Review for Babylon 5: The Complete Collection + The Lost Tales
I loved Babylon 5 when it was originally broadcast. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d watch the initial broadcast, then the late night repeats, just in case there had been something cut out, and I even bought the novels. I didn’t get the videos as my disposable income was going on three series of Star Trek at the time, but when the DVDs came out, I was quick to place an order... and then cancel it. I’m an original aspect ratio fiend, positively fascistic if I see someone abusing the real estate of their sets, so when I learned that Babylon 5 wasn’t in the broadcast 4:3 ratio, I demurred. Of course it’s never as simple as all that, and Babylon 5 dates from an era where broadcast television was in a state of evolution.
Babylon 5 was actually shot for widescreen, but the effects were finished for 4:3. The widescreen DVDs turned out to be a compromise, the live action is native 1.78:1, the effects shots are cropped to 1.78:1, and where there is green screen work, actors superimposed on digital backgrounds, you get the worst of both worlds, zoomed in, cramped framing. I didn’t care if it was my favourite sci-fi; I wasn’t going to go for that. I was sure that someone would see sense and do the right thing, release Babylon 5 in the correct aspect ratio... Long story short, 15 years later, my desire to re-watch Babylon 5 finally outweighed my aspect ratio OCD. I’m watching it at the perfect time too, as I’ve complete forgotten just why it was my favourite sci-fi. I’m looking forward to re-discovering this show.
“It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind.” There’s something that’s just civilised about a show with a monologue ahead of its opening credits. A few poetic words set out the show’s premise, and hook an audience, with nary a frame of footage having been displayed. Of course Babylon 5’s tale was so epic that its monologue evolved from season to season. Epic is the word as this sci-fi space opera started off relatively small, but as the seasons went by, so unfurled a tale of darkness versus light, relating a future history of a galaxy of races, to which humanity was a recent arrival, and would turn out to be a key player. Babylon 5 is a show that you really need to make the time for to fully appreciate. To me it’s the television equivalent of The Lord of the Rings.
The Complete Collection does what it says on the box, gathers all the shows and movies Babylon 5 related. I’m going to try and watch everything in the recommended order, and the links below will take you to the specific reviews.
Babylon 5: The Gathering
Babylon 5: Season 1
Babylon 5: Season 2
Babylon 5: Season 3
Babylon 5: Season 4
Babylon 5: The Movie Collection – Thirdspace (after the Season 4 episode, The Illusion of Truth)
Babylon 5: Season 5
Babylon 5: The Movie Collection – River of Souls
Babylon 5: In the Beginning
Babylon 5: The Movie Collection – A Call to Arms
Crusade: Complete Series
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
One hefty top loading chipboard box contains all of the content. There is a picture of the station on top, and the show’s logo on all four sides, the ratings logos on two of them. There’s a bit of blurb and barcode at the bottom. Take the top off, and you’ll find ten Amaray cases, six holding the TV series, Crusade plus 5 seasons of Babylon 5, and four holding TV movies. There is a thin card slipcase as well with three thinpack cases within, and that holds the other three TV movies.
It’s funny the tricks that memory plays on you. After some twenty years, I had this vision of Babylon 5 as this perfect expression of television sci-fi, a coalescence of amazing world-building and epic storytelling. It is that... for three out of its five seasons. It took a season for the show to find its feet, although watching season 1 with knowledge of what is yet to come makes it a lot easier to forgive its failings and appreciate what it does succeed it. However season 5 finds the show tapering off towards the end, with a misfiring telepath plot arc that doesn’t quite succeed.
Memory also changed Babylon 5 in my recollections, made it even more epic, even more of a piece, with the war arcs spanning across seasons, with greater villainy from President Clark, a greater role for the technomages (I was shocked to realise that Edward Woodward only appeared once as Alwyn, and then only in Crusade; I had mistakenly remembered him with a significant role in B5), even more hijinks from Londo and G’Kar, the sense that every time we saw Garibaldi off duty he was watching Looney Tunes (it only happened once). It’s like meeting someone you once met as a child, towering over you, impressive and imposing. When you see them again as an adult, you’re actually taller, and they’ve aged and become frail. Babylon 5 is still a great show, just not quite as good as I remember.
It also lost its way with what came after, although I was surprised to find that Crusade was actually pretty good when watched in the right order. As for the spin-off movies, they vary in quality, with the pilot (technically not a spin-off) the best of the lot, with In the Beginning and River of Souls both quality films. The rest is pretty disposable though. And it’s so nice to just get all of Babylon 5 in a box.