All entries for Saturday 26 February 2005

February 26, 2005

Sleeping In Light: Babylon 5

So many many moons ago I came across this television program on Channel 4 entitled Babylon 5: I'd heard alot about it but never really watched it, but they happened to be showing the final series at lunch time on sundays so I started watching it. I caught most of the final series and t was pretty good: not incredible by any means but a decent program that kept me amused for an hour.

It wouldn't be until a few years later when the Sci Fi channel showed the whole series, one episode a day over the course of the summer that I'd really grow to understand the show.

Babylon 5 was planned in meticulous detail as an epic 5-year novel-for-television. This wasn't George Lucas bullshit style, claiming that Star Wars was actually part 4 of a 9 movie story: it's quite evident in watching the show that hints are dropped and future events forshadowed as early as the first series. Plot strands are even opened up that arn't bought to a close until a few years down the line. It's not just about fancy sci-fi ideas either: infact the show is mostly about characters: each and every one is changed through the course of the series. G'kar goes from a war-hungry militant to a revered writer, Sheridan from gung-ho space captain to founder of a peace-keeping alliance, and Sinclair and Delenn change in even more signifacant ways. There there's Londo. In many ways, the show is about his story: his attempts to gain power and influence, lead him to making some bad choices and ultimatly destroy him. His story is very much a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense.

Sure, the show isn't perfect: the CGI effects look pretty poor today, there's ropey acting in places and some even more ropey dialogue, especially amongst the human crew. Not to mention everything in the series to have gone or be going to hell. The story also suffered from practical considerations, such as actor's wanting to leave, and while it was planned as a 5 year story, when it looked like getting a fifth year was unlikely, much of the story was compressed into the second half of the forth, to give people some closure. Hence it feels rather rushed, and series 5 rather stretched out in comparison. Of course if you start with series one the show also appears distinctily unimpressive, being as it is the equivalent to a novel's prologue, so while not a bad show by any means, it gives little indication of the sheer brilliance to come.

Still, it manages to work as an amazing cohesive whole, due in no small part to 80% of the episodes being writen by series creator Joe Straczynski, a herculean effort but it paid off

During it's five years the show tackles a number of issues: addiction, religion, cult of personality and perhaps most interestingly religion and faith. "Faith and reason are the two shoes on our feet, we can go furthur with both than either alone" is just one nugget of wisdom it produced, that's been repeated many places since.

Babylon 5 is not perfect, but for me it's the greatest TV show ever created. Sure, individually episodes might not be on par with one of The Sopranos, but it's so much greater in scope and tries to do so much that it can be forgiven many of its flaws. The fact that Straczynski set out to tell a single story that needed 5 years to tell, and stuck to his guns and somehow mantained the creative freedom to tell that story is nothing short of a miracle, and something that has never been accomplished before or since. Since B5 shows with 'arcs' have come along, but they're rarely planned out in as much detail, or if they are, they're only planned out one series at a time. The quick-fix climate of TV at the moment means that something like B5 just wouldn't get commissioned any more, which is quite sad: but if by some miracle B5 aired today, it would be cancelled halfway through the first season.

I'm writing this now as over the past year and a half I've just finished watching the entire series on DVD, the second time I've seen it, and the first time in order! The final episode, set 20 years in the future, just absolutly breaks your heart, with Sheridan leaving Delenn for the last time, and the station destroyed, ending 'in fire' just like Lady Morella predicted it would way back in the first series. All to the most stunning musical score by Christorpher Franke. The show ends with the credits showing the first and last appearence of each of the principle cast members, reminding us how much they have changed.

The Babylon Project truely was a dream given form. It worked, and left us with the greatest and most important TV series of our generation.

Faith manages.

February 2005

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