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Author Topic: Babylon 5  (Read 2589 times)

Lurkndog

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Babylon 5
« on: April 17, 2020, 02:09:28 PM »
Quote
The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call – a home away from home – for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs... and wanderers. Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night.

Babylon 5, B5 for short, was a syndicated TV show that aired on UHF stations and cable from 1994-1999.  It is a space opera set on the space station Babylon 5,  which serves as an interstellar diplomatic outpost, a strategic military base, and a center for trade and commerce. "Casablanca in Space" was one early tagline.

There's a lot of say about Babylon 5, in fact there are numerous books written on the subject, so I'm just going to list a few of the high points that made the show stand out.

1) The State of Science Fiction on Television in 1994

When Babylon 5 aired its first episode in 1994, it was a somewhat optimistic time for syndicated television. Star Trek: The Next Generation was wrapping up its original run on TV, and in the wake of its resounding success, there was a small boom in syndicated TV shows being sold directly to independent UHF stations. Babylon 5 was sold by a fledgling company called the Prime Time Entertainment Network, whose other shows included Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, and the sci fi time cop series Time Trax. Other sci fi TV shows on the air included The X-Files, SeaQuest DSV, TekWar, and of course, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The boom in independent syndication was soon overtaken by the rise of nationally syndicated networks like UPN, the WB, and Fox. These networks swiftly bought up the UHF stations in major markets, and as the 90s went on, the smaller syndication companies like PTEN lost their footholds in the markets and went out of business.

2) What Made Babylon 5 Different

At the time Babylon 5 came out, most TV shows were strictly episodic in format. Babylon 5 was strikingly different. It was conceived of as a single story arc that was planned out to span five seasons, with a beginning, middle and end. Characters grew, things changed, the scope of the story line expanded, and the show made extensive use of foreshadowing, setting up plot threads that would be followed up on in later episodes.

Babylon 5 also pioneered the use of CGI in television. At the time, most sci fi TV was produced using models shot with motion controlled cameras. This produced excellent results, but was expensive and time-consuming. Babylon 5 made a breakthrough by producing its effects on inexpensive Commodore Amiga desktop computers, using the Lightwave 3D package, and the Video Toaster graphics card. This allowed them to do a lot more effects shots on a small budget, within the time constraints of TV production. The downside, though, was that they were on the cutting edge, and some of the graphics work quickly became obsolete. This is quite visible in the first season, where the textures and rendering look blocky and cheap now.

Babylon 5 also made a splash by using solid science and accurate physics in its models. Instead of using "artifical gravity," Babylon 5 was an O'Neill type space station with a spinning cylindrical body that produced centripetal acceleration. The Earth Federation spaceships obeyed the laws of physics. They didn't fly like airplanes or naval vessels, and once in motion, they stayed in motion. This was exemplified by the show's Starfury space fighters, which would spectacularly flip end over end, and shoot at enemies behind them. That was a "Eureka!" moment for us fans, and after that we were on board.

Lastly, Babylon 5 made extensive use of prosthetic makeup for a huge variety of alien species. Some aliens were also done using puppets and CGI, so that they could be completely nonhuman. The results were very impressive for the time, especially for TV, and paved the way for shows that would follow like Farscape and The Orville.

Really, to sum it up, Babylon 5 was something very different than what had come before, in a very good way. For those of us fans who were frustrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was a huge breath of fresh air.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2020, 03:18:09 PM by Lurkndog »

Lurkndog

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Babylon 5
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2020, 02:50:58 PM »
One other innovation I forgot to mention: series creator Joe Michael Straczynski was active in several online communities, which he used to build word of mouth for B5, and to interact with fans.

On the internet, he was active in the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated. He was also active on the GEnie and Compuserve dialup networks.

Before the launch of the show, he published content online to get the word out. After the launch and during production, he would occasionally drop in and leave comments.

So you would watch an episode, and then go online to discuss it, and occasionally JMS would drop in a comment here and there, or leave a tantalizing hint at what was coming. Plenty of creators do that now, but JMS was the first that I know of.

There was also a semi-official website called The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5, which published episode summaries and a wiki-like collection of hyperlinked background information. (This was long before Wikipedia even existed.) It wasn't a pure wiki, more like a fan-curated website that collected JMS's posts, and which fans could submit content to, with JMS having editorial control when he chose to exercise it.

VisionStorm

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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2020, 02:52:32 PM »
B5 was one of my top favorite TV shows growing up as a teen, along with Buffy and Highlander. But B5 spoiled me in particular cuz it was one of the first shows I saw that treated its episodes like chapters of an elaborate novel rather than focusing on BS "monster of the week" type stuff, like Buffy was initially. It followed an intricate story with rich characters that evolved over the course of the series--most notable being Londo and G'Kar, who started out aa sworn enemies and ended up as inseparable friends by the end, who stuck by each other till death (literally). After that I wanted every show I watched to be a well thought out novel rather than a disjointed series of episodes to fill out air time.

I used to own every DVD--including the movies and extended pilot. Unfortunately they got damaged with age, so I now have to rely on streaming services or DL them if I wanna watch the whole thing from start to finish. I also bought the RPG, but never got around playing it (the system didn't interest me much from what I recall--just got it cuz B5). The book should still be around somewhere, unless it was one of the victims of a termite infestation I had years ago.

Ratman_tf

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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2020, 03:12:18 PM »
I remember when Babylon 5 came out, and I gave it a pass. My buddies were all "It's a great show! You should give it a shot." but I just wasn't interested.

Ironically, it was the much-panned Season 5 that got me into the show. I caught a few episodes during this season. The telepath storylines were awful, but the stuff with Londo and G'Kar and the formation of the alliance sold me.
I then went back and watched the whole series from the beginning, and the TV movies. I taped most of the episodes from broadcast and had quite a collection of Babylon 5 episodes. Those tapes have long since been copied over, lost, loaned out or just failed.

I appreciate the GCI work, but honestly, it hasn't aged well. Not that it would ever happen, but a remastered B-5 with updated CGI would be pretty sweet.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2020, 03:20:57 PM by Ratman_tf »
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Lurkndog

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« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2020, 03:52:29 PM »
3) B5 vs DS9: Fight!!!

People are people, and back in the day, there were arguments between fans of Babylon 5 and fans of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. They were both shows about space stations, and people argued over which one was a copy of the other, and which one sucked.

The facts: Deep Space Nine came out first, by about a year. However, Babylon 5 was initially pitched to Paramount before production began on Deep Space Nine.

Everything else is a matter of opinion.

My take on it: it is possible that Paramount was inspired by the pitch of Babylon 5, and decided to make their own show, but the two shows are each very much their own thing.

Lurkndog

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« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2020, 04:05:17 PM »
Quote from: Ratman_tf;1127158
I appreciate the GCI work, but honestly, it hasn't aged well. Not that it would ever happen, but a remastered B-5 with updated CGI would be pretty sweet.

So sweet. Unfortunately, what happened there is that Warner Brothers insisted that they be given all of the computer files to archive at the end of the show's run. They proceeded to lose them all. :(

When they did Legend of the Rangers and The Lost Tales, they had to use fan-made models of the station.

Some of the people that worked on the show still have some of the models for some of the assets, but the Lightwave 3D files that were actually used to set up the shots and render them are gone, and there just isn't the level of demand to justify recreating everything from scratch.

Lurkndog

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« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2020, 04:14:08 PM »
Quote from: VisionStorm;1127157
I used to own every DVD--including the movies and extended pilot. Unfortunately they got damaged with age, so I now have to rely on streaming services or DL them if I wanna watch the whole thing from start to finish. I also bought the RPG, but never got around playing it (the system didn't interest me much from what I recall--just got it cuz B5). The book should still be around somewhere, unless it was one of the victims of a termite infestation I had years ago.

B5 was on Amazon Prime, but unfortunately they just dropped it this month.

I would recommend buying the DVDs for the 5 seasons. As for the TV-movies, Crusade, Legends of the Rangers, and The Lost Tales, it's diminishing returns. I would personally say I enjoyed Crusade, but it's not a complete story, and everything after that is not worth paying full price.

Omega

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« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2020, 09:48:37 PM »
I watched it when it first came out. Liked it more than DS9. But after a while just did not like either and moved on to other shows at the time. Id poke in now and then and it just seemed to get worse over time. Same with DS9. The writing was better in both. But also increasingly more depressing and bleak.

As for updating the CGI. Please god no! Leave it as it is. I've seen some of the "remastered" ST:TOS episodes and they all look worse.

Lurkndog

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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2020, 12:00:30 PM »
Quote from: Omega;1127201
I've seen some of the "remastered" ST:TOS episodes and they all look worse.

Heh! When I heard they were doing a remastered version of TOS, I made sure to buy the DVDs of the original version. Sounds like I made a good choice.

With B5, I do kind of wish they could remaster the effects shots in HD, for the simple reason that the live action elements were actually shot on film in widescreen, so they would make for great Blu-rays if there were HD effects to go with them.

Lurkndog

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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2020, 01:18:00 PM »
4) About Season 1

A common criticism of Babylon 5 is that Season 1 isn't very good compared to the rest of the show. There are a bunch of reasons why people feel this way.

Firstly, there really is some weak writing in there. The pilot isn't very good, and the show takes a few episodes to hit its stride. There is more than one episode which seems more like a bad Trek storyline than a B5 one. "Believers" (S01E10) is my personal choice for worst B5 episode. The main storyline is a very contrived story in which the station's doctor tries to save a sick alien child whose parents' religious beliefs don't allow the treatment. It is hamfisted, preachy, and ultimately unsatisfying. In general, the early episodes have a more simplistic "good versus bad" tone, which goes away as the show finds its footing, and is replaced with a lot more complexity and nuance.

Secondly, there is a lot of exposition and setup going on. This will ultimately pay off in later episodes and seasons, but it doesn't always pay off immediately.

Thirdly, there are a number of transitional story elements that are only around for the first season.

The outside threat to the station in the first season are the "Raiders," nameless space pirates who are attacking shipping in nearby space. They don't get any actual face time, we just see their ships flying around attacking stuff.  They're only there so that the station crew has someone to fight until the big bads arrive on scene.

As the show starts, the alien Narns are made out to be simple militaristic antagonists, seeking revenge against the Centauri space empire that had enslaved them. Their leader G'Kar comes off as something of a heavy. It's all a bit too obvious. But events will soon occur that make the Narns far more sympathetic, and G'Kar becomes a much nobler, more complex and likeable character. His relationship with Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari becomes one of the centerpieces of the show.

There was also some shuffling of the cast that took place after season 1, and this was generally well received.

These flaws in the first season weren't as obvious to us when the show was first on the air. For one thing, coming out of the 1970s and 1980s, sci fi shows were scarce and didn't tend to last, so you watched anything that was available, because that was all you got. B5 also had a strong novelty to it at the time. It was worth watching just as an alternative to Trek. And it was neat to watch it unfold, because you never quite knew what to expect.

Ultimately, if you are struggling with the first season, I strongly recommend sticking with it. There are huge payoffs coming your way, and the best is yet to come. And there is a lot to enjoy about the first season for its own sake.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2020, 09:25:10 AM by Lurkndog »

Ratman_tf

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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2020, 01:50:29 PM »
Quote from: Lurkndog;1127232
Heh! When I heard they were doing a remastered version of TOS, I made sure to buy the DVDs of the original version. Sounds like I made a good choice.

With B5, I do kind of wish they could remaster the effects shots in HD, for the simple reason that the live action elements were actually shot on film in widescreen, so they would make for great Blu-rays if there were HD effects to go with them.

I'm gonna disagree with Omega. I've seen a lot of the remastered TOS episodes, and I think the updated CGI shots are great. Well, except for the Botany Bay model, which looked very CGIish.

The notion of an exclusionary and hostile RPG community is a fever dream of zealots who view all social dynamics through a narrow keyhole of structural oppression.
-Haffrung

Ratman_tf

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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2020, 01:54:11 PM »
Quote from: Lurkndog;1127241
Ultimately, if you are struggling with the first season, I strongly recommend sticking with it. There are huge payoffs coming your way, and the best is yet to come. And there is a lot to enjoy about the first season for its own sake.

I dunno. Like I posted, I got into the series by being spoilered coming into season 5, and still enjoyed it. For someone who isn't necessarily interested, trying to slog through season 1 might kill their enthusiasm.
Personally, I'd reccomend starting with season 2, or maybe the TV movie "In the Beginning". And then go back and watch season one with a more charitable eye.
The notion of an exclusionary and hostile RPG community is a fever dream of zealots who view all social dynamics through a narrow keyhole of structural oppression.
-Haffrung

Lurkndog

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« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2020, 09:46:34 AM »
Quote from: Ratman_tf;1127242


Why does the lighting on the ship not match the lighting on the planet? The ship is lit from above and behind, but the planet is lit from in front and below.

Also, why are the brightly glowing parts of the ship not illuminating the rest of the ship?

Answer: because they were all done in different rendering passes, possibly by different artists, and they don't go together properly.

CGI effects are far more sophisticated, and are capable of being great, but if they were done in a hurry, you get this kind of error.

In general, I'll take painstaking model work over slapdash CGI. Plus, there is something to be said for preserving the show in its original form.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2020, 09:55:37 AM by Lurkndog »

Lurkndog

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« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2020, 10:11:41 AM »
Quote from: Ratman_tf;1127243
I dunno. Like I posted, I got into the series by being spoilered coming into season 5, and still enjoyed it. For someone who isn't necessarily interested, trying to slog through season 1 might kill their enthusiasm.
Personally, I'd reccomend starting with season 2, or maybe the TV movie "In the Beginning". And then go back and watch season one with a more charitable eye.

I see your point, but if you skip the first season, you lose the setup for a lot of the payoffs in later seasons. There's a lot of "oh, this guy again!" where you find out a little more about a minor character, and it's good stuff. If you didn't watch the first episode in which they appeared, you might not even know what is going on.

There are a lot of minor supporting characters who have wonderful plot arcs and interactions, like Vir Cotto and Mr. Morden, and Lennier, but they are spread out over the whole show.

I think with B5's emphasis on continuity and picking up on plot threads from previous episodes, you really want to watch it in sequence.

VisionStorm

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« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2020, 12:29:27 PM »
Quote from: Lurkndog;1127302
I see your point, but if you skip the first season, you lose the setup for a lot of the payoffs in later seasons. There's a lot of "oh, this guy again!" where you find out a little more about a minor character, and it's good stuff. If you didn't watch the first episode in which they appeared, you might not even know what is going on.

There are a lot of minor supporting characters who have wonderful plot arcs and interactions, like Vir Cotto and Mr. Morden, and Lennier, but they are spread out over the whole show.

I think with B5's emphasis on continuity and picking up on plot threads from previous episodes, you really want to watch it in sequence.


Imagine coming in late into the series and not getting WTF is so important about this "Sinclair" guy when he comes back in the episodes where they travel to B4 cuz you missed out on how he was the original lead character and station commander for all of season 1, before Sheridan came along.