"In the Beginning," produced between the fourth and fifth seasons, packs all the history alluded to in "The Gathering"--and more--into a prequel stuffed to the hatches with the epic doings of Earth, Minbar, Narn, and Centauri in the days before the Babylon stations were built. Infused with epic sweep and storytelling confidence by producer-writer Michael J. Straczynski and his cast and crew, it's an elegant, compelling addition to the Babylon 5 universe and a dramatic highlight of the series. It's not an ideal introduction, though, as it gives away the shadowy history slowly revealed through the first three seasons. --Sean Axmaker
"The Gathering" is most fascinating for the evident changes between the original pilot and the final syndicated (later TNT) series - namely in the appearance of Mira Furlan as Delenn. Her original makeup masks Furlan's delicate features and makes the character more androgynous and much more ambivalent as a potential heroine.
Speaking of actresses, with the crappy overdubbing removed, Tamlyn Tomita shows why she was hired in the first place. Apparently, Tomita's role as a tough second-in-command was a little too threatening to some of the network "suits", who forced redubbing of all of her lines, to "soften" them. The first time I saw Babylon 5, it was through this pilot, and I thought Tomita was *terrible* - only to see and appreciate her skill in later films like "Joy Luck Club". The dubbing really hurt her perfomance, which is quite solid for a pilot. [Fans who delve deeper and deeper into the series, and read through some of producer JMS' postings on the web will find her portrayal of Laurel even more interesting, once they learn some more facts (...being vague so as not to spoil the series)].
The score by Stewart Copeland (ex-Police) is also interesting, as it suggests different directions than what regular composer Christopher Franke later chose.
Those who are or become regular viewers of Babylon 5 may be surprised *just* how much JMS had already planned this storyline, and how much of the pilot was retained or further developed later in the series. So, although most TV pilots suffer in comparison to their "final" series, where actors, writers, and other crew have had the chance to "gell", this one is still a cut above.
"In the Beginning," by contrast, was shot after B5 had hit its stride as one of TV's best dramatic series. Backtracking to the war between the humans and Minbari, it should not be seen if you haven't watched the two part episode "War Without End" and other pivotal episodes from the first three seasons. It's one piece that improves and becomes much more dramatic the more you've previously seen of "B5".
While some of the other B5 TV movies veer around in quality, this stars the four strongest, most solid performers from the show: Furlan, Bruce Boxleitner (who manages to convince us he is a younger officer), Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik, with good support from Richard Biggs and Claudia Christian, two other favorites.
The last major scene set in the past is both stirring and heartbreaking, with character actor Tricia O'Neil adding her usual blend of class and vulnerability to a tough role - the president of Earth. Theodore Bikel turns in a good performance too as a Minbari whose faith and wisdom outshines his enemies in the "warrior caste". Jurasik, meanwhile, who explains the history and action to viewers, takes lines that could be dry exposition and turns them into poetry.
A definite buy for those who already appreciate Babylon 5; for those of you just starting to see the series, watch some more before getting this disc.
In terms of content, the first side of the DVD contains the B5 pilot entitled "The Gathering". This is in fact a "Special Edition" of that piece. Some of the effects have been redone (in the case of an absolutely cartoonish breaching pod, not redone to the degree that they should have been), some voice overs have been added (one for Kosh, and a surprisingly successful sampling of sound from the Season 1 episode "And The Sky Full Of Stars" in a scene made particularly poignant by its addition).
This piece is Babylon 5 at its best and worst. It has the worst acting and worst pacing of any episode of the series, but it gives you an interesting taster of what is to come. Remember that in 1993, when this aired, nothing like this had been seen on American TV. Some of what you will see is jaw dropping - like the beauty shot of the interior of the space station, covered in gardens. Other things, like the previously mentioned breaching pod are so ridiculous that it is impossible to reconcile that they are both visuals in the same piece.
The main difficulty is that many people became so disgusted with the acting in this pilot, that they gave up on the series before it began. To be fair, the returning cast needed time to become acclimated to their roles. The Gathering was produced very quickly, and the acting suffered from that.
The sister piece, In The Beginning, suffers from none of its predecessors weaknesses. Top notch acting, excellent visuals. Like The Gathering, it is a truly interesting story and a great intro to the series, even if it spoils a bunch of the great B5 mysteries.
Considering the price, perhaps the value is not as bad as I originally let on. They should have fixed the sound though, and the addition of the original version of "The Gathering" with Stewart Copeland's soundtrack would have been a nice addition.
To be fair, "The Gathering" as a pilot episode is merely mediocre. Read more
The set comes with two introductory movies. Read more