agrees with me on this. I had a roomie who was a huge B5 fan, and he told me a story about Bruce, years later, seeing a clip of the show and remarking in a rather startled tone on his sudden urge to slap that awful grin off his past self's face.

It's a testament to the quality of the storytelling that I've watched the whole thing in spite of this.

#63 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 02:21 AM:

Avram at #59:
I think this comparision is not only well fitting, but also explicitly intended by JMS. Just look at episode 15 of season 2 ("And now for a word", with very remarkable narrative tricks that have become common over the years):
G'Kar is interviewed by a TV team from earth and says: "You have experienced much the same on your own world. There are humans for whom the words "never again" carry special meaning. As they do for us."

#64 ::: hedgehog ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:19 AM:

#12, Stefan Jones:

(Come ON JMS, you didn't plan on switching leading men from the beginning . . .)

I recall he was fairly explicit that the switch wasn't planned, that (a) Michael O'Hare wanted to do something different and (b) JMS had realised that having the same character connected to both the Shadows and Valen was overload. Solution: new character to carry the Shadow load.

It's probably on the Lurker's Guide, but I don't have the time to look presently ...

#65 ::: Jurie ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:29 AM:

You know Blake's Seven, respect! I never watched Babylon 5, and given my general inability to watch TV series on a regular basis, something which greatly annoys my wife, I probably never will. But I look forward to reading your thoughts.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:32 AM:

Jurie @65:

If the Bab 5 rewatch works out, I'm considering doing Blakes Seven too.

#67 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:55 AM:

Mark Wise @ 20: "At least half the fun of seeing it all again is watching the tiny plot seeds get planted, sprout, and bear fruit."

Oh yes! I treated myself to the complete box set (including the movies and Crusade) a while back and we've been watching it mostly one episode a week (but occasionally two episodes back-to-back). We're now in the early part of Season 4. So many tiny details in the early episodes which turn out to be important later. Big things happen to characters and they are changed by them. And of course, JMS learned the big lesson from LoTR that most writers failed to learn: It's not just winning the war that's important, it's winning the peace that comes after the war.

And this time around, I didn't miss key episodes, like the one in which Morden first "assists" Londo.

And I love the courage of having an episode like "A View from the Gallery" (with the wonderful line "When did those two get married?")

I'm pleased to report that, via my brother-in-law's influence, at least one of my nieces and a nephew have watched B5, and enjoyed it.

I'll have to find the bloopers online - I loved the ones that were shown at Worldcon in Baltimore (Bucconeer?).

#68 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:11 AM:

abi writes fluffy perms and blouson jackets really are the future of the past.

When I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, around 79-80, the cast in the second chapter in the Space Station and at the Moonbase looked ridiculous in their suits and short haircuts. How could the future look so like the past?

And now we're in the future, and the haircuts look long to me now, and I wouldn't mind wearing one of those suits.

I was googling up an image of Dr. Floyd in a suit to link to when I found this instead: 1901: A Space Odyssey

#69 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:16 AM:

praisegod barebones #58:

You're right of course. Unless Dickens interior world was a lot more interesting than I imagine.

On reflection, the Neil Gaiman & Dickens comparison is more apt: both dropped little dangling sub-plots & threads in their stories that they could come back later and explore/exploit according to muse or narrative requirements. I guess it's a necessary strategy when your first draft gets published as you write it.

JMS (like other TV serial writers) had to contend with the possibility (very real as it turned out) of actors wanting to quit to pursue other options, not to mention injury or death. His approach was preferable to the alternative used by daytime soaps, "The part of Commander Sinclair will now be played by..."

#70 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:28 AM:

Oh crikey... there is a portion of my heart that will always be on Babylon 5.

Among many reasons: Delenn's "star stuff" speech in the second season, and Sheridan having to mediate a blazing row between G'Kar and Londo - this second we got to re-watch on a UK-based Channel 4 re-broadcast, just a few months after we'd moved to Dublin, Ireland.

That this was in the days before the current peace agreement had even gone much past the conception stage, nevermind it being in place as it is now. Sheridan reading those two the Riot Act on how they could go over and over all the reasons to keep hating and attacking one another, with the state of the Irish Troubles then, made the hairs on the back of my neck go up.

Crazy(and our re-watch, began some 15 months ago, floundered somewhere in the fifth season)Soph

#71 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 05:33 AM:

@66 - after which you will have to do DS9, but what then, develop an fondness for old Rat Pack movies?

#72 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 06:09 AM:

re 49: I loved those great big nasty-looking earth warships.

In seeing a recent movie I found myself disappointed that Boxleitner had so few lines. Nobody has yet mentioned my favorite speech of Sheridan's, the one that begins, "I'm sorry."

#73 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 06:49 AM:

My impression that (i) the percentage that holds up now, especially in rewatching, is a lot a lower than I wish -- there are lots of glorious things, but often implemented a bit clunkily but (ii) the organisation of the overarching plot still impresses me -- I've still not seen anything planned so well that each season has its own story, and yet the first season deliberately sets up things in the fourth season.

#74 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:06 AM:

I started watching the show during the second season and loved it. So, the whole Sinclair/Sheridan replacement never bothered me. I eventually saw the first season and it did feel much more like set up material from that standpoint.

#75 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:24 AM:

Stefan @ 12: (Come ON JMS, you didn't plan on switching leading men from the beginning . . .)

No, he didn't. Here's an archived copy of his detailed pre-season-2 explanation of Sinclair's departure. What he always claimed to have planned from the beginning was not the replacement of Sinclair but provision for the replacement any of the arc-essential characters, in the event of their actors becoming unavailable, via what he called "trap doors" in the master plan. Several characters from the pilot fell through such trap doors prior to season one due to actors becoming unavailable when the network delayed picking up the series.

Yes, I am a giant nerd and B5 fanboy... or I was. I also think it's time I rewatched the show with 40+ year old eyes.

#76 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:31 AM:

It appears to be time for this moose to order vast quantities of popcorn and watch B5 for the first time.

I may be a while.

#77 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:37 AM:

alex @ 71... Ah, you too remember James Darren's character.

#78 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:40 AM:

The success of B5 was, I would wager: one man with a story to tell.

As for quotes, this:

"It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath, waiting. All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments .. of revelation. This had the feeling of both."

"G'Quon wrote: There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope. The death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of ctransition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always paved in pain."
G'Kar, Season 3 ending in Z'ha'dum"

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:44 AM:

Speaking of Boxleitner... Anyone who'd read X-men and who (long before their first movie) would raise ethical questions about the experiments that created Wolverine definitely is one of us fans of SF and comics.

#80 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:57 AM:

Heather Rose Jones @13: Oh, please don't make me laugh -- too late!

::dies in a fit of coughing laughter::

Michael I @24: You're not helping!

I saw some of the very beginning episodes, but never caught hold of B5 due to other competing interests and overall lack of enough time. However, I believe I have them all listed on my Netflix queueueueueue and a girlfriend who likes science fiction, so in that case, I sense a grand opportunity to Catch Up.

Mm, long weekend as well. I, too, may be a while.

#81 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 10:14 AM:

I loved the running "commentary track" (before the DVD) provided by Mr. Straczynski on Usenet, and other online venues, as he worked to get a pilot made, find a broadcaster, and turn his story into a series. It was an unprecedented opportunity for TV viewers (and SF fans) to glimpse the complex process of writing and producing a series.

Somewhere during those years, JMS also managed literally to write the book on screenwriting.

I was fascinated to learn of the chess game he was playing, thinking years ahead-- he had alternate plots ready in case an actor left the show, giving important story elements to another's character, and in actuality he did have to implement some of his Plan B paths.

Another pleasure for me was schmoozing online with the perceptive yet curmudgeonly Gharlane of Eddore (God rest his soul), who agreed that Babylon 5 was about the best that teevee SF had ever achieved, but nevertheless waged a five-year campaign to point out a hundred ways in which B5 could have been better. I miss him.

What was impressive was the impenetrability of JMS' skull in situations where he was clearly out to lunch. I don't decry the personality trait, since it's the kind of obsessive-focus drive that gets major things done; without that kind of blindered determination, about 150 hours of largely decent TV would never have been made; never mind that the sounds of fans cat-calling over the production staff's ignorance of basic Newtonian physics occasionally drowned out amplified rock concerts....
#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 10:16 AM:

Ginger @ 80... You have them listed on a girlfriend who likes SF?

#83 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 10:25 AM:

I didn't watch it the first time around (wasn't doing TV at the time) but the scifi syndication and tivo were perfect. I don't know if I would have been able to stand waiting a week between episodes and a whole summer between seasons. (This is true in general, I think. I wonder how much the VCR/DVD/DVR have contributed to shows-with-arcs, simply because lots and lots of people can watch them at their own pacing. Even fairly commonplace shows can benefit from being watched a few at a time.

I'll be interested to hear how you think the production values and the general gritty aesthetic hold up. One of the great things for me about B5 (in addition to all the other great things) was the sense of the station as a place where people actually lived, and where random crap ended up everywhere, rather than the Trek vision of rooms tastefully decorated and the entire universe cleaned by an invisible fleet of flying roombas between takes.

For me, much of the success of the show was the way that the actors and the little stories held it up despite the overarching bombast (which worked maybe a third of the time).

#84 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 10:34 AM:

Serge @ 36

At my day job, part of my duties is disaster preparedness.

I've used that quote at least once.

#85 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 11:21 AM:

Serge @ #82

Of course, doesn't everybody?

#86 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 11:45 AM:

B5 is what got me to sign up for cable TV, when it lost its broadcast franchise in mid-run. I couldn't let it go.

I had watched the first couple of episodes when it was new, wrote it off as hokey immediately, and lost interest. Sometime around season 2, people were saying that it was really good, so I decided to give it another chance. I didn't miss another episode, and made up for lost time with the Lurker's Guide.

I agree that the dialog can come off as trite, but you would always be able to tell who was speaking by the way they were speaking. Check out some of these live chat transcripts with JMS where participants ask questions of the B5 characters, and JMS answers in their voices. It's remarkable to me A) how clearly the voices of those characters come through, and B) how smoothly JMS is able to change gears.

#87 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 11:58 AM:

::pets the moose::

Serge @ 82: Indeed. She loves that sort of thing.

#88 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 12:32 PM:

Huh. By strange coincidence, I started rewatching B5 myself a couple of weeks ago - now in hiatus because the DVDs are at the bottom of a box somewhere while my living arrangements go through a Moment of Transition. I look forward to keeping up with the rewatch on ML.

First impressions: gosh, G'Kar starts off being quite a nasty piece of work, and ends up as Gandhi. I'd forgotten his character changes quite that much.

#89 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 01:11 PM:

I may be a bit older than Lizzy L, since my memory of TV science fiction goes all the way back to Captain Video and Space Patrol. I got up early, early one morning in 1962 to meet Rod Serling to tell him how much I loved Twilight Zone and ask him why he didn't do more, you know, real spacey science fiction. He was really, really good-natured about having a nerdy kid interrupt his breakfast and explained that a single special effects shot of, say, a space ship, would cost as much as a whole episode.

So I've never been really satisfied by SF on TV--the original Star Trek struck me as thin and cartoony, and even when special effects (and/or budgets) evolved to where I wouldn't have to pose the kind of questions I asked Serling, I found very little telly SF that I could watch with the same satisfaction I found in print. Oddly enough, I found Doctor Who (in its public-TV incarnation) a lot of fun, but I suspect that was thanks more to Tom Baker and later Douglas Adams than to the shakey SFitude of the whole series.

I've been cool to just about all movie-TV SF, even the series such as Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine that had reasonable visual surfaces and kind-of-OK space operatics. I do recall that B5 struck me as at least presenting a decent visual world (much was made of the fact that the FX were generated on Amiga computers) and was the product of a single unifying writer/producer who was also not an idiot. (Committees kill good writing, though a great team can operate like a single mind.)

I wonder how much of my indifference to media SF is generational--the first visual SF I found completely satisfying was 2001, and I loved the first Star Wars as echt pulp space opera. My own take is that outside a handful of really strong films, the best media SF has been comic-parodic: Futurama, Third Rock from the Sun, and even Mork & Mindy--perhaps because combining an SF sensibility with a sense of humor automatically produces satire. But the Futurama crew in particular seem to really get the tropes they're mining for jokes.

Looking back, I see I'm in danger of pusing the thread off-center. Recent Locus Blog topics have me ruminating about aesthetics, demographics, and related matters. Apologies (but I'm pushing the button and posting anyway).

#90 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 01:13 PM:

There's definitely something in the stars. I was sorting through our bookcase of DVD boxsets just before Christmas and very nearly stopped to begin a B5 rewatch there and then.

Not least because the two teenage sons have never seen it. In fact, they're the reason I only caught up with it long after the original broadcasts, on account of them being at the baby/toddler stage thus making dedicated viewing of early evening Channel 4 here in the UK impossible.

I owe an immense debt to Wendy, who gave me the Series One VHS tapes when she upgraded to DVD.

I shall follow these posts with keen interest. While womanfully resisting temptation to start watching the DVDs myself, at very least until I have delivered this here novel to my editor at the end of February...

#91 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 02:01 PM:

I have lived without a television most of my life. In the earlier days of B-5 I apartment-sat frequently for a travel writer friend, thus I was able to catch some of it and Xena. I loved Xena, loathed what I saw of that first season or so of Buffy*, and liked B-5 very much.

When online watching got feasible I watched all the B-5 seasons in order in my first months of netflixen rentals. I liked it very, very much, but boy there are some real duds, and particularly in that last season. King Arthur?????? as even the kitchen sink AND the outdoor windmill pumps got thrown into the series. Real stinkeroo. I still think though, that the scenes of battles, station, ships, planents nd space are terrific. Really terrific.

But I can't re-watch this. I don't know why. Sometimes I think it's because it's pre-9/11. But then, what about Buffy? Which I can re-watch without any trouble at all.

Love, c.

==============

* Now Buffy is forever and ever my best beloved.

#92 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 02:03 PM:

Russell at 89: My family was very strict about TV viewing: I wasn't allowed to watch TV (unless my parents were also watching) until about 1956. Hell, I don't think my family had a TV until around 1955. Captain Video went off the air about that time. But I doubt I would have watched either CV or Space Patrol: they were so clearly aimed at boys. Twilight Zone was not.

#93 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 02:15 PM:

I still say "Nobody listen to Zathras" on a semi-regular basis.

I didn't watch the pilot until after I was hooked on the series. As much as I love Ivanova, I'm sort of sorry Tamlyn Tomita didn't come back.

#94 ::: rhiannonstone ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:18 PM:

There are actually 3 B5 actors in Tron, if you count David Warner, who appeared in a single B5 episode that was sort of a one-off and was either loved or hated by fans.

#95 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:22 PM:

The pilot as originally aired was glacially slow. I bailed after about 10 minutes and didn't start watching B5 again until the middle of the third season. At that point, I was instantly hooked, and went back and caught up. When I finally saw the pilot again, it was interesting in a here's-how-it-all-started-and-see-what-changed way, but as entertainment it was still pretty boring. The re-edited version is much better. If that had aired first, I would have been hooked from the beginning.

#96 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:24 PM:

Ginger @ #87

<FX: Offers box of cocoa-dusted truffles.>

More, please!

#97 ::: Ryk E. Spoor ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:40 PM:

I love B5; I have rewatched it multiple times and it still inspires me a lot (heck, I often describe my latest solo, _Grand Central Arena_, as "Babylon 5 meets Stargate as written by Doc Smith", and one of the major characters, Orphan, I read with G'Kar's voice).

You asterisked Blake's 7, but forgot that the Japanese were doing the TV SF Story Arcs for at least as long, starting with Space Battleship Yamato and going through all the Gundam series and pretty much every other SF anime they ever made. In fact, that was in many ways one of the clear defining DIFFERENCES I could see between the way most anime approached things and the way in which Western TV shows -- both live-action and animated -- approached their stories.

If you achieved the ambition to become Ivanova, does that mean that God sent you?

#98 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 03:52 PM:

We've been randomly collecting boxed seasons as gifts for each other, and are in the middle of a very drawn-out rewatch that's just about at the end of Season II (an episode every week or two). On a biggish TV with a new DVD player that does very nice upconversion to HDTV quality, it holds up quite well.

We missed the original airing of anything before somewhere in the fourth season, and only started watching because a work friend of my husband's was hooked on all the plots and counterplots. What I remember is watching Season V in real time while the other stuff was rerunning in sequence. Since it aired during supper-prep time, some of what I saw was rather scrambled and patchy; I remember being vastly confused by the difference between Ivanova and Lochley.

#99 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:02 PM:

Constance @ 91: I wasn't so sure about King Arthur, (which came in Season 3, by the way). But then, we've recently re-watched the episode in Season 4 in which it turns out that it was Delenn who had the casting vote which started the Earth-Membari war, and it was therefore Delenn, in her grief and anger, who, in a very real sense, started the war. And as I watched that, "A Late Delivery from Avalon" was given new meaning. It had been poignant, watching Delenn take the sword and give rest to the poor gunner whose shot (under orders) had started the battle, in that first Human-Membari encounter, which resulted in Dukhat's death. It was given a whole new layer of meaning, learning Delenn's role in starting the war.

That's why I love this series - stuff like that. And I'm enjoying it at least as much now as I did when I first saw it - maybe more, because I have the chance to see things unfolding.

ajay @ 88: Yes, I'd forgotten how awful G'kar was at the start. Another of those things I love - the balance between Londo getting what he thinks he wants, and ending up with all the power but no choices - and G'kar who did get one thing he wanted - Narn free of the the Centauri - but who really gained, and grew, by means of experiences nobody would have wanted to endure.

#100 ::: Pamela Dean ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:24 PM:

Oh, I do look forward to this!

I watched about two and a half seasons of the show in 2000 with a partner who loved it, but the DVDs we had bought were defective, and we never got around to rectifying the situation. Now I'm watching those on a better player with a partner who has never seen the show at all, and relaying reactions to the partner with whom I originally watched the beginning. We have reached a very strange part of Season 4, and while we are enjoying a lot of things, the most abiding one is spotting the Tolkien references.

P.

#101 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:36 PM:

99: yes, good point. Actually I like the way most of the characters start - Ivanova isn't a martinet with a heart of gold, she's a martinet all the way through, and spiky and bad-tempered. Londo's a bit more comic and appealling but he's got a dark side too - he goes after G'Kar with a gun in the first episode! Sinclair starts off the least interesting, because at least at first he just comes across as Generic Competent Captain.

#102 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:46 PM:

Ah, Babylon 5. I keep thinking it hasn't been THAT long since I watched the series. Then I remember that I was in Greek Literature in Translation in 1997-98 - the class in which I got an A+ for an essay that was mostly about B5 and Time Bandits*.

As everyone says; the dialogue is weak overall, but the monologues are usually strong (Although clunky monologue is always weaker than clunky dialogue). And Season one is scattershot, but conveniently, its weakest moments are the skippable episodes. The worst half episode is the main plot of Grey 17 is Missing, which ISTR is season three, but I also recall the subplot in that one was worthwhile. (A friend used to joke that the sequence inside Grey 17 was filmed in her ex's basement. I've seen that basement. I believe it.)

_____________
* Yes, the apparently obligatory King Arthur episode was a serious stretch. However, the Agamemnon's name isn't remotely a coincidence, and up to the very end of season 3, Straczynski was surprisingly consistent with the reference, if you assume that Delenn and Kosh share Cassandra's two roles of war bride and failed prophet. He loses it after that, but then, the original story ends there, as Agamemnon is dead.

#103 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 05:06 PM:

JESR #52:

I agree totally about the winitude of "Day of the Dead", but it's an episode that depends so thoroughly on knowledge of many previous episodes (at least one per featured cast member) for its emotional impact (what Jo Walton calls a spearpoint) that I'd hesitate to recommend it as the thing to see first.

#104 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 05:47 PM:

joann (103): I took JESR to be recommending that the people who had watched the first four seasons but not the fifth should watch "Day of the Dead."

#105 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 06:02 PM:

Ginger @ 87... Does she prefer 3-ring binders?

#106 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 06:31 PM:

Mary Aileen #104:

You're right. I just never saw that little "s5". Oops.

#107 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 07:13 PM:

I, when my friends were religiously watching B5 - games were scheduled *around* the show, it was that bad - was religiously *not* watching B5. I'd seen one or two episodes of season 1, and it looked really goofy, even then. But when *everybody you know* says it's amazing, and they're the same kind of geeks you are, you get converted. And when they say, "but you can't come in in the middle", you believe them, too.

When Space reran the thing, in order, one a weekday, it was being recorded. And everyone in the house watched. I've been addicted ever since.

My favourite moment(s) was still (links for spoilers): "He's playing one of those and he's called that? What a character, and what a character switch.

Oh, and the motorcycle.

#108 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 07:17 PM:

Argh. All of you people rewatching B7, grrrr. Any idea on how I can do that in LeftPondia?

The Sandbaggers, too, if you please (according to Wikipedia, it's available in Region 0 NTSC. I'll have to haunt my local store-of-choice. But if anyone knows specifically where it's available...)

#109 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 07:20 PM:

Me@107: more argh. Quote should end after the question mark.

And Another B5 moment: The end of Sheridan's first day on B5. Reminding me that there are things that, no matter how invisible, or how seemingly useless, Must Be Done.

#110 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 09:08 PM:

Introducing me to Babylon 5 has to be the one thing I am most grateful to a certain ex-boyfriend for. The relationship didn't last (and probably never had a chance of lasting), but he insisted on watching B5, and insisted I watch it with him.

I started watching at the end of Season 2/beginning of Season 3. At that point, between my now-ex explaining things during the commercials, and looking things up on the Lurker's Guide, I was able to get a pretty good feel for what was going on. We broke up before Season 3 ended, but I kept watching on my own.

Maybe once I'm done with school, I'll do my own re-watch on Netflix. Until then, the most I'll have the time to do is read through other people's comments here on their own re-watches.

My personal favorite quotes:
"Do not thump the Book of G'Quan. It is disrespectful."

and

"Cannot run out of time. Is infinite time. You are finite. Zathras is finite. This ... is wrong tool."

#111 ::: Adelheid_p ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 10:34 PM:

I brought this post up at dinner tonight and my daughter, who is almost 25 remembers watching the show with us. We have the dvds so I think she is going to re-watch them. At least we've watched one episode tonight. We're watching them, with her. It will be an interesting juxtaposition. Thanks for sharing this!

#112 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 03:28 AM:

JMS is very fond of spearpoints. There's a particular thing he likes to do where he shows you the spearpoint in advance and tries to get you to draw wrong conclusions about which way the spear is eventually going to be flying. When it works, it's terrific.

#113 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 04:24 AM:

"It's the god of, uh, frustration."

#114 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 09:10 AM:

Remember catching a sight of Harlan Ellison as an elevator tech?

#115 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 09:36 AM:

Serge, 114: Are you sure? I thought he was the voice of a GPP-equivalent elevator. (Two jokes for the price of one!)

#116 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 09:45 AM:

TexAnne @ 115... He may have done that too, but I distinctly remember an elevator opening and inside was Ellison in coveralls and looking grumpy.

#117 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 10:11 AM:

Rewatching the pilot last night, I kept being distracted by the fact that (the actor who played) Morden was a tech in the command center.

52/103/104: Besides "Day of the Dead", people who stopped watching after the fourth season should also be sure to watch the final episode (if they haven't already).

#118 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 11:28 AM:

Maybe I'll join in the rewatch. I've got the DVDs here, but I never get around to watching them.

What I'm rewatching end-to-end now is The Pretender, which I loved when it first aired (but missed a lot of episodes in the later seasons, including the presumably-quite-important two specials that aired after the final season). I'm not blogging it, though - didn't think to until it was too late to start (and kind of regret that, now that it doesn't matter how much work it would have been).

#119 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 12:39 PM:

Paul A @ 118... Another fan of The Pretender! I'm not sure I'd want to watch it again though because his story was never ended. By the way, it always amused me that I used to live down the street from the mysterious Center.

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 12:54 PM:

One series I recently re-watched and reviewed was 1967's "The Invaders" - its first season anyway. Pretty good stuff. Ed Asner as an evil alien! Suzanne Pleshette as a stripper!

#121 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 02:16 PM:

"In the world of science fiction TV, Babylon 5 is generally considered the first of the modern* story-arc series."

Oddly enough, for me it's also about the only story-arc series that I really liked. Generally I was more into episodic TV, and when all the smarter shows started having large story arcs, that was one (although not the main one) of the things that made me mostly stop watching TV; but for some reason, with B5 it really worked for me. Perhaps I simply found the story arc more interesting than in other shows; or perhaps it's that, since it was the first story arc series I watched, I didn't yet have any trouble with keeping track of many different arcs in many different shows.


I was a teenager when I first watched it; there wasn't (as far as I can remember) any character that I looked at and thought "I want to be like that", but there were several that I liked to watch: Londo, Ivanova, G'Kar, and some others (I know, not very original). I think the character I liked most was the G'Kar of the late seasons.

Oh, and I'm kind of embarrassed to say it, but there was a time when my sappy side found the opening credits of Season 4 fairly touching.

#122 ::: Leigh Kimmel ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 03:54 PM:

#107 Mycroft W: I originally watched B5 with the SF club at the university where I was doing grad studies, and when one of them identified the actor playing that character, my initial reaction was along the lines of "you're pulling my leg." It took me some watching to realize that yeah, that is him (of course I also had to consciously think about how much time had passed since the other show, and what that would mean in terms of the actor's age).

#123 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 04:09 PM:

Yay, just the right time for this, just as I'm starting Rewatch #1 (after discovering the existence of a massive collection of Everything B5 last year and buying it at once).

TexAnne@1: Vir's triumph? Which one? There were at least three if I recall, and very possibly more.

Stefan@45: No, [censored] did not leave the station to deal with his [censored] addiction: he resigned his post and went on a walkabout *inside the station* to deal with it. (He did leave the station later, but that was unrelated to the addiction and was more in the nature of undercover operations than a permanent departure.)

Meg@46: I fell for Ivanova at the start of _Signs and Portents_. Someone else who hates waking up early! Fiction has too many bright-eyed productive early birds.

hedgehog@64: the Sinclair/Sheridan switch stuff is not described anywhere in the Lurker's Guide that I know of. It's covered in JMS's DVD commentaries.

crazysoph@70: The 'star stuff' speech is particularly interesting. Obviously this is core to Minbari beliefs, but it's also obviously recycled Sagan: why? One possible answer is that Sinclair introduced these elements: so even in-universe they may legitimately be recycled Sagan!

Everyone else in this thread says the CGI is awful: but I can't see it. It's better than anything else airing at the time and better than a hell of a lot of stuff produced since. Do I just have really low standards?

#124 ::: arwel ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 04:17 PM:

This thread has brought back lots of good memories. The development of B5 happened just as I was getting online for the first time - I was on Compuserve at the time when I first heard about this new SF series that had been sold to Channel 4 in the UK (this was so unlikely, as C4 had never shown an American SF show before, that I checked with JMS himself that it was true). Being online was expensive at the time - I didn't have a local node to Demon until September 94, so every online connection was long distance, and I remember an item at the 1994 Worldcon in Winnipeg where we were discussing this new-fangled internet thing and the audience was asked to indicate how much we were spending on it, and I was the last person with a hand up when the cost increased, as my last quarterly phone bill was the equivalent of $720 Cdn, plus Compuserve fees! :)

Anyway, I quickly got into B5, and I remember fairly early on in the first season I was a union representative at a consultation meeting in London, when I made sure my co-rep and I were back in our hotel room when that weeks' episode was on, and I converted him to B5 fandom. One of the good things of working for the railways was that I thought nothing of travelling 160 miles to London on a Sunday afternoon for a "Babblings" meeting of B5 fans at the now-defunct Pages Bar in Pimlico, and catching the last train home. You could tell Pages Bar was an SF bar from the model USS Enterprise embedded in the ceiling, and the "Romulan Ale" they served (which I frankly could never face), and because the doors to the toilets opened to a Star Trek "swish" sound effect! :) These meetings were very popular as we'd watch tapes of the latest episodes from the US, and any actors who were in our neck of the woods would drop in. For the first three, I think, seasons, the first showing of the final episodes were on Channel 4 so the tapes would cross the Atlantic in the other direction... I remember one meeting we had a £10 entrance fee just so that we could fly Michael O'Hare over so he could hang out with us for the evening.

#125 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 04:27 PM:

Nix @ 123: Not me - I've not got anything bad to say about the CGI. It's good enough that* (to me) it doesn't/didn't get in the way, so I'm not paying attention to it - I'm paying attention to the story.

*with rare momentary exceptions.

#126 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 05:11 PM:

TexAnne @ 93

Atrios over at Eschatonblog.com often says, "Nobody listens to Atrios." My gut says it's a B5 reference.

#127 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 07:26 PM:

B4 B5, B7! ...that was a Usenet .sig of the era that I've just recalled.

Nix, 123: You're right, Vir had several triumphs. My favorite is his little finger-waggle to, uh, Morden. (Come to think of it, his first finger-waggle to Morden was a triumph too--his innocence versus Morden's temptation.)

Mark, 126: Only if he has nine brothers who are also named Atrios.

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 08:11 PM:

TexAnne @ 78... Vir had several triumphs

Anybody else remembers that, in 1978's "Animal House", he gives a heart attack to Christopher Lloyd's horse?

#129 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 08:42 PM:

Serge @128: One of my favorite thoughts about B5 was "what if all the actors did an episode reenacting their best-known prior character?" So, Flounder, Will Robinson, etc. Several characters (notably the two I just mentioned) wouldn't change much. But some others (e.g., the famous sf writer's eponym referred to earlier in this thread) would have been hysterical with the change.

#130 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 08:51 PM:

Bruce Adelsohn... And Brad Dourif played a mind-wiped serial killer.

#131 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 09:47 PM:

I'm reminded that it was actually the famous sf writer's eponym played by the actor already famous for a different character who drew me into watching the show. Seeing that familiar face in the ads got me to watch that episode, and watching that episode got me to keep watching.

#132 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 09:56 PM:

Serge @ #119: Another fan of The Pretender! I'm not sure I'd want to watch it again though because his story was never ended. By the way, it always amused me that I used to live down the street from the mysterious Center.

There's something about that building, isn't there? It was also the villain's lair in Mutant X, if memory serves.

That's a reasonable reason for not wanting to watch it again; I can think of other series I've chosen not to re-watch (or not to start watching) because they have no ending. But... I dunno, I want to catch up on all the bits I missed, and see how the part of the story we did get fits together.

(There's a part of me that's maybe relieved that we never got the end of Jarod's story, considering the way the show was going near the end. We did get the end of Catherine Parker's story, eventually, and that was flat-out ridiculous.)

#133 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 10:21 PM:

I actually rewatched the series about two or three years ago, when Debbie Ridpath Ohi was doing her rewatch (which she blogged, but seems not to have been restored after a server crash). It does hold up well twenty years on (except as mentioned, some of the combination special effects) and has me wondering what technical brilliance could have been achieved had the Commodore Amiga, which they used for SFX, survived and evolved. I could wish funding had been guaranteed for the full five years; some of the pacing problems in the last couple of years could have been avoided, I think. Still, many many good hours of story here.

#134 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 12:35 AM:

If I remember right, the SFX for the first season or so were done on a "Video Toaster," a remarkably inexpensive CGI system grafted onto an Amiga desktop system.

Later seasons look a lot better.

#135 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 10:58 AM:

I don't know if the SFX of B5 would look clunky to me today, but I'll take their intentions, their evocative atmosphere, over whatever George Lucas would throw at me in the hope of squeezing dollars out of me.

#136 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 12:11 PM:

Stefan Jones: If I remember right, the SFX for the first season or so were done on a "Video Toaster,

First three seasons. There were some fun experiments where the original Lightware files were output to the then hideously expensive 3D printers, which came to mind when Pixar exhibited their full-sized Wall-E in public.

a remarkably inexpensive CGI system grafted onto an Amiga desktop system.

As someone who did a LOT of the 45 floppy software installations of Video Toaster software, and is the purchasing agent who sold more of them than anyone on the West Coast I need to make a minor correction here: the Video Toaster wasn't grafted, it was designed from the beginning to fit into a special "Video" slot on Amiga 2000's 2500's, 3000's, and 4000's. (I remember a trade show where a Mac II user threatened to beat me up because I told him that regrettably Macs didn't have a video slot and it wouldn't work on his machine.) Spielberg ended up using them on Seaquest DSV because he could get a fully functional Toaster workstation with all software for the price of an Indy box without software. I remember extensive calls trying to get a copy of Renderman from an outfit that was supposed to be porting it to the Amiga with Pixar's blessing, but to no avail...

Unfortunately, we will never have the current version of Lightwave in the house: two years ago at SDCC I took Margaret over to a booth showing Lightwave because she needed 3D software and it was the best in the business when I sold it. The salespeople at the booth proceeded to ignore her for 15 minutes because she was female. I remember she sent an e-mail to NewTek, who sent an answer back that it wasn't NewTek's booth so they couldn't be held responsible. If *I* were running a company and found that a vendor was treating customers so badly that they were willing to avoid spending $2K on the company's software I'd have their guts for garters, but styles differ.

#137 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 04:07 PM:

#128: Anybody else remembers that, in 1978's "Animal House", he gives a heart attack to Christopher Lloyd's horse?

No, because it was Mark Metcalf's horse.

#138 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 04:15 PM:

136
I'd have written the letter too, telling them exactly why I wasn't going to be buying their software, no matter how good it was, and that I'd be disrecommending it to everyone I knew, because they, or their booth-agents, are backward enough to think women don't do high-tech.

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 04:42 PM:

Glenn Hauman @ 137... A horse is a horse, of course, of course...

#140 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 04:50 PM:

You could tell Pages Bar was an SF bar from the model USS Enterprise embedded in the ceiling, and the "Romulan Ale" they served (which I frankly could never face), and because the doors to the toilets opened to a Star Trek "swish" sound effect! :)

I remember talking to one of the staff who noted that civil servants would often drop in for a drink after work (as it was in the middle of lots of ministries). The Trek decor crept in over a period of time which caused some amusement and bemusement to the mundane regulars.

I was given as bottle of the specially brewed Romulan Ale for a birthday present but don't actually remember drinking it.

#141 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 05:32 PM:

I was given as bottle of the specially brewed Romulan Ale for a birthday present but don't actually remember drinking it.

Sounds like they got the recipe right. The Romulan Ale you can remember drinking is not true Romulan Ale.

#142 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2011, 08:00 PM:

I'm going to have to do a rewatch to review my opinion of the CGI, but as I recall the models were pretty nicely designed, and the only real drawback in the rendering was that the resolution was not very high, so the textures tended to be a bit blurry. On the other hand, compare their CGI to that done on "Hercules: the Legendary Adventures" at about the same time. Some interesting ideas, but the execution was usually seriously rushed, resulting in some real howlers in post-production (matching the front and back halves of the Centaurs was always hit or miss).

#143 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 03:36 AM:

Bruce @142: I did a rewatch with that (among other things) in mind a couple of years ago. My feelings were that most of the CGI had held up pretty well, the only real point of failure was that the way the debris behaved when ships were destroyed didn't seem particularly realistic. I'm guessing their physics simulations couldn't handle enough fragments to have it look absolutely right, so they hacked it. Scenes where filmed content was mixed with CGI also didn't work very well, but that's something that I've seen failures at quite recently too (it's not the CGI techniques, but the required filming techniques that make it hard).

#144 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 03:40 AM:

Another point: at the time, I felt B5 was the first TV show to do CGI that was "good enough". Looking back, I think this assessment was right. The models were detailed enough and the physics simulations accurate enough that taken as a whole it still works, even though techniques and available resources have improved dramatically since it was made.

#145 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 04:01 AM:

Ryk E. Spoor @97: If you achieved the ambition to become Ivanova, does that mean that God sent you?

It seems obvious that God sent her. I think the question is more correctly one of "causation or correlation?"

#146 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 04:09 AM:

All right, dammit. Y'all have hooked me. I'd been resisting rewatching, but I'm noticing enough references to stuff I don't remember that It May Be Time.

#147 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 04:12 AM:

Mycroft W @108: Argh. All of you people rewatching B7, grrrr. Any idea on how I can do that in LeftPondia?

Is this a legit edition?

#148 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 04:30 AM:

Magenta Griffith @41: The Lurker's Guide

Damn, this takes me back....

#149 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 08:05 AM:

dcb @ #125

Ditto here, the cgi is not too distracting and the storyline is easily enough to swamp any problems. (I remember the obvious scan lines on some shots in Dune[1], now that grated[2].)

Season 1 has now been watched and the moose is out of popcorn. Must go shopping....

Cadbury.
[1] The cinema version.
[2] Not as much as some of the changes to make the book filmable though. Grrrr!

#150 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 09:13 AM:

Regarding poast-B5 work by Straczynski... What was "Jeremiah" like? I haven't been quite happy with his comic-book work, especially on the Fantastic Four, although I should re-read "Doctor Strange", in which the Ancient One discusses Simon & Garfunkel.

#151 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 03:06 PM:

There really must be something in the water. I managed to watch the first four seasons again in the week I had off at the end of the year. Now on to season five.

On some of the technical issues: as I recall, when they remastered the footage for video release they rerendered the CGI, but they'd lost a lot of the original film footage for mixed live action/CGI shots. It was either leave them out (bad), or live with the lower quality.

#152 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 04:43 PM:

Jules@144: Yes, exactly. The CGI was good enough that you could pretend it was real, and good enough that it didn't jolt you out of your WSOD. And that is, well, good enough :)

(One note: if you have the DVDs and you're trying to watch them on a computer, make very sure to watch it with deinterlacing turned on, which is not always the default. The non-CGI parts are noninterlaced, but the CGI and mixed stuff is interlaced, so unless you turn deinterlacing on all the CGI will look like you're viewing it through a grille.)

#153 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 05:34 PM:

Cadbury Moose @ 149: As a Dune (book) fan, I mentally filled in the left-out scenes, and was irritated. Trying to explain it to a friend, in whispers, while at the cinema, was difficult. Some bits were good; some bits were awful.

I've kept hearing rumours of a five-hour version, with a lot of extra stuff put back in (like Pauls' first fight, which had to have been in there originally, or the two little boys wouldn't be in later) but never managed to track it down.

#154 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 06:21 PM:

B5 came out during the decades we were still successfully avoiding TV ownership. A couple of my friends lived in a dome out in the mountains, and had a Big Satellite Dish, and we'd get together on Sunday afternoons to watch the show, a couple of days before cable TV network down in the flatlands would carry the episodes. Another group of friends who were mostly Berkeley grad students would watch it, and the Bab5 social group persisted long after the show had ended, mainly with parties but also occasional group watchings of Iron Chef or other shows.

It has become somewhat more difficult to watch B5 these days, simply because the opening sounds too much like [begin 8-bit font]IN AD2101, WAR WAS BEGINNING[/font] and you expect somebody to inform the Captain that all your base are now belong to us.

#155 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 09:41 PM:

Lizzy, #92: Heh. Tangent -- one of the early serious power struggles between me and my parents was over the timing of ClassicTrek, which ran from 9-10 PM on Thursday. My putative "bedtime on a school night" was 9:30, and while this was a goal frequently more honored in the breach than the observance, for some reason they decided to make that extra half-hour once a week a major bone of contention. I still remember my father physically dragging me away from the TV and up the stairs in the middle of the episode. It's too late to ask now, but I'm virtually certain that the disproportionate focus on Star Trek was because it was science fiction and hence not "respectable" enough.

dcb, #99: The King Arthur episode has one of my all-time favorite bits in it:

Thug: "... because I've got friends!"
Voice offscreen: "So has he."
[Enter G'Kar with sword, from balcony]
[HARD CUT aka commercial break]
G'kar, in tavern: "And did I mention that they landed with a very satisfying THUD?"

Thinking about it still makes me giggle, every damn time. It was also the first time I ever consciously noticed one particular screenwriting trick -- we don't have to see the fight on-screen. We see the setup and the aftermath, and the writer trusts us to be able to imagine what happened in between. Now of course that's a budget-saver, but it's also a pretty nifty thing in and of itself.

joann, #103: In our experience, the best single episode with which to introduce someone to B5 is "The Coming of Shadows". All the characters are fully-realized by then; it wraps up several ongoing arcs, sets up several more, and there are only a few points at which you have to pause it to explain a bit of back-story.

#156 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 09:53 PM:

Bill Stewart @154: the opening sounds too much like [begin 8-bit font]IN AD2101, WAR WAS BEGINNING[/font] and you expect somebody to inform the Captain that all your base are now belong to us.

Dammit, Bill, not while I'm eating! (At least I didn't scare the guinea pigs.)

Actually, I now realize the main issue for me wrt the "hokey dialog" and "wooden acting," is the sound mixing. Especially in "The Gathering," it sounds like they were doing a lot of ADR, and not especially well. I'll bet that's where 90% of the problem comes in; the actors just can't quite catch the rhythm, and their breathing is all off. Additionally the backgound noise and sound space are inconsistent (one actor's looped in, another is ambient with associated echo). That was the biggest load on my disbelief suspenders.

#157 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 10:05 PM:

Keith @ 151: ...as I recall, when they remastered the footage for video release they rerendered the CGI, but they'd lost a lot of the original film footage for mixed live action/CGI shots. It was either leave them out (bad), or live with the lower quality.

The other way around. When they shot the show, JMS and co realized that widescreen TVs would be standard in the near future. The live action stuff was shot on film in widescreen-shaped frames (but with shot compositions designed so that they could be cropped for broadcast without losing important action). To save money and rendering time the effects shots were only rendered at the 4:3 aspect ratio and NTSC resolution in which they would be broadcast. It was thought that, by the time it became commercially necessary to produce high-def widescreen images, the computing power needed to re-render the CGI would be cheap enough that it would be affordable to do so. Scenes in which live action and CG were combined were only composited at 4:3 NTSC for the same reason.

Alas, by the time the DVDs came to be produced, the companies that produced the effects no longer existed, the model files were lost and the effects could not be recreated. Warner did the best they could with what they had but the quality difference between live-action and CG scenes is, and forever will be, noticeable.

#158 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2011, 10:15 PM:

dcb @ 153: There is no 5 hour version. There was a 3 hour version recut for a cable release that had a lot of stuff (including Paul's first fight) put back in but mostly it was very badly re-edited. David Lynch hated it so much that he not only Alan Smithee-ed his directorial credit, he had his writing credit changed to "Judas Booth".

It's not hard to track down. It is usually sold as the Extended Edition Sometimes the package includes the original theatrical release, presumably as an apology.

#159 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 12:37 AM:

Serge @150:

Jeremiah had awesome potential, but IMO it failed to live up to it. Also, Luke Perry in the title role, which never really worked for me. Although I did like Malcolm Jamal Warner as his buddy.

That said, the world-building was vivid and interesting, and relatively well-thought-out. But the narrative never really made a lot of sense to me, the writing was (again) not great on a line-by-line level, and it was cancelled untimely so if JMS had a grand design, it never got implemented.

#160 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 12:41 AM:

Serge @ 150:

"Jeremiah" had some good things going for it, and a few really good episodes, though it barely lasted long enough to start hitting the rapidly rising part of the story arc. Too bad, really.

#161 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 03:23 AM:

Paul Duncanson @158: Thank you for the information. Now I can stop wondering whether or not it exists and how to acquire it. I have a DVD I picked up in a charity shop but haven't actually watched yet, and its says "35 minutes of extra footage" so presumably that's the version you're talking about. Oh well, I'll watch it sometime and see what it's like. I have another DVD (freeby in a newspaper) which is presumably the original version, so I can always just keep that if I erally dislike the "extended" one.

#162 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 03:24 AM:

I also rewatched (mostly; still hung up in Season 5, which I missed the first time around) relatively recently.

The thing that struck me hardest was how very pre-9/11 it was: you could NEVER get a show saying those things, in that way, past current network-TV execs. Even though many of the things it says are exceedingly pertinent to current American mindsets, events, and troubles. A modern show could CERTAINLY never do that thing with the ship and the vice-president and so on.

I kind of enjoyed the costume design. Some of it is dated, but some reads as high-fashion: most of Talia's work suits, for example, are awesome and should totally hit the mainstream.

Also, it's one of the very few SF shows to actually feature knitwear, crocheted clothes, and items that look distinctly handmade (besides the work of 'noble primitives', of course, which Trek had in abundance; you could always tell someone came from a low-tech planet if their shirt was loosely-knit, saggy, ripped, and dirty).

Plus religion. In B5, modern, up-to-date spaceliving people still go to (a grand variety of) church, which struck me as more believable than the sort of overarching 'only aliens have religion' thing in Trek.

#163 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2011, 03:30 AM:

Lee @ 155: Yes, that was a fun scene!

#164 ::: Pat Kight ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2011, 12:12 PM:

Coming late to the party: I first came to B5 in my 40s, mid-Season 4, at the urging of someone I was dating. The first episode we watched left me baffled; the second had me going "wait, there's something interesting going on here." By the third, I was utterly hooked.

Since then, I've watched the series start-to-finish three times, most recently via the boxed DVD set and in the viewing order recommended by JMS.

I recently started watching yet again, and am pleased that - even knowing exactly where everything will lead - I still find the story compelling, the characters engaging and the SFnal aspects (mostly) consistent and plausible-in-context. And I'm reminded how the complex, ongoing story arcs we've come to expect from good television drama were practically invented by JMS.

What's hard is watching G'Kar and Londo - who are, to me, the pivotal characters and the ones who undergo the most profound dramatic change - and knowing what lies ahead for them, both in the world of B5 and (in the case of Andreas Katsulas) in the real world. They are truly tragic characters, in the classic sense of the word.

#165 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:13 PM:

Hmm. I notice it only actually invokes JMS for seasons 1 & 2 of Babylon 5, and season 1 of Crusade.

This implies that in other parts of the order there may be problems, and in fact one leaps right out at me: they've put In the Beginning first. This strikes me as a very bad idea; it's a prequel, meant to be watched after the series when you can recognise the foreshadowing and not be troubled by all the spoilers. Even on the argument that the movies are in chronological position, IIRC the frame story of In the Beginning belongs, chronologically, right at the end.

#166 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 10:53 AM:

Coming in extremely late to say that there was something in the water in 2011 for me too--my girlfriend, who'd watched B5 when it first aired, got me watching the show for the very first time last year around the time Abi was starting this. She picked out a dozen of the best episodes to show me, a highlights reel if you will. Three episodes in, I had fallen so hard for the show that I demanded we go back and watch it from the beginning.

I expected to fall in love with Susan Ivanova--one of the things I knew about the show before I ever saw it was that she was God--but Delenn was the one who snuck up on me and stole my heart. I think in any other show it would've been Ivanova for me--the lovely thing here is that we had both of them.

"Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope, that there can always be new beginnings. Even for people like us."

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