BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE
As a fan, it is easy for me to say that BABYLON 5 is one of the best science fiction television series to ever grace the airwaves. Thanks to series creator and chief writer J. Michael Stracznski, BABYLON 5 was a unique show with a grand vision that told a large, evolving story across its five year run on television. Stracznski had a five-year story arc mapped out in his head, which was rather bold for a show that aired in first run syndication and could have been canceled at any time. Fortunately, BABYLON 5 developed a devoted and vocal core audience that helped keep it on the air throughout the irregular broadcast schedule that constituted its first four seasons. Although the fourth season was arguably the best for BABYLON 5, the quirky nature of first run syndication brought the show close to cancellation when it reached its storytelling zenith. Fortunately, the TNT cable network stepped up to the plate for the show’s final season, which allowed Stracznski to fulfill his vision. As for BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON: NO SURRENDER, NO RETREAT ($100), it comes to DVD via Warner Home Video in a six disc set containing all twenty-two year four episodes.
Disc one contains the episodes The Hour Of The Wolf, Whatever Happened To Mr. Garibaldi?, The Summoning and Falling Toward Apotheosis. The Hour Of The Wolf finds the crew of Babylon 5 having to deal with the aftermath of Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) going to the Shadows’ home world of Z'ha'dum. Whatever Happened To Mr. Garibaldi? has Citizen G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) leave the sanctuary of Babylon 5 and go in search of missing Security Chief Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) and winds up captured by the Centauri for his troubles. The Summoning is a busy episode in which Garibaldi is rescued; Sheridan makes a miraculous return to the station, plus a startling discovery is made about the Vorlons. Falling Toward Apotheosis has the crew of B5 taking a stand against the new Vorlon Ambassador after his race begins a series of merciless attacks against any world siding with The Shadows.
Disc two contains the episodes The Long Night, Into The Fire, Epiphanies and The Illusion Of Truth. The Long Night is a standout episode in Sheridan prepares the younger races for a final face off against The Shadows and the Vorlons, while at the same time Londo (Peter Jurasik) and Vir (Stephen Furst) undertake a plot to rid the Centauri home world of all Shadow influences, including their own insane Emperor. Into The Fire brings the Shadow War to a conclusion in an epic battle the forces the Vorlons and Shadows to confront one another directly. Epiphanies cuts the end of war celebrations short, when PSI-Cop Bester (Walter Koenig) arrives on the station with information that Earth President Clark has initiated covert operations to discredit Babylon 5; there is an ill advised reconnaissance mission to Z'ha'dum, and finally, Garibaldi makes a surprising announcement that he is resigning as security chief. The Illusion Of Truth features an ISN new report on Babylon 5 that grossly twists the truth to fit President Clark’s political agenda.
Disc three contains the episodes Atonement, Racing Mars, Lines Of Communication and Conflicts Of Interest. In Atonement, Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) returns to Minbar to answer to her people over her decision to marry Sheridan, while Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) and Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) undertake a secret mission to make contact with the Mars resistance, which also opposes the corrupt government of President Clark. Racing Mars finds Commander Ivanova (Claudia Christian) making deals with smugglers to keep the supply lines to Babylon 5 open, while Garibaldi and Sheridan have a very public disagreement. Lines Of Communication marks retaliation in the propaganda war, with Ivanova becoming the voice of B5; Franklin making inroads with the Mars resistance and Delenn comes face to face with a race that was allied with The Shadows. Conflicts Of Interest finds Garibaldi hired as a bodyguard for his former fiancée, while Ivanova goes down to Epsilon III seeking additional power to beam her Voice of the Resistance broadcasts all the way back home.
Disc four contains the episodes Rumors, Bargains And Lies, Moments Of Transition, No Surrender, No Retreat and The Exercise Of Vital Powers. In Rumors, Bargains And Lies, civil war between the religious and warrior castes breaks out on Minbar, forcing Delenn and Lennier (Bill Mumy) to return home. Moments Of Transition finds Delenn risking her life to put an end to the conflict at home, while a lacks of funds forces Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) to make a deal with the devil, or in this case, PSI-Cop Bester. In No Surrender, No Retreat, Earth forces assaults on civilian targets, which leads Sheridan to muster his forces to free a repressed Earth colony from the control of the corrupt Earth government. The Exercise Of Vital Powers reveals what Mr. Garibaldi’s new employer has been up to on Mars.
Disc five contains the episodes The Face Of The Enemy, Intersections In Real Time, Between The Darkness And The Light and Endgame. The Face Of The Enemy finds Sheridan facing a betrayal by an old friend, just as more and more of Earth’s military begin switching sides in the rebellion against President Clark’s government. Intersections In Real Time has the recently captured Sheridan undergoing interrogation and psychological torture in an effort to break him. Between The Darkness And The Light finds that Garibaldi is free from the outside forces that have been pulling his strings, thus allowing him to lead a rescue mission to retrieve Sheridan, who in turn, leads his assembled fleet against President Clark’s forces at Mars. In Endgame, Sheridan is able to bring off a plan to disable to the Earth warships without destroying them, which ends the battle and allows Sheridan’s forces to advance towards Earth.
Disc six contains the episodes Rising Star and The Deconstruction Of Falling Stars. Rising Star ties up the loose ends of the war, with Sheridan being named President of a new Interstellar Alliance; Ivanova is promoted to captain and reassigned to a new ship; Londo is asked to return to Centauri Prime, where he will be named the next Emperor, and finally, Sheridan and Delenn marry. The Deconstruction Of Falling Stars was designed as an episode to tie up the loose ends of the series, if the show had not been renewed for its fifth and final season- thus depicting various historic events concerning Babylon 5 and the key figures in the history of the station and in humankind in the generations after its demise.
Warner Home Video has made all twenty two episodes from BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON: NO SURRENDER, NO RETREAT available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. For the most part, the episodes look pretty darn good, although they suffer from the same problem that plagued the first three seasons. Since the CGI and other postproduction shots had to be reformatted from the 4:3 video masters, things do appear soft and occasionally murky in these instances. Sequences newly transferred from the show’s original film elements usually appear very crisp and rather nicely defined. The film elements themselves are in rather good shape, displaying very few blemishes or other anomalies. Colors usually appear nicely saturated, although sequences reformatted from the 4:3 masters are somewhat less vivid. Blacks are usually accurate, as are the whites. Contrast and shadow detail are generally at the episodic television level, but are otherwise fine. The six dual layered DVDs don’t display any appreciable signs of digital compression artifacts, even with four episodes encoded onto a disc.
As with the three preceding seasons all of the episodes that comprise BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON: NO SURRENDER, NO RETREAT have been upgraded to Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtracks. As one might expect, the sound is derived from the pre-matrixed surround elements, therefore they maintain the character of the original television broadcasts. However, the sound mixes would seem a little stronger in the fourth season, than they were in the past, which is probably the result of this being a rather action oriented season of BABYLON 5- with more than a few space battles. While the forward soundstage does tend to dominate the sound mix of each episode, the surround channels are well implemented, when called upon, and overall the sound design is quite engaging. Fidelity proves to be quite good for a television production, with the music producing a strong presence and sound effects coming across in a convincing manner. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and is always completely understandable. The bass channel is solid and surprisingly effective for a television production. No other language tracks are provided for the episodes, although subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish.
Animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a number of fine supplemental features. Disc one features a six-minute introduction by series creator/writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski. Actors Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry Doyle, Patricia Tallman, and Peter Jurasik are on hand to provide a running audio commentary for the episode Falling Toward Apotheosis. J. Michael Straczynski and director Mike Vejar provide a running commentary for The Face Of The Enemy, while Straczynski is again on hand to share his comments on The Deconstruction Of Falling Stars.
On disc six one will find two new programs. Celestial Sounds runs nearly six minutes and looks at the contributions of composer Christopher Franke to BABYLON 5. No Surrender, No Retreat DVD Suite runs nearly seven minutes and features Franke’s musical compositions from the episode, with accompanying visuals. The Universe Of Babylon 5 contains a number of text and video files on various aspects of the plotlines and characters. A blooper reel is also featured in this section of supplements. Biographies for J. Michael Straczynski and Douglas Netter close out the supplemental materials.
As I’ve mentioned previously, BABYLON 5 is indeed one of the best science fiction television series to ever grace the airwaves- with its forth season arguably being the show’s best. If you’ve been collection the sets since the beginning, you will definitely want to add BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON: NO SURRENDER, NO RETREAT to your collection. If you have never experienced BABYLON 5, don’t hesitate to pick up season four, but you better pick up seasons one, two and three as well, so that you can understand and enjoy this marvelous science fiction series from the beginning. Highly recommended.
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