Science Fiction & Fantasy Reviews (Page 2)

4 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place

Babylon 5 - Season 4 (1997)

No Surrender, No Retreat

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Andreas Katsulas ...

Created & Written by J Michael Straczynski

Warner Home Video

January 2004

A potted history... Babylon 5 is the last of the neutral outposts, a five-mile long space station designed as a meeting place for diplomats, traders and entrepreneurs, and considered to be the last best hope for peace. Permanently based here are the ambassadors of four prominent races: Delenn of the Minbari, an old race consisting of warrior and religious casts (who also fought a major war with Earth, before mysteriously surrendering when they had the upper hand); Londo of the Centauri, an imperial Roman-like people steeped in blood; G'Kar of the Narn, the reptilian looking race (actually marsupials) which has long lived under the pressure of war; and Kosh of the Vorlons, an ancient race, the identity of which is concealed within encounter suits.

G'Kar extends a hand of friendship, but Londo authorises an attack on a Narn outpost, causing a terrible war. Londo's mysterious allies in the offensive come via a human called Morden. Delenn undergoes a metamorphosis which prophecy dictates will bring the Minbari and human races closer together, and aid in the struggle against the greater threat. Kosh, after revealing his true form (appearing differently to each witness) to save Sheridan from an act of terrorism, becomes even more illusive and somewhat sinister. The greater threat to all races is discovered to be the Shadows, oldest of the First Ones, last seen in local space by other races more than a thousand years ago.

Londo, realising at last who his dangerous benefactors are, tries to sever his ties with them, an act which proves practically impossible. New regular Marcus Cole arrives, a representative of the Rangers, a highly-trained unit created by Sinclair,
Babylon 5's original commander (during season one) from the Minbari homeworld - their mission to collect intelligence on the Shadows. Sheridan sets up a regular secret war council with Delenn; and we see the White Star for the first time, a beautiful Minbari warship incorporating organic Vorlon technology, which can generate its own jump points between star systems. Sheridan is given command of the ship by Delenn.

Commander Susan Ivanova enlists the aid of another race of First Ones in the fight against the Shadows, and Sheridan attempts to prevent the re-activation of a dormant Shadow vessel. Earth's current martial law is extended to the Earthforce-run
Babylon 5, but Sheridan finds a way to combat the Night Watch enforcers, and declares their independence from Earth. Earthforce destroyers arrive to demand Sheridan's surrender, but the captain decides to fight, aided by Minbari allies. Sheridan forms a romantic as well as strong political alliance with Delenn. Sheridan asks Kosh for help in securing a morale-boosting small victory against the Shadows, but Kosh is killed by Shadow agents in retaliation.

The season three cliff-hanger sees Sheridan journey to Z'ha'dum, from which "no one returns", the home planet of the Shadows, when dubious intelligence reaches him that his wife might still be alive. Once there he walks into a trap. By remote signal he brings in a White Star containing nuclear devices, to crash into the planet's surface. The voice of the replacement Kosh in Sheridan's head urges him to jump into an abyss and certain death.

  • It was the year of fire...
  • the year of destruction...
  • the year we took back what was ours.
  • It was the year of rebirth...
  • the year of great sadness...
  • the year of pain...
  • and the year of joy.
  • It was a new age.
  • It was the end of history.
  • It was the year everything changed.
  • The year is 2261.
  • The place: Babylon 5.

So here we go with season four, and it's difficult to know exactly where to start, there's so much to say. The passages above which briefly describe the story so far are important to newcomers to the series because it's necessary to paint a picture of the Babylon 5 universe before mentioning additional plot points... particularly when they're this good! The opening titles, which change each year, this time has every main character speaking a line of the narrative (see above). However, this is greatly thought out, with the line spoken reflecting that character's direction during the season.

From the very first episode you are dragged along, breathless, by the relentless pace of events. Sheridan is presumed dead, and Susan Ivanova fails to rally alliance members for a scout mission to Z'ha'dum. Security Chief Michael Garibaldi is missing, and G'kar decides to go in search of his friend, but falls into the hands of the Centauri. Londo discovers that Emperor Cartagia, who is as mad as a box of frogs, has made an arrangement with the Shadows, allowing them to base some ships on the homeworld. He must organise Cartagia's death in order to save his people from conquest. Sheridan finds himself confused and alone deep in the catacombs of Z'ha'dum, where he meets Lorien and learns that he is caught between life and death. Phew! And that's just the first two episodes.

Writer/creator J. Michael Straczynski was uncertain at the time whether his five-year story arc would receive backing for a fifth season, so much of what was planned for the last season was brought forward to this one. Consequentially, this season is a rollercoaster ride of anxiety-based events. With Sheridan's fleet caught between a Vorlon conflict with the Shadows, Garibaldi returning changed so that his loyalty and very sanity hang in the balance, the elevated threat of Bester and the Psi Corps, misinformation about the station being broadcast from Earth, and the final battles with the Shadows and Earthforce, by the end of this season either your head will have exploded or you will be sitting in silence thinking, "Bloody hell!"

In short, this is 22 episodes of pure genius. Every part is meticulously and lovingly crafted by J. Michael Straczynski, the writing so tight and the acting carrying such conviction that, whether a character laughs, cries or shouts in anger, you are taken in one-hundred per cent.

Again, excellently packaged, this set contains six discs and includes the following extras:
Celestial Sounds, following the remarkable impact of Christopher Franke's music on the series; The Complete No Surrender, No Retreat DVD Suite (music accompanying a well-assembled montage of clips from the season); The Universe of Babylon 5, containing audio/visual Data Files and Personnel Files; a Gag Reel; and three commentaries (two by Straczynski, and one jointly by Bruce Boxleitner [Sheridan], Jerry Doyle [Garibaldi], Peter Jurasik [Londo] and Patricia Tallman [rogue telepath Lyta Alexander]).

A quite staggering piece of work, and the best television ever seen, bar none! Accept no substitutes.

Verdict: 10 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2004)

Babylon 5 - The Legend of The Rangers (2003)

Andreas Katsulas, Dylan Neal, Alex Zahara, Myriam Sirois, Mackenzie Gray

Directed by Mike Vejar

Created & Written by J Michael Straczynski

Warner Home Video

October 2005

We are Rangers.
We walk in the dark places no others will enter.
We do not break away from combat.
We stand on the bridge and no one may pass.
We do not retreat whatever the reason.
We live for the one, we die for the one.

A Ranger ship is tailing a vessel from a new race which has been responsible for several raids, when it is in return attacked. With the captain dead and weapons down, the highest ranking officer, David Martell, stands down from the chase. Subsequently, he is accused of breaking the Rangers' most strict rule of never disengaging from a fight. He is on the brink of being dismissed, even though his crew realise he made the decision to save their lives and the ship, and stand with him. The Narn Ambassador G'Kar intervenes in the Mimbari Grey Council session (who originally formed the Rangers). He has been asked to find out more about the new race, and sees this as one possibility. Martell is reinstated but as the captain of an old ship which is considered haunted and bad luck. The Valen is a new Ranger ship transporting several diplomats to a colony world. Martell's first job in the old ship is to escort them, but the new enemy attacks and the Valen is lost after ejecting the diplomats in pods, which the little ship collects. Then a spy is discovered in their midst...

The Legend of the Rangers
was intended to be the pilot episode of a spin-off series from the first-rate Babylon 5, originally planned prior to the 13-part Crusade spin-off. In fact, it even carries a typical Straczynski poetical title: To Live and Die in Starlight.

Whilst far from being the best charge from the impressive
Babylon 5 canon, it is jam-packed with potential. There's intrigue from the start, not so much from the story but rather the situations - the actual environment the characters are placed in. The decor and technology is purposefully different to that from the five-year arc that was Babylon 5. References are made to events which have gone before, but it's to the writer's credit that no prior knowledge of the programme is necessary. Also, for the old fans there is the comfortable slippers effect to carry you over this transitional period, with the return of Christopher Franke to the music composition (missing for Crusade), and of course the presence of G'kar.

I realise it takes time to accept a new format and particularly new faces; however, in truth it's the actors that let the side down. Not the entire cast, but I would change the majority of the main players. I grew to like Gideon in
Crusade; David Martell in Legend is another matter. He seems to be a stereotypical young captain of the 1960s Captain Kirk ilk, with little or no personality whatsoever. Of the nine new crew members of this old dilapidated ship - comprising 4 human, 3 Minbari, 1 Narn and 1 Drazi - I would retain only two. The others are faceless. Weapons and tactical expert Sarah Cantrell, from Mars colony, simply makes herself look foolish when she slides into a weapons station which shows her surrounded by space. Her body flips over and she hurls firepower by physically punching and kicking it out, the ship responding to her movements. On paper this is a sensible science fiction idea, but on film it's so cringeworthy that you actually feel embarrassed for her. When she quickens her movements, anger rising, you just want to laugh.

The two characters which stand out like a shining light are the Minbari Dulan and the Drazi Turk. Since the
Millennium Falcon in Star Wars it's no new idea to have a small bucket-of-bolts ship as the central focus. The film Event Horizon gave us the notion of a haunted spacecraft, but that was the ship taking on its own dark sentience, whereas in this instance the previous crew is dead but still present. It's a nice touch to have Dulan being a sensitive and the only person able to see the individual crew members.

The potential for story plots based on this alone are endless. When the new crew introduce themselves to each other in the traditional Ranger manner of revealing their name and something about the inner psyche, the Drazi Turk hesitates before announcing enthusiastically, "Turk... Drazi... I carry very large things..." Turk doesn't pretend to be anything he's not. Slightly slow, but very strong and useful, he's obviously intended as the light relief. Unsurprisingly, G'kar is the best character here, with many of the best lines (the moment when he peeks into the cowl of a Council member is priceless), but he's not meant as a regular.

With only two decent portrayals it might make you think
The Legend of the Rangers has nothing going for it. All I would say is look to The Gathering, the feature length Babylon 5 pilot. Between that and the first episode pretty much of the style and structure had changed quite drastically, and many from the main cast were replaced. When the Region 1 version of the Babylon 5 TV Movie Box Set was released with the full five films, it came with a super-improved cut of The Gathering, proving just what can be achieved with the nucleus of a good idea.

Enjoy, and imagine the possibilities.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2005) 

Babylon 5 - Season 2 (1995)

The Coming of Shadows

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Andreas Katsulas ...

Created & Written by J Michael Straczynski

Warner Home Video

May 2003

Babylon 5 is a spacestation which replaces four abortive attempts to create a meeting place for the representatives of the five major races, as well as the non-aligned worlds. Although a major city in itself, housing defence systems, trade centres and recreation, its primary purpose is as an independent embassy for diplomatic negotiations between the Mimbari, the Narn, the Centauri, the Vorlons and the Humans, represented by the Earth Alliance. There's plenty of action and intrigue, and nobody is exactly the person they seem to be...

Every so often a TV show emerges which annihilates all the current competition in terms of subject matter, storylines and production values. In case you were wondering, I'm talking about Babylon 5. How refreshing it is to have such diverse characters, who are changed forever by events. This is not your standard story of the week science fiction, featuring injuries, near-death experiences and emotional conflict which is conveniently forgotten by the next episode. Every major decision has far-reaching consequences, and every choice repercussions that might affect people immediately or come back to haunt them when they (and you, as the viewer) least expect it. It reminds me somewhat of the political chess-moves of ancient China or Japan; honour and diplomacy is always in the forefront, with assassins or covert arrangements made in the background.

Season Two sees almost as many changes as there were between the feature-length pilot,
The Gathering, and the start of season One. There is a major personnel change, with Commander Jeffrey Sinclair being replaced with the more dynamic Captain John Sheridan. Sinclair is mysteriously spirited away to the Mimbari homeworld, and pops up now and again in future stories. Ambassador Kosh goes from enigmatic soothsayer to anti-hero manipulator, as the others learn there is an ulterior motive for everything he does. From short-tempered aggressor, G'Kar becomes a poet, diplomat and religious ikon. Londo makes the transition from drunken reveller to the most dangerous individual around. Of course, none of this happens overnight, and creator J. Michael Straczynski kept his plot-strands bible close to his chest, giving the actors no inkling of what was to come, so it's compelling to witness the transmogrifications and the events that cause them.

This season there's significantly less stand-alone stories; Straczynski pens fifteen of the twenty-two episodes, and the five-year arc begins to take a firmer hold.
The Coming of Shadows season teases us with the coming threat to all the races, but for the meantime centres primarily on the present conflict between the Narn and the Centauri. Particularly strong episodes include: In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum, wherein Sheridan pushes his luck to learn more information about his presumed-dead wife, and finds himself confronted with the original homeworld of the Shadows; The Long, Twilight Struggle, which follows a major battle between the Narn and the Centauri; and The Fall of Night, in which surprising connections are made between the Shadows and Kosh's race, the Vorlons.

This six-disc set benefits from digital widescreen transfers and is beautifully remastered in Dolby digital 5.1. Two episodes contain an optional commentary by the man himself, J. Michael Straczynski,
The Geometry of Shadows has a joint commentary by Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan), Claudia Christian (Lt. Com. Susan Ivanova) and Jerry Doyle (Security Chief Michael Garibaldi). There is also a Season Two introduction from Straczynski and various cast and crew. Other extras include two new documentaries: Building Babylon: Anatomy of an Episode, and Shadows and Dreams: Honors of Babylon ( in which the crew talk about the Hugo awards success). There is an Audio-visual Archive split into Personnel Files, Data Files, Tech Files, and an Historical Timeline.

Season Two is the final place that I would advise any new viewers to jump on board. From here on in it is essential to follow every episode. I would have given this excellent release a 10, but as anyone who has seen season four will testify, the best is yet to come!

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)

Babylon 5 - Season 3 (1996)

Point of No Return

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Andreas Katsulas ...

Created & Written by J Michael Straczynski

Warner Home Video

August 2003


The story so far... Babylon 5 is the last of the neutral outposts, a five-mile long space station designed as a meeting place for diplomats, traders and entrepreneurs, and considered to be the last best hope for peace. Permanently based here are the ambassadors of four prominent races: Delenn of the Minbari, an old race consisting of warrior and religious casts (who also fought a major war with Earth, before mysteriously surrendering when they had the upper hand); Londo of the Centauri, an imperial Romanlike people steeped in blood; G'Kar of the Narn, the reptilian looking race (actually marsupials) which has long lived under the pressure of war; and Kosh of the Vorlons, an ancient race, the identity of which is concealed within encounter suits.

G'Kar extends a hand of friendship, but Londo authorises an attack on a Narn outpost, causing a terrible war. Londo's mysterious allies in the offensive come via a human called Morden. Delenn undergoes a metamorphosis which prophecy dictates will bring the Minbari and human races closer together, and aid in the struggle against the greater threat. Kosh, after revealing his true form (appearing differently to each witness) to save Sheridan from an act of terrorism, becomes even more illusive and somewhat sinister. The greater threat to all races is discovered to be the Shadows, oldest of the First Ones, last seen in local space by other races more than a thousand years ago...

In season three the stakes are raised, there is plenty of upheaval, and nothing ever feels comfortable again. Every event produces major consequences which reverberate through the storylines so that you never discount the possibility of a central character being killed or changed in such a significant way that they effectively become somebody else. Every episode makes for compelling viewing.

Matters of Honor kicks us off in fine style. Londo, realising at last who his dangerous benefactors are, tries to sever his ties with them, an act which proves practically impossible. In the same story, we see the arrival of new regular, Marcus Cole, a representative of the Rangers, a highly-trained unit created by Sinclair, Babylon 5's original commander (during season one) from the Mimbari homeworld - their mission to collect intelligence on the Shadows. Sheridan sets up a regular secret war council with Delenn; and we see the White Star for the first time, a beautiful Mimbari warship incorporating organic Vorlon technology, which can generate its own jump points between star systems. Sheridan is given command of the ship by Delenn.

In
Voices of Authority, Susan Ivanova tries to enlist the aid of another race of First Ones in the fight against the Shadows, but receives only a noncommittal reply. In Messages From Earth, Sheridan attempts to prevent the re-activation of a dormant Shadow vessel. Point of No Return sees Earth's current martial law extended to the Earthforce-run Babylon 5, but Sheridan finds a way to combat the Night Watch enforcers. The follow-up, Severed Dreams, has Earthforce destroyers arriving to demand Sheridan's surrender. But Sheridan decides to fight. Sheridan forms a romantic as well as strong political alliance with Delenn, in Sic Transit Vir. In Interludes and Examinations, Sheridan asks Kosh for help in securing a morale-boosting small victory against the Shadows.

So, plenty going on. Television just doesn't get any better than
Babylon 5. They say that the best special effects are those which you don't notice. This is never more true than in Babylon 5. This is not so much science fiction, as war, mind games and political intrigue within a science fiction setting.

The characters, stories and situations are so strong and gripping that you quickly forget someone is wearing prosthetics and make-up, and that the wonderfully realised sets are not on a five-mile long station but a huge series of warehouse spaces. And talking of the sets, these have escalated from 12 main sets in the pilot episode, to over 300 by the end of season three.

The computer generated imagery used for the Babylon 5 exteriors, assorted spacecraft and battles, and the jumpgates, was pretty much in its infancy but still looks superb and brilliantly understated today. Just watch the fighter craft being released downwards from the launchbays, or witness a Shadow craft materialising into real space to understand what I mean.

Extras in this case consist of three new documentaries:
Behind the Mask: Creating the aliens of Babylon 5; Building a better Narn; and Designing Tomorrow: The look of Babylon 5. There is also The Universe of Babylon 5, containing video data files, personnel files, and a Shadow dossier. Commentaries for two episodes come from series creator J. Michael Straczynski, and a further one from four regular cast members.

Talk of synergy and juxtapositions; this is a series where every component was right, creating a balance you seldom, if ever, see elsewhere. J. Michael Straczynski was a genius to have come up with such a concept and five-year story arc, but he must also be counted fortunate to have assembled such a strong team, both in front of and behind camera.

Buy this to see what you've been missing, and wait with baited breath for the faultless perfection that is season 4. I was going to hold off my maximum points until that coveted season, but this is very nearly as good.

Verdict: 10 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)