31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
A Fine First Episode -- More Please!, Aug 2 2007
I got my copy delivered from Amazon Canada today, and I've already watched the 72-minute episode.
The Single-Sentence Verdict?
If you're a fan of Babylon 5 -- whether hardcore, or simply someone who enjoyed the series-long story arc while it was on -- I think you'll enjoy this if you pick it up.
I loved B5 for its series-long story arc, and for the breadth and depth of its storytelling (the new Battlestar Galactica wasn't first in that regard), but I don't own the DVDs and I haven't watched an episode in years. It didn't matter. This disc gives you enough right off the top to remind you of what you should know, and to get you back in the groove.
If you're completely unfamiliar with B5, you should consider buying the boxed DVD sets, and then pick this up. :-)
It's essentially two stories in seventy-two minutes and it shows as a labor of creative love.
Babylon 5 Creator/Writer/Director Straczynski's trademark sharp writing (and humor) are in full evidence. The acting is solid, even from lesser players. Boxleitner (Sheridan) has improved as an actor with age, in my opinion. He's subtler in many ways; less "showy".
The visual effects are beyond what I expected for this sort of Direct-To-DvD project. Very nice, and well-used. Since there are no commercial breaks (hooray!), shifts in the story are most often signalled by a quick cut to an exterior shot.
The visual effects detail is markedly better than on the original show. When I heard that this (projected) series would be using CGI green-screen for certain backdrops, I sort of cringed inwardly -- we've all seen how wrong that can go -- but, to my surprise, it was well done, particularly in the crucial aspect of "light-matching". In one setting, you can sort of notice that the background and foreground lighting don't precisely match, but for the most part, I was surprised and impressed by how well the CGI backgrounds were implemented.
For the B5 fan faithful, there are extras on this disc: "making of" segments; interviews; and even memorial spots where creator and cast reminisce about the two actors in the ensemble cast who have passed on since the series ended.
Creator Straczynski has said up-front that this whole direct-to-DVD distribution model for an SF series is a big experiment/gamble. He's also said that their budget (at least, if and until this proves to be a succcessful distribution format) is significantly less than what a regular, network-produced SF show would get.
To their credit, you don't see any "cheapness" here. I've seen cheaper-looking shows done by the Sci-Fi network in the US, for example. As above, the CGI visual effects are first-rate -- more than I ever expected.
The major way the lesser budget shows through is in the lack of physical sets. A lot of scenes take place in corridors, or smaller rooms. The C&C (Command and Control -- i.e. the "bridge") of the Babylon 5 station is mentioned, but we never actually go there.
Given the fact that this release is a "pilot project", I can understand the creators wanting to put their finite budget where it would have maximum effect, rather than spending money on building a bunch of standing sets which might potentially never be used again, should this distribution model fail, and we see no more episodes.
If this distribution model does prove a success -- and I hope it does -- I would expect to see at least a few standing sets built. I mean, how many times can station commander Colonel Lochley have meetings in her quarters, before it all starts to seem a bit odd?
Still, what the episode lacks in physical substance, they cover with good lighting, inventive camera work, and solid editing. The score is orchestral and professional.
The only other place in which the lack of budget shows through is that both stories in the episode are very character- and dialogue-centred.
If you're looking for ferocious fights, with exploding scenery, and stunt people flying everywhere, it's not in this installment. We get some brief space-based CGI "blowin' stuff up real good", but nothing with live actors in fake peril.
The two stories here are all about character, and Straczynski's sharp dialogue. In fact, the first story in the pair is positively philosophical in tone -- bringing in topics like God, the devil, heaven and hell into the mix.
The actors are universally solid, so I found both stories interesting -- but if you're the kind of viewer who loses interest unless somebody's getting punched in the face, or something's on fire, this episode probably isn't for you.
I hope this DVD sells well enough to deem its distribution model a success -- not only so we can see more Babylon 5, with (hopefully) bigger budgets thanks to profits -- but so that it opens the door for other quality direct-to-DVD series of this type. I can't be the only one who'd like to see a little more Firefly, for example.
For that reason, I'd say buy this if you're interested. Send a tangible message that you like the distribution model, as well as the specific content, in a way that renting or pirating the DVD won't do.
Will we see more Babylon 5 this way? Time will tell -- but I certainly hope so.