BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE
Right up front, let me state that I am a big BABYLON 5 fan, and if you are reading this review, I am going to guess that you are one too. I remember the challenge of watching BABYLON 5 when it appeared on television in first run syndication. In my local market, the show's time slot seemed to be perpetually changing, plus episodes were continually being preempted by some sort of sporting event, which shifted its showing to ridiculous late night hour. Was it any wonder that the show always seemed to be on the verge of cancellation? Fortunately, the show had devoted fan base, which helped take it from its irregular first run broadcast schedule, to a regular time slot on the TNT cable network where it finished out it five season run.
For those unfamiliar with BABYLON 5, the television series was created and largely written by J. Michael Stracznski. Set in the middle of the twenty third century, the basic premise of the show involved human and alien interactions on a space station named Babylon 5. Across its five-year story arc, there were numerous political intrigues, as well as a great war that united both humans and aliens against a common foe. Since BABYLON 5 went off the air, devotees of the show have longed for the episodes to come to home video. For various reasons, both the VHS and Laserdisc release of BABYLON 5 turned into abortive affairs. Well, after a long gestation period that was filled with rumors and disappointments, Warner Home Video has issued BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON: SIGNS AND PORTENTS ($100) on DVD in a six disc set that features all twenty-two year one episodes, along with supplemental materials.
Disc one contains the episodes Midnight On The Firing Line, Soul Hunter, Born To The Purple and Infection. Midnight On The Firing Line serves as a reintroduction to the characters and involves Narn attack on a Centauri outpost, which manifests itself on Babylon 5 through a conflict between the Narn Ambassador G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and his Centauri counterpart Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik). In Soul Hunter, Babylon 5 Station Commander Jeffery Sinclair (Michael O'Hare) must decide what to do with an alien who is purported to steal a person's soul at the moment of death. In Born To The Purple Londo finds himself seduced by a beautiful dancer, who is after some politically embarrassing files in his possession. Infection involves an alien relic from a xenophobic society that transforms an archeologist into a living weapon that destroys anything not from that world.
Disc two contains the episodes The Parliament Of Dreams, Mind War, The War Prayer and And The Sky Full Of Stars. In The Parliament Of Dreams, Babylon 5 hosts a festival for alien religious diversity that brings an assassination attempt of G'Kar's life, as well as the arrival of Lennier (Bill Mumy), the new aide to Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan). Mind War involves the arrival of "Psi Cops" on Babylon 5, that are in pursuit of a rogue telepath, who happens to be the former lover the Station's resident Licensed Commercial Telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson). In The War Prayer, the station's alien populace find themselves under attack by a human hate group, just as Babylon 5's second in command, Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) greets a former lover. And The Sky Full Of Stars finds Sinclair kidnapped and interrogated by agents determined to find out what happened to him when he disappeared during the final battle of the Earth-Minbari war.
Disc three contains the episodes Deathwalker, Believers, Survivors and By Any Means Necessary. Deathwalker brings a war criminal to Babylon 5, who may escape punishment for genocide, when it is learned that her "research" has yielded the secret of immortality. In Believers, Dr. Franklin must choose between saving a young boy’s life and honoring the religious beliefs of his parents, who don’t believe in medical intervention. In Survivors, Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) is blamed for an explosion on board Babylon 5, just prior to the arrival of the Earth Alliance President. By Any Means Necessary finds the station’s dockworkers engaging in a strike, just as an impending Narn religious holiday re-ignites the ill feelings between ambassadors G’kar and Mollari.
Disc four contains the episodes Signs And Portents, TKO, Grail and Eyes. Signs And Portents is one of the most significant episodes of the first season, because it gives clues into some of the events that will occur during the course of the series five year run. Within the episode, future events are foretold to Ambassador Mollari, who also lays the groundwork for an ill-advised alliance with a human named Mr. Morden and his mysterious alien associates. TKO finds a friend of Security Chief Garibaldi arriving on the station to participate in an alien sponsored fight, while Ivanova’s uncle comes to Babylon 5 to help her deal with the death of her father. In Grail, a member of a religious order comes to Babylon 5 in search of the legendary Holy Grail. Eyes brings a member of the Earth Force Internal Affairs division to the station, with the agenda of investigating the Babylon 5 command staff.
Disc five contains the episodes Legacies, A Voice In The Wilderness Part 1, A Voice In The Wilderness Part 2 and Babylon Squared. In Legacies, the body of a Minbari leader disappears, while elsewhere on the station, a recently discovered telepathic orphan is given the choice of entering the Psi Corps, or developing her skills on the Narn or Minbari home worlds. A Voice In The Wilderness Part 1 opens with an investigation into the seismic disturbances on the planet around which Babylon 5 orbits; however the survey ship activates an automated planetary defense system that could threaten the station. A Voice In The Wilderness Part 2 resolves the situation on the planet below, thanks to the intervention of Ambassador Delenn’s former mentor. Babylon Squared is another season one highlight, which involves the reappearance of the Babylon 4 station, which mysteriously disappeared twenty-four hours after it became operational.
Disc six contains the episodes The Quality Of Mercy and Chrysalis. The Quality Of Mercy features a guest star appearance from LOST IN SPACE alumnus June Lockhart, who portrays a doctor using an alien healing devise to help impoverished individuals that are lurking in the down below areas of Babylon 5. In Chrysalis Delenn begins a strange metamorphosis, while at the same time Mollari takes another step down a very bad road, by asking for a rather large favor from Mr. Morden and his unseen associates.
Warner Home Video has made all of the episodes from BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Although BABYLON 5 was filmed with the intention of being compatible with the aspect ratio of high definition televisions, the presentation is something of a mixed bag because of the show’s computer generated special effects. It would seem that all the film footage from every episode has been newly transferred in the proper aspect ratio. However, the special effects sequences would appear to have been taken from the 4:3 broadcast masters and digitally reformatted to 16:9, instead of being recreated from the original computer files in the correct format.
Since all of the special effects shots have been digitally "blown up" and then matted to fill the dimensions of wide screen televisions, they are somewhat soft and fuzzy looking. Film sequences appear sharp and well defined, although occasional blemishes and scratches do crop up on the elements themselves. There is also a bit of grain here and there, but there is nothing objectionable in that department. Colors are generally well saturated and attractive, although the reformatted special effects shots can look a bit duller. Backs appear solid and contrast is good on the newly transferred film sequences. The six dual layered DVDs don’t display any appreciable signs of digital compression artifacts.
The soundtracks for all of the episodes have been upgraded to 5.1 channels of Dolby Digital surround sound. Considering that the original elements were recorded and mixed for television broadcast, these 5.1 channel tracks sound terrific. There is very good channels separation across the forward soundstage, plus there is a strong usage of the rear channels for ambient sounds, spaceship engine rumble and occasional active effects. Dialogue is very cleanly rendered and always fully understandable. The bass channel is solid and fairly deep, but doesn't come anywhere close to ground shaking. A French language track is also present for the episodes, while 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 some nice supplemental features. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski is on hand for an introduction to the DVD set on disc one, as well as offering audio commentary on Signs And Portents and Chrysalis. The Making Of Babylon 5 is a nineteen-minute television documentary from series first season. Hosted by Walter Koenig, the program features interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a look at the shows computer special effects that were generated on the Amiga computed platform. Back To Babylon 5 is a new thirteen-minute retrospective documentary that features members of the production team and a couple cast members. The Universe Of Babylon 5 is an interactive tour of the future created by J. Michael Straczynski, which looks at the Babylon 5 station, its personnel, other future technology, as well as the alien races that inhabit this future. Biographies for J. Michael Straczynski and producer Douglas Netter close out the supplements.
A proper release of BABYLON 5 in some home video format has been a long time in coming. Warner Home Video's DVD release of BABYLON 5- THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON: SIGNS AND PORTENTS offers fans just about everything they could possibly want. The episodes generally look very good and are in the intended 16:9 aspect ratio. However, I wish that the special effects work could have redone, since they are the weak link in the presentation. Still, fans will most definitely want to own this DVD set, and will be looking forward to seasons two through five of BABYLON 5 to appear on disc sometime soon.
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