Science Fiction & Fantasy Reviews (Page 2)

6 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place

The Incredible Hulk - The Complete TV Collection (1978-1982)

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Starring: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno and Jack Colvin

Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises (Marvel)

December 2016

Dr David Bruce Banner is a scientist who explores how selective people have managed to produce great feats of strength in times of emotional stress and panic (particularly as he failed to save his own partner in similar circumstances). Research pinpoints high bombardments of Gamma Rays as being responsible. To test the theory he subjects himself to an intense level of Gamma radiation. There seems to be no effect, but from then on pain, stress or anguish triggers a monstrous metamorphosis as an inner beast is released...


The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Collection boasts all five seasons of the much loved 1970s TV series, based on the Marvel character created by the great Stan Lee. They are all fully restored and upgraded to high definition shiny bright Blu-ray across 16 discs.


This version of the Hulk is quite different from the original comic books. The idea right from the start was for producer Kenneth Johnson to ground the stories in everyday problems; perhaps in doing so inadvertently borrowing from the Spider-Man premise. Of course, with a limited budget and very few effects, it was only sensible to tell ‘people’ stories. Bill Bixby was apparently the only person the producer had in mind to play Banner. Bixby was a successful jobbing guest-star actor before he found fame in the series The Magician. He was seen as a highly competent actor who could pull-off exactly what they had in mind in terms of friendliness, anxiety, anger and touching scenes of emotion. It was decided that the comic book character’s first name of Bruce wasn’t strong enough, so they made that his middle name and called him David instead (go figure!).


Richard Kiel (Jaws in the Bond films Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me) was originally cast as the Hulk in the pilot, but it was soon decided he wasn’t right for the part. The programme-makers went after Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was busy filming Conan, but he did suggest his fellow bodybuilder and Mr Universe Lou Ferrigno.


After watching him in action for so long it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role – although Johnson did want the skin colour to be red rather than green, to show rage. Thankfully, Stan Lee vetoed the idea. Ferrigno was more than happy to be given the opportunity to act to the show’s requirements that the Hulk should be more than a monster, and display hesitancy, tenderness and sadness when the scripts required it. Another interesting fact about the character of the Hulk is that the growls and grunts for the first two seasons were added in voice over by Ted Cassidy, who was Lurch in The Addams Family. He also narrated the opening titles. Ferrigno was a consummate professional regardless of his hearing disability (he lost 80% of his hearing at the age of three).


The series started with two feature-length stories which are probably the strongest of the show’s run. The Incredible Hulk brilliantly tells the origin story, with the added danger of nosy roving reporter Jack McGee, played by Jack Colvin. However, the basic story is so well-known that the pilot is somewhat overshadowed by Death in the Family, which tells the story of a girl who has lost her father in a suspicious fire, and is being systematically poisoned by her stepmother so that the evil woman can inherit the wealth that would otherwise go to the girl. As a doctor, Banner recognises the signs and intervenes to the point that the stepmother gets her hired thugs to take him out of the picture. Enter our green friend...


As you would expect there is a certain format to the single episodes which follow. Reporter Jack McGee believes the Hulk killed Banner and another scientist, so Banner is forced to keep on the move to be one step ahead in case the inadvertent transformation happens again and the reporter turns up. Thankfully, in many of the episodes he travels to where he believes new scientific research will cure him of his malady – although his ultimate goal is more often than not forgotten in favour of a ‘trouble of the week’ scenario wherein by trying to help people he falls foul of the bad guys. I’m sure that in reality someone with this affliction would stay well out of everyone’s way. But then we wouldn’t have a story and, as I’ve already mentioned, these are very much ‘people’ stories.


I’m certain that prospective viewers currently in their teens or twenties would throw scorn upon this series; after all, the Hulk isn’t all powerful and sometimes darkly humorous like in the Avengers film. In fact, he mostly roars and growls, showing his muscles, and throws objects or people across the room. But that’s the whole point: the idea being that if David (Bruce) Banner wouldn’t kill or intentionally harm them, then his inner ‘Mr Hyde’ would be unwilling to, also. The best way to sum up this show is to say it has heart... a big heart. Accept it in the context of its intention in the era it was made and it’s evident they had a hit on their hands. Although I have seen these episodes probably many times over the years, it didn’t take long for me to be drawn in to its magic. It’s testament to its status that it is enjoying another run on the Horror Channel.


Extras include: Three entertaining featurettes which could have been edited together, as the same people are spoken to in each; a Gag Reel, that is sometimes amusing and so strangely conflicts with the style of the show; a Photo Gallery; a Lou Ferrigno Intro; and a Producer Commentary on the Pilot and two other episodes.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2016)

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The Incredible Hulk Original Movie Collection (1988-1990)

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Starring: Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno

Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises

August 2018

Fabulous Films releases for the first time together the trilogy of  The Incredible Hulk TV movies, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The Incredible Hulk: Original Movie Collection contains The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (1989), and The Death of The Incredible Hulk (1990)...


In The Incredible Hulk Returns, Dr David Bannion has developed a machine called a Gamma Transponder, which will feasibly produce endless energy by removing Gamma Radiation from substances all around us (eh?). He shies away from public recognition – after all, he is really David ‘Bruce’ Banner, and is supposed to be dead. Of course, Banner has an ulterior motive: he has really designed the machine in the hope it will cure him of his anger affliction (and that’s an understatement!), which he is obliged to keep protected from the public. However, unscrupulous businessmen are after stealing the machine by kidnapping the woman Banner loves and blackmailing him into delivering it into their hands. In the meantime, Donald Blake, an ex-student of Banner’s seeks his help with a quite different problem. On a climbing expedition Blake found a body and a hammer, and becomes inextricably linked with Thor – the Norse God of Thunder. Blake can use the hammer to call forth or send back the warrior. Banner teaches Blake to come to terms with this unbreakable partnership, and in return Hulk and Thor go into glorious battle together to put things right.


Bill Bixby was a fine actor, and in turn Lou Ferrigno is perfect in the role of the Hulk – the first ever live-action version of the character. Around six years had passed since the popular TV series had come to an end. The series, whilst perhaps not satisfying the big budget Hulk of the recent Marvel Avengers films, had real heart. The problems were scaled-down, dealing with everyday businessmen villains, as opposed to cosmic power-hungry beings. The TV Movie carries on the trend as if it had never ended. Like the Hulk, the Thor character is lower-key. He doesn’t bring down lightning, but he does want to do the right thing by having a good fight. As you would expect, the modern world leaves him cold. When he asks for beer and food, Blake takes him to a biker’s bar where he fights, drinks a lot and wins a lot of unlikely friends. These scenes are well-handled, making Thor appear more grounded. The Hulk is as good as ever, terrifying people when all he does is a strongman pose, break a few guns and throw a few baddies across the room. He is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, so cannot be seen to do more. He is essentially a good guy, although Banner lives in fear of what the beast in him might do. As if he didn’t have enough of it during the series, reporter Jack McGee is back on his trail, repeatedly just missing out on seeing Banner.


This enjoyable family film is further complimented by a couple of good special features: Very entertaining separate interviews with Lou Ferrigno and Marvel demigod Stan Lee.


In The Trial of The Incredible Hulk, Banner heads to the big city under another pseudonym, and immediately becomes embroiled in trouble after a major jewellery robbery, masterminded by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. On a train two of the criminals attempt to assault a woman passenger. When Banner intercedes he is roughed-up. Enter the Hulk. He escapes into the tunnels and reverts to Banner, but he is arrested by police when the woman victim reports he was the aggressor – as it turns out, under duress from the criminal fraternity. Blind lawyer Matt Murdock arrives to take on his case. He believes he is innocent but doesn’t know why. After a particularly ferocious nightmare involving his inner beast, Banner changes and breaks out of prison. A well-known vigilante called the Daredevil seeks him out, ensuring him of his trustworthiness by revealing his identity as Matt Murdock. When the woman witness is kidnapped by the Kingpin’s men, Daredevil goes off in pursuit. However, Banner learns that the vigilante is walking into a trap, and feels obliged to go to his aid.


Although this uses the same last quarter plot strand as the previous film, it’s still enjoyable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt it is a much darker script. The inclusion of Daredevil necessitates this. He is very single-minded about helping the innocent and driving out corruption in the city where he lived as a boy with his dad.


Daredevil is probably the closest superhero in style and theme to Batman. A character in this movie actually borrows from the DC Comics Commissioner Jim Gordon. Gordon is the only member of the police force he can totally rely on, so there is somewhat of an ‘understanding.’ Similarly, in this one there is a high-ranking police officer who openly admits corruption in the ranks.


Again, Daredevil is toned-down for this first live-action appearance. In a family show he cannot be shown exchanging heavy blows with the villains. Although the costume in the comics was dark red, it was changed to black for this outing. It was a choice Stan Lee openly opposed. The comics briefly altered the costume colour to black, before reverting to their original colour. So I’m certain Lee felt vindicated.


Stan Lee has a cameo role in this, a move that was to become more than familiar in the later movies. He plays a juror in a Hulk frenzy set-piece. This could well be Ferrigno’s most lavish scene in the role. It is the nightmare wherein Banner is put on trial and cross-examined to the point he changes into the Hulk and goes on a rampage, throwing people around and famously lifting up the box containing all the jurors (who, I have to say, look back expressionless at him, as if this sort of this was normal!).


The rich voice of John Rhys-Davies makes his portrayal of the Kingpin more convincing, when we are used to substantially bigger actors playing the role. A sad note is that Jack Colvin, who played reporter Jack McGee, suffered a stroke after filming Return, and so was unable to appear in this or the subsequent movie.


In the final film of this collection, Dr Ronald Pratt has a laboratory in a high security building. He is working on a way to quickly heal human injuries, and a ghost is helping him. Every night someone is managing to get around the security, enter the lab and aid his research. The last person he would suspect is the mentally challenged cleaner, David. That is until he lies in wait one night. Dr Pratt chooses not to reveal this breach to officials, and the two work together to aid Banner’s plight. The process is almost certain to rid him of his inner beast, but it is interrupted when a beautiful spy gets in and tries to steal Dr Pratt’s discoveries. Pratt is badly injured in an accident, and the Hulk has to intervene. However, the spy is working under duress, believing her sister is being held hostage – when really she is the leader of the organisation and wants her dead. When Dr Pratt and his wife are kidnapped from the hospital for their knowledge, Banner and the former spy team-up and (forced to put their new emotional attachment to one side) go into action against the bad guys. But it doesn’t end well for our reluctant hero.


With the appearance of Thor in the first film and Daredevil in the second, it was intended to introduce Iron Man into this one, but the idea was abandoned at a late stage. So this film gets to concentrate more on the Banner/Hulk character. Banner finds a new family with Donald Pratt and his wife, he almost gets cured, finds love (and rumpy-pumpy!), and talks of a new life far away. However, nefarious and unscrupulous villains invariably get in the way of these things. The death scene itself isn’t a momentous occasion to feel he has sacrificed himself to the greater good. When the aircraft being flown by the villains Hulk is attempting to stop explodes in mid-air, the Hulk falls in slow motion to the ground. I like the fact that the ground breaks-up when he hits the runway, but the plane hadn’t even reached the clouds. It wasn’t that high, meaning the Hulk should have survived the fall. I suspect the intention here was to give him a good send-off in this format – and Banner a final peace.


There were plans for another follow-up movie, in which the central character is returned to life. It wasn’t to be, however, as shortly after the third movie Bill Bixby (who ably directed all three) fell ill and died. Bixby managed to create a different mood/feel for each of these films, and that is no mean achievement. No matter what modern audiences might think about lack of money, resources, special effects, stunt work and make-up, the films – and indeed the series – were fun, emotional and at times thought-provoking. The bottom line is they had heart. All the money in Hollywood can’t necessarily magic that into a production.


I’m sure the first two films could have been cleaned-up a little, as they are slightly grainy. The two extra features on the first disc are great, but the others contain nothing. Is there no existing behind-the-scenes footage or film of Lou Ferrigno being made-up? Perhaps then a TV historian waxing lyrical about the show and showering us with fascinating facts. But don’t let this turn you off. I watched the series as a kid and enjoyed it very much. These films maintain that same style, and I still enjoy watching it today.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2018) 

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Babylon 5 - Season 2 (1995)

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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)

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Babylon 5 - Season 3 (1996)

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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)  

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Babylon 5 - Season 4 (1997)

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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)

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Babylon 5 - The Legend of The Rangers (2003)

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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) 

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