on July 11, 2004
Back in the mid-nineties I really wasn't watching any TV show religiously. There was the occasional "Married...with children" episode, or once in a while I would watch "Star Trek: the Next Generation." Then I caught a single episode from season 2 of some Sci-fi show called "Babylon 5." The reason I know it was season 2 is because Bruce Boxleitner(of "Tron" fame) was the commander of the space station. At first I thought, "Okay, this looks like a slight variation on Deep Space 9, nothing more." I could not have been more wrong. What makes all "Star Trek" shows so frustrating is that they become predictable through repitition of plotting with only a handful of predictable characters. One knows that somehow the characters will resolve to succeed, usually in some positive re-affirmation of humanity. But on "Babylon 5" all the characters are flawed, there are many episodes that are left unexplained and/or unresolved. This makes for a very fresh experience with each story. More or less, there is a through story about "The Coming of Shadows," creatures that are oddly reminiscent of the "Buggers" from the Orson Scott Card novels "Ender's Game," "Speaker for the Dead," and "Xenocide." There are side stories, many of which are very humorous, that keep the show interesting most of the time. There are many reviews here that state that starting with season 2 is the way to go because of a respectable but fairly lackluster first season. I never saw the first season; even in syndication the networks only showed "Babylon 5" from season 2 on. There are also many reviews here noting all the references to "The Lord of the Rings." There are quite a few. There is "Za-Ha-Dum," then there is the Minbari council know as "The Nine," just to name a couple. There is an underlying reference, I feel, to the writing style of Jack Vance and his use of various cultures clashing violently and politically. Other none-too-subtle references come from George Orwell's "1984," such as the "Ministry of Peace" and the Psi-Corps(a thinly veiled nod to the "Thought Police"). Obviously, this is a thoughtfully well-written series. The acting from everyone is solid character acting of the highest quality. There is the occasional down moment, or ill-conceived sub-plot/side story, but overall I was thoroughly entertained and more often than not, completely enthralled with the through story leading me to the coming darkness. It arrives in season 3. Thank you.
Fascinating, sometimes maddening mix of wonderful and silly,
intelligent and dumb, insightful and obvious.
At it's best it's the 'Wire' of science fiction, challenging
'Battlestar Galactica' for intelligence and emotional depth.
The most interesting thing; this was an early case of a series having a
pre-planned multi-year arc, so throughout there are sometimes intentionally
confusing or mysterious details that return to be finally explained as
having great importance a season or two or three later.
On the other hand, because this preceded the acceptance of truly serial cable shows,
each episode is more self contained than more recent shows in a sometimes annoyingly
The show is also full of allusions; Shakespeare, the Bible, Buddhism,
King Arthur, the Koran. Certainly the writing is grounded in pretty
Season 2 brought in some stronger cast, and somewhat better effects than
the slightly rocky season 1.
The stories in season 2 continued to be a mix, mostly quite good, a few
great, and some subplots that were to be honest, dopey. But overall it
remained pretty riveting, with lots of interesting allusions to history
and philosophy. And it was great to see characters that seriously
evolve as the show goes on.
What may be the series' biggest problem; if this show could have been
12 episodes a year instead of 22, as is the case with most current serialized
series, there would be a lot fewer episodes that felt lacking
in substance, as if the show were just marking time.
I wish it was even more consistently great, but - in the end - it was
more than good enough.
P.S. To echo what others have written here, be careful with the special
features. They sometimes have a nasty habit of acting as spoilers and
giving away plot twists to come.
on April 22, 2004
After reading reviews of all the box sets and some of the problems some people have had,I just wanted to add my experiences.
I too had a few occasions where the picture would break up and even freeze as someone else has mentioned.
I removed the dvd from the player and cleaned it useing a cd/dvd spray cleaner.When I reinserted the dvd and played it again I had no further problems.
I have encountered this on one or two other brand new dvds of other shows and in each instance a good cleaning solved the problem.
The discs never look dirty or scratched and are always played fresh out of the case which leads me to believe it may be a coating of something that cant be seen by the naked eye but is detectable by the players laser.
It may not solve everyones problem but its worth trying before returning the discs for an exchange and then encountering the same problem.
I hope this helps as the series itself is great and nothing is more frustrating then having a problem in the middle of watching it.
on February 23, 2004
After Season 1, its time for Season 2. And what a new season to begin with.
New captain, unsolve problems and unexpected turn-of-events had made Season 2 something more.
Firstly, we get to see more of the mystery of the "Shadows", the deadliest aliens in the whole galaxy. Then the unexpected fall of G'Kar (played by Andreas Katsulas) & his species to the Centauri. The rebellion decision new captain John Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner). And more mysteries unfold, added and so on.
Season 2 opens full speed ahead that what began in Season 1 had allow us viewers to get into the saga itself with problems and the realization of a big epic tale created by J. Michael Strazynski. The special effects are much better. The sets outlook looks bigger. And with the script, I finally understand why my friends recommend me to start off with Season 2 first.
Season 2 had finally begin its tale where Season 1 left us with the introduction of the beginning. Its the space saga that continues that leads to Season 3 into a full-scale war. A season you will never forget...
on November 22, 2003
A vast improvement over the already-good 1st season. The second act of "Babylon 5" contains far more plot hooks that engage the casual viewer into the 5-season arc.
The highlights of this season include an assassination of a democratically elected President and the installation of a totalitarian government. This coup is interesting on its own - but we even get to see the effect on the media in an episode told from the point of view of a news camera. There are seeds of Gestapo-like secret organizations, and the start of an underground resistance movement.
We also see a horrific civil war between the Centauri and Narns. (This is complete with genocide and weapons of mass destruction). This plot development is unexpected given the progress towards understanding shown by both sides in earlier episodes, and foreshadows the descent into chaos and war shown in later seasons. Towards the end of the season, we are drawn deeper into the world of the Shadows, and are given a glimpse of a Vorlon.
There are a few non-arc episodes that are worthy of mention here. "GROPOS" is a rare piece of science fiction that shows the horror of war from the standpoint of those closest to it - not the air force or the navy, but the infantry. Walter Koenig is fine as usual as Bester in the Psi-Corp episode, as are most of the guest stars.
Recommended, but make sure you have a few hours of free time to invest in this excellent series.
on September 25, 2003
5 for the story, 1 for the video.
I'm not going to discuss the arc of Babylon 5, nor it's rating as an SF (NOT SciFi) series. We all know that the arc was highly compressed in the fourth year, because WB wouldn't give JMS a guarantee of a 5th year early on. As a series, it stands head and shoulders above any of the ST spin-offs, at least for me. And in terms of characterization--well, Claudia Christian stole the show for me, and her absence (for whatever reason) was sadly missed in Season 5.
But I'm going to talk about quality. Babylon 5 will be around for a long, long time, viewed and re-viewed by its fans, and by fans yet to come. The widescreen version that the SCI-FI channel promoted is right in line with the aspect ratio of newer HDTV sets.
And that's the problem!
The CGI was good for the time and for the budget. But it was done at broadcast resolution (about 480 X 640). On the DVD release, where the resolution is higher, EVERY CGI shot stands out and hits you right between the eyeballs.
A good example of this problem is the episode "And Now A Word." Whenever text is superimposed on the screen the picture quality goes to hell, since this was done on PCs to broadcast TV resolution, then blown up, cropping the top and bottom, to fit the 16:9 aspect resolution of HDTV. It's extremely distracting, and on at least one long tracking shot I prayed (sorry, JMS) for the camera angle to change and return to to a better picture.
At other times the picture becomes extremely grainy, as though it was shot on high-speed super-16 stock. Perhaps the entire series was, but if so, I wonder why they didn't use 30 fps for better US video transfer.
But the main issue is the CGI. Good for its time, budget, and broadcasting limitations, but definately sub-par for either DVD or HDTV. I hope that Warner has the original stock, and eventually the will and budget, to present B5 at its best for future HD releases buy redoing the CGI portions.
Babylon 5 is a treasure that reflects the creator's vision. Perhaps in some alternate universe it was done with a clear "go-ahead" for all 5 seasons, and was done with either theatrical or HDTV resolution. But until we reach that universe, we'll have to make to with what we have.
Summary - Buy every season of B5 immediately and enjoy the story over the course of a few days, rather than a half year. But be prepared for jarring changes in quality of the picture - the better your display, the more in-your-face they'll become.
But that's life. Take your glasses off and enjoy the story.
on September 3, 2003
Unimaginably geeky, I asked for this for my birthday, and my (older) brother delivered. This dvd set assembles and packages this most excellent series very well, with easy to navigate menus, and a nice feature -- a one-click ability check out the "next week on Babylon 5" previews for each episode on the menu -- great memory nudge for the episode's content. The special features and actor vignettes were not especially illuminating for me -- it was obvious from some comments that this series was a nice paying job for some of these workman-like actors and professionals. Glad they appreciated the paycheck, but quality of acting wasn't what the show was about -- it was about the creation of a world and the spinning of a story with a length and complexity impossible in any other media or format other than series tv. I think sf fans are suseptible to this multi-season spinning because we've been trained so well by multi-volume sagas that take years to deliver (a la Herbert's Dune, Card's Ender series, or Bujold's Vorkosigan). It's gripping to see in order and in a compressed time the beginning of the story arc, the seeds of so many amazing story threads, the revelations of characters that season 1 merely sketches and establishes. I still balk a little at the sticker price on these sets -- but in cases like this one, it's worth it (especially when it's your brother paying).
If you didn't discover when the series was on the air, the episode guides, analysis, and commentary on the "Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5" at ... are great, and a nice companion to the dvd's as well.
on July 19, 2003
I am not among those who seem to be satisfied with the audio and transfer quality of the season 2 set. The sound is on a par with season one, which is to say ok but not earthshaking. the number of scratches and other film artifacts is annoying and I am not willing to write-off the graininess of low-light scenes (of which there are many because of the generally dark tone of the series)to the physical limits of the film.I have seen much better quality from older material (TNG as an example). This is great material, a quality series born from the ground-breaking concept of creating a series designed to tell a story within a five season timespan from start to finish. It deserves better artistic treatment than it is getting from Warner, not suprising considering the short-shrift it got during original production. My two favorite seasons are coming up and I am hoping that Warner will do a better job on them but I'm not holding my breath.
That said, I would still buy the set again in a heartbeat.
on July 19, 2003
With the second season we finally see some payoff to some of what the brilliant writers and producers set up in the first season and of course, upon answering some earlier questions, new ones are raised. This is one of the reasons this show is so appealing as J. Michael Straczynski set up the five year plot and this is but the second chapter and there are so many layers that one cannot help but get caught up in this extraordinarily intriguing epic.
Of the many DVD Boxed sets that I've purchased, the B5 sets seem to stand out above the rest as far as quality goes to include Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and widescreen presentation, episode previews right there with the episode and the overall quality of the transfer.
Stand out episodes:
Points of Departure - This is a wonderfully well written and played episode that serves well to lead off the new season and bring some closure to the incredible first season's cliffhanger and introducing the new and much stronger commanding officer, Captain John Sheridan. It's easily discernable up front to see the different leadership style that he brings into the role and you can readily see that the writers are now beginning to ramp up the war with the shadows in these early beginnings.
Revelations - In a continuance from the season opener, we finally see G'Kar after his search for what destroyed the Narn outpost and his run in with the shadows. Delenn makes her dramatic "return" in this well written episode.
The Geometry of Shadows - In this outstanding Londo Mollari episode we begin to see the furtherance of his unknowing relationship with the shadows, his rising value in the politics of Centauri Prime and his mistaken attempt to meet with the Techno Mages.
A Distant Star - To provide more evidence of the coming of the shadows, this episode teases the Shadows brilliantly before us as they're making their presence seen but not seen as a whole. This episode also serves well to give us further insight into Sheridan and what makes him tick.
Soul Mates - Written by Peter David, one of Star Trek's finest authors, this superb episode is replete with his humor and brilliant style. Londo has been granted permission by the emperor to divorce two of his wives and he makes the best of it.
A Race Through Dark Places - This excellent episode fits well in the "big" picture of B5 as we're brought further into the mystery of Psi Corps and guest star Walter Koenig makes his return as Bester.
The Coming of Shadows - The flood gates of the "epic" open wide with this outstanding episode in which the Centauri emperor comes to apologize to the Narn, however, Londo and his "associates" turn towards war against the Narn. We're also introduced to the Rangers as Garibaldi receives a message from Sinclair. This is quite easily the best episode of the season!
All Alone in the Night - This is an extremely interesting and pivotal episode in which Delenn is ordered home to meet her fate with the Gray Council and at the same time, Sheridan is captured by an unknown species.
Acts of Sacrifice - This is a rather poignant episode in which the war between the Centauri and Narn is heating up and carrying over to B5's population. We begin to see the effect that Londo's new "status" is taking on him.
There all the Honor Lies - This is another brilliantly funny episode written by Peter David. Sheridan is accused of murdering a Minbari and Earth Force wishes to turn a buck by selling B5 souvenirs.
And Now for a Word - This is a fantastic episode portrayed entirely from the point of view of the Interstellar News Network and their visit to B5 just as the Centauri/Narn war heats up on B5's doorstep.
In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum - This is another extremely pivotal episode to the entire five year plot as Sheridan meets Mr. Morden upon discovering he was on the Icarus, the same ship in which Sheridan's wife died. Here is where Sheridan must make the decision between his own personal goals and that of the greater good.
Divided Loyalties - In this stunning episode, Lyta Alexander makes a visit and she's seeking a traitor in the midst and Ivanova makes a major revelation to Sheridan.
The Long, Twilight Struggle - In this extremely intriguing and pivotal episode the Centauri/Narn war comes to its inevitable conclusion signaling the coming of the larger war...
Comes the Inquisitor - This is one of the most intriguing and thought provoking episodes of the season as Kosh summons an "Inquisitor" to test Delenn and G'Kar attempts to gain control and leadership over the remaining Narn on the station.
The Fall of Night - Earth makes an unexpected move with reference to the Centauri and we finally see some payoff with reference to the Vorlon and the Shadows...
Disc 1 - Introduction to "The Coming of Shadows."
"The Geometry of Shadows" Commentary by Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian and Jerry Doyle.
Text strings on Executive Producer Douglas Netter and J. Michael Straczynski
Disc 4 - "In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum" Commentary by J. Michael Straczynski
Disc 6 - "The Fall of Night" Commentary by J. Michael Straczynski
Building Babylon: Blueprint of an Episode
Shadows and Dreams: Honors of Babylon
The Universe of Babylon: Several tech files, personnel files and a timeline up to the end of Season 2 and a great gag reel.
Points of Departure
The Geometry of Shadows
A Distant Star
The Long Dark
A Spider in the Web
A Race Through Dark Places
The Coming of Shadows
All Alone in the Night
Acts of Sacrifice
There all the Honor Lies
And Now for a Word
In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum
Confessions and Lamentations
The Long, Twilight Struggle
Comes the Inquisitor
The Fall of Night
Without question, season 2 of "Babylon 5", "The Coming of Shadows", made it the science fiction television series to watch, highlighting creator J. Michael Straczynski's five year story arc for this vast "novel for television". Bruce Boxleitner's Captain John Sheridan is a major improvement as the commander of Babylon 5 over Season 1's Michael O'Hare (Commander Sinclair); much to his credit Boxleitner portrays Sheridan as the noble, but flawed, character that is implied from his past. During the course of Season 2 we shall witness the epic struggle between the Narn Regime and the Centauri Republic as well as the initial skirmishes in the new war against the mysterious Shadows. Sheridan will be thrusted into a pivotal role as the on site leader of a resistance movement against an increasingly fascist Earth Alliance government. Ambassador Mollari (Peter Jurasik) will unexpectedly find himself as Babylon 5's most hated, most feared individual due to his involvement in the new Centauri war against the Narns. And Ambassador G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) will emerge by the end of the season as a tragic, heroic figure.
Some of the best episodes include "The Coming of Shadows", which chronicles an ill fated attempt by the dying Centauri emperor (Turhan Bey) to forge a long-lasting peace with the Narns, "The Shadows of Z'ha'dum", in which Sheridan learns a terrifying secret about Mr. Morden (Eric Wasser), and "Comes the Inquisitor", whereby Sheridan and Delenn (Mira Furlan) are tested by a human agent of the Vorlon Empire (Wayne Alexander, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Lorien in Season 3). But these are not the only fine episodes in this epic-filled season of "Babylon 5".
The sound and image transfers of Season 2 are a substantial improvement over Season 1, though they fall short of the quality I've expected from films such as "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring". The accompanying commentaries offer valuable insight into Straczynski's plans for the entire "Babylon 5" saga as well as the cast's recollections on the filming of Season 2. For those who are not familiar with "Babylon 5", then this DVD collection is a fine place to start. Truly, "Babylon 5" hit its stride during Season 2, and kept its excellence through the very end of Season 5.