A review by Cliff Homewood
I’m a Doctor Who fan and my mate is a Trekkie. When Babylon 5 arrived we agreed it was better. The best piece of science fiction ever created. You’ve got space battles and spectacle but also the book style intellectualism of Gkar’s speeches. You have the delicate internalism of telepath stories and the rise and fall of Empires. It developed my moral thinking highlighting doing the right thing in the moment can be the wrong thing for the larger picture.
I wasn’t impressed it returned in animated form, but it had no choice. Until deepfake becomes a viable option. With the curse of Babylon 5 – half the cast dead, it’s either animated or a reboot. Series Creator J Michael Straczynski (JMS) is trying for both. He remains a class act. Sending a message to the remaining cast asking if ok with voice actors replacing their fallen friends. If anyone said no it wouldn’t have happened.
The spaceships look cartoony compared to the original. A shame considering Babylon 5 was the first proper SF series to use computer graphics for its imagery, alas a fire destroyed the computer models. It may be cheaper or more in line with the character models, where they are simplified and not overly detailed. They captured some of Bruce Boxleitner’s mannerisms as Sheridan well but G’Kar looks like a generic Narn and I did not recognise Tracy Scoggin’s Lochley (would have preferred to have had Jason Carter’s Marcus). JMS states the space station looks better than it ever did, the Shadows also look super but the Starfurys and a few over ships seem to lack detail.
The story is John Sheridan comes unstuck in time (apologies Kurt Vonnegut) and alternative realities. Something similar happened in the War Without End storyline. It feels bitty, vignettes pasted together by him passing through. We’ve seen many a multiverse movie recently and they’ve been good at providing a strong overall story structure to all the chaos, I did not feel that here. It felt like fan nostalgia. JMS said this story was done for the fans. So indeed what it was. Sometimes done well, Deep Space Nine’s Trouble with Tribbles comes to mind, but often the case, as with post-George Lucas Star Wars, it is not strong enough. Doctor Who fans learnt long ago catering to fans is not necessarily a good thing. However this also is a saying goodbye to fallen friends, which is a different matter.
JMS could have written a tragedy killing off half the characters but chose not to. Babylon 5 would feel weaker without the likes of G’Kar and Zathras. Like Star Trek without Spock or Star Wars without Yoda. He has mentioned back doors in the story so any character can be replaced. But as well as the emotive issue is the fact that story has already been told. I would liked to have seen the live action Telepath movie that he had planned. This animated movie missed villains like Bester. What we get feels akin to Doctor Who’s ‘The Five Doctors’, where characters get their moments in the sun. Where was Vir’s scene if we are tributing lost Babylon 5 actors/characters? Lennier is the only Ambassador’s assistant featured, I suspect to accommodate Bill Mumy. There’s a fourth wall breaking joke that evokes The Clangers in its ineptness. Detaching us from the believability of the story is not worth it for a joke. If you do, make it a good one, not an in-joke.*
JMS states animation gave him opportunity to do scenes that could never be done in live action, so it’s part wish fulfilment of providing scenes he was previously unable to? Mainly he is playing what if? With alternate tales of how the Shadow war could have gone down. Marvel’s What If stories were never their strongest. The beginning recaps the Babylon 5 story and later backstory is filled out wherever necessary. I would recommend if new to Babylon 5 please don’t start here. In the Beginning is better, generally considered the best Babylon 5 film, that hasn’t changed, the best advice is always to start at the beginning. The Gathering.
The Babylon 5 movies show short stories are Babylon 5’s weak point. Its strength is long-term storytelling. Spending a season and half planting Chekov’s guns** ready to be unearthed in the second half of the series. And boy does he impress as they go off, sometimes causing a chain reaction. The Changeling proved he can write a good film. Babylon 5 movies always seem to feel like him having fun with his toybox, how about a Cthulhu story for instance, as opposed to creating a brand new self-contained story from scratch. He has already done the worldbuilding, which appears to be his strength, so one wonders if his films need that to be really good. In the Beginning works so well as it’s part of Babylon 5’s epic story as opposed to a one-off side adventure.
Warner Bros. want more movies if successful. J. Michael Straczysnki said, “I already have stories worked out for more episodes of this down the road. We already have the mileage to go out to create a whole new storyline, a whole new legacy, a whole new history of Babylon 5.” Perhaps he has been burying Chekov’s guns again we have yet to see. Or he’s been playing Crusade avoidance as it cannot be mentioned for legal reasons.
Babylon 5: The Road Home is a connected set of dramatic set pieces, with a philosophical mid-section and a sentimental ‘love is everything’ last third which maybe part saying goodbye to long lost friends. Enjoyable but slight. B+ Can do better.
* Congratulations, you have found the spoiler zone. The joke is the lines ‘lost in time’ ‘and lost in S..’ are cut off with do not say, copyright issues. It threw me, thinking it was quoting The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Turns out Netflix recently trademarked Lost in Space, yes, you can say it, but have to lawyer up. Put in the realms of ridiculous but true.
**Chekov’s gun. As well as being a character on Star Trek Anton Chekov was a 19th Century playwright who stated if a character uses something in the third act it should be seen in the first so the audience don’t feel cheated. The alternative is Deus-ex machina (God in the machine), where things appear out of nowhere at the right time to aid our hero.