The last of the Babylon stations

Interesting post from jms about the future of Babylon 5 – or lack of it. Interesting because I think he’s now at a point that other people reached some time ago, the point where:

“B5 as a five year story stands beautifully on its own. If anything else is to be continued from that story, it should be something that adds to the legacy of B5, rather than subtracts from it.

As well intentioned as Rangers and TLT were, as enticing as it was to return to those familiar waters, in the end I think they did more to subtract from the legacy than add to it. I don’t regret having made them, because I needed to go through that to get to the point where I am now psychologically, but from where I sit now, I wouldn’t make them again.”

This is unusually honest and self-critical stuff from a tireless self-promoter like jms, and he’s clearly in a strong period in his film career right now so he’s only going to go back to the show if it’s genuinely warranted. My own review of The Lost Tales was somewhat mixed to say the least, and I tend to agree that this kind of half-hearted continuation detracts from the show’s reputation. Every attempt to continue the show past its final episode, from River of Souls onwards, has done just that. Even A Call to Arms and those parts of Crusade which are okay feel ultimately unnecessary.

I certainly won’t be upset if this is the last we ever see from the series, and from the sound of it neither will its creator. He goes on to say:

“The only thing I would be interested in doing regarding Babylon 5 from this point on is a full-featured, big-budget feature film.

It’s that or nothing.

And if it’s nothing, I’m totally cool with that because the original story stands on its own just fine.”

Babylon 5

My review of the Babylon 5 straight-to-DVD movie is up today at Strange Horizons.

If you’re thinking “Dude, didn’t that DVD come out, like, aeons ago?” you’d be right. You’d also be a geek but we can’t help that. I wrote this last year as a reflection on both the new movie and the original series, and (my feelings on Babylon 5 being somewhat conflicted) it wound up being longer, more personal and more retrospective than normal. It’s been waiting in the wings until now, but I’m quite fond of it.

Now get the hell off my space station. And, y’know, go and read it.

Arc of Infinity

There’s a trailer for the new Babylon 5: The Lost Tales DVD on the official website. The website has been given a facelift too, by someone without any noticeable design skills.

The DVD is set ten years after the series. Just seeing the familiar ships and hearing the music certainly gets my B5 juices flowing. For all its flaws, and they are many, Babylon 5 was a show that completely hooked me at the time. Although it didn’t make it to the end of its five year story as seamlessly as planned, it inspired subsequent science fiction series to seriously consider long-term storytelling as a viable proposition. My wife has managed to get one of her work colleagues into the original series and he seems to be having a hugely good time watching our DVDs. He’s right in the show’s heyday (mid Season 2) with plenty of good stuff ahead, and I can’t help but be a little envious.

Battlestar Galactica is a series that takes almost the opposite approach to story arc, preferring to make it up as it goes along. Nonetheless its producers are still bravely claiming that “This show was always meant to have a beginning, a middle and, finally, an end.” They simply have no idea what any of those things are. Hopefully they’ll make their minds up soon, since they’ve just announced that Galactica will officially end after its Fourth Season.


There’s a nice behind-the-scenes article on Babylon 5: The Lost Tales over at CG Society (Society of Digital Artists) with a lot of new photos and a few story spoilers.

AICN have a test image of Rorschach from the ever-mired-in-Development-Hell Watchmen movie. I’m still ambivalent about the movie, but the high-res image is very well-realised and faithful to the comic. Janet says that it just looks like a man in a cloth mask, but that in Watchmen this is probably part of the point.

A version of the image has been snuck into the middle of a new promo for 300 for some reason, a film which has just exceeded box-office predictions on its first day of release. The movie looks visually gorgeous and is getting very positive reviews, although I suspect it may be just a teensy bit OTT and hyper-macho for my sensitive tastes.

EDIT: For those who don’t read Neil Gaiman’s blog: Bob Dylan sings Dr. Seuss.

Everything old is new again

Lots of snippets of news from the New York Comic Con. The B5 Direct-to-DVD release is proceeding apace and may be slated for a July release. Now it turns out that we may also be getting some Direct-to-DVD side-stories from Battlestar Galactica. Maybe they figured they had so many vital bits of plot left over from the actual episodes that they’d cobble together a movie from the missing scenes. Cough.

Meanwhile we’re getting another Serenity comic from Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, again set between the series and the film. The first one was okay, I guess, but not quite the same as watching more Firefly proper.

And lastly, Paramount has finally confirmed that a new Star Trek prequel movie has been officially greenlit, with JJ Abrams (Alias, M:I3) at the helm. It’s clearly way too soon to resurrect Trek, but if they’re going to insist then a brand new set of writers and actors milking nostalgia in a fresh way is probably the best bet. More bizarrely, silly casting rumours abound. How about Matt Damon as Kirk (Hmmm), Adrian Brody as Spock (Hmmmmm) and Gary Sinise as McCoy (Genius!)

Lazily Drowning

Following the pretty pics from the new Babylon 5, AICN have a description of the rough-cut opening credits which gets all the nostalgic juices flowing. Whether B5 has anything more to offer the world than nostalgic remembrance of past glories is something that remains to be proven at this stage. The CGI image above has certainly got me keen to see what B5 can look like with modern effects work. The FX company’s showreel includes plenty of recent fare like Galactica and SG-1, and it’s sobering to remember that it’s nearly nine years since the end of the B5 series proper (five years since the distinctly low-rent Legend of the Rangers pilot). Where does the time go?

Still on our heap of TV to watch: six episodes of Studio 60, three episodes of Battlestar Galactica, three episodes of Waking the Dead, five episodes of Jericho, three episodes of Primeval, two episodes of CSI, one apiece of Time Team and Stargate SG-1 and a DVD of Doctor Who: The Aztecs. And those are just the ones I can remember. It’s possible we have a problem.

Part of the reason for our scary TV backlog is that we’re now fully caught up with Life on Mars, having watched every episode in one week from a standing start and liking it greatly. I thought the season 2 opener tripped over its feet a bit in its effort to re-establish the premise, but was otherwise as enjoyable as ever. I have to concur with the general opinion that Chris Chibnall’s episodes, particularly his second season offering, have been in a different league entirely from his Torchwood work (and featured not a single pterodactyl), so maybe his upcoming Doctor Who episode won’t be crap after all. Sadly our romp through Life on Mars has so far not been matched by our efforts with Primeval which I’ve yet to even start. Let’s hope I can summon up equal levels of enthusiasm for that series, although the opinions I’ve seen so far make this fairly unlikely.

Bones has delighted me by continuing to feature Stephen Fry in a recurring guest role which he was born to play, and if they’re laying on the Englishisms a bit thick, well, it *is* Stephen Fry. His scenes actually seem better written than the rest of the show. Which admittedly isn’t difficult.

EDIT: Sky One’s Continuity Announcer, before tonight’s episode of Battlestar Galactica: “Forget Sci-Fi, THIS is real drama.”

Screens of Green

Behind-the-scenes photos from the new B5 stories which have just finished shooting for DVD release. The first pictures look like those exciting shots from behind-the-scenes on the new Star Wars movies, i.e. one huge green screen and a couple of bored people. However there are some more interesting ones further down the page, plus some updates on filming.

I’m still reserving judgement, but keen to see what the finished product looks like.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

Further to my ponderings on the wisdom of producing new Babylon 5 material, Mr. jms has somewhat unexpectedly decided to ignore my concerns and plough on with the project; and more, it seems to have fallen into the fifty percent of jms projects that actually make it through production hell into the real world. He’s posted a couple of updates here and here. It’s been a long while since I frequented but it looks like business as usual to me: Six projects on the go at once? Check. Tireless self-promotion? Check. Doing everyone else’s jobs for them? Check. 🙂 He’s even directing this one, his first since the B5 finale Sleeping in Light, I believe.

As I’ve said, I do doubt the potential of B5 to thrive in the form of isolated standalone stories direct to DVD since the format doesn’t play to the series’ strengths. If I’m honest the series was rarely innovative or compelling on an episodic level, and most of its big ideas are essentially a grab bag of cliches from fifty plus years of written SF and Fantasy, often blended with cliches from fifty plus years of TV. What lent it freshness and power was its sheer ambition: the simple fact that most of the staples of written SF and Fantasy had never been attempted with any depth or narrative length on television previously; certainly not with the sweeping scope of the over-arching storyline. In fact I’d argue that in terms of epic scope genre TV has seldom matched it since, although in its freewheeling way Farscape just about stumbled into bona fide epic territory, and Deep Space Nine did its best. But the fact that B5 was unique in its epic nature doesn’t mean that it was always successful in other ways, and its strengths have not shone through in the succession of increasingly dilute spin-offs we’ve had to date.

Regardless, I’ll certainly give B5:TLT a look when it arrives.

Zombie TV Shows

Zombie TV Shows. Not, alas, TV shows about zombies, but rather TV shows that won’t stay dead. Even when it might be better if they did

Firstly there’s Star Trek, a tv show – nay, a franchise – that was so thoroughly mined for so long that by the time it ended there was almost nothing left of what made it special in the first place. I’ll confess to being a bit of a Trekkie in my youth, and I feel an enduring fondness for the original show, not to mention TNG and DS9. But the franchise overstayed its welcome by at least ten years, becoming increasingly insipid and anachronistic as it did so, and I’m in no great hurry to see more. Received wisdom seems to be that the concept needs at least a decade lying fallow, if it ever comes back at all.

Naturally, therefore, they’re making more. J.J.Abrams of Alias and M:I3 fame is now developing a prequel/reboot of the franchise with a film set during the early days of Kirk and Spock. The characters would of course be re-cast. It’s a bold, not to say foolhardy, idea to try to play around with such well-established characters in this way, particularly characters so closely identified with the original actors for 40 years. Steve Martin has twice scraped the bottom of the barrel by recreating Phil Silvers’ Sergeant Bilko and Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, and the lesson to be learned is that some characters simply can’t be successfully adapted by new actors. Even Trek fans have been recasting the original series for a few years now with the lovingly incestuous New Voyages, ambitious fan-produced episodes of the original Star Trek show. Recently they’ve even recruited Mr Chekov himself, Walter Koenig, and original series writer DC Fontana, to produce a new episode. However while the sets and production values are surprisingly impressive, the recreations of the original characters are not.

It’s not the first time such an idea has been mooted. Leaving aside those scary rumours of a Starfleet Academy movie in the late 80s, Babylon 5‘s J.Michael Straczynski and Dark Skies‘ Bryce Zabel submitted a proposal in 2004 to pull a Battlestar Galactica on Star Trek, rebooting the original characters and their 5 year mission with a modern sensibility. You can find a pdf of their pitch over at Bryce Zabel’s blog. Here’s a taster:

Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy, to the point where, after enough the blurry words look like they were written on a 1947 Olympia typewriter with ribbon?

Over the decades, Star Trek has become so insular, so strictly defined, and placed layers upon itself that some of the essence of what made us love it in the first lost. The all-too-reasonable desire to protect the franchise may now be the

Imagine buying a new Porsche and leaving it in the garage all the time, because out on the road, it might get scratched. But that is exactly what’s happened The Porsche’s still clean and polished, but we’re driving around in a nice, reasonable

It’s time to throw caution to the wind and go out for a drive…a real drive…

It’s tough to argue with their premise, but easier to argue with their conclusions. Where is the sense in dragging something kicking and screaming back to the light in such a way as to be nearly unrecognisable? While the new Battlestar Galactica may have soared to great heights (and plumbed a few depths) it would in many ways have been far preferable to build a brand new TV show, free from the shackles of the past. That way you don’t piss off your existing fanbase, and you don’t have to overcome the collective preconceptions of millions of casual viewers. Of course the real reason they do it is because it’s easier to sell an established brand name, however devalued, than to create buzz around something new. That kind of bottom-line marketing is ultimately quite depressing, and the reason why we’re bombarded with nothing but big budget sequels and remakes at the cinema every summer.

And yet, despite all that, the low-tech teaser poster is really rather evocative, and there’s a certain Batman Begins thrill that could be had if done correctly. So let’s just hope that the movie-going public is precisely as shallow as me.

The second zombie lurching back to life is Straczynski’s own Babylon 5, a series that’s been lying at the bottom of the stairs with its neck at a funny angle for some years now, but is beginning to stir once more. The original show certainly didn’t exhaust its potential in the way that Star Trek did, but neither has it proven to have much promise of longevity. Quite the reverse, it’s repeatedly proven itself impervious to sequels and expansions. The original series was always at its best when it had built up a head of steam; with the momentum of a long story arc to pay off there was little that could rival it. Its characters may have been banal on an episodic basis, but they became absorbingly complex over the long haul. When the series tried to create small standalone episodes or TV movies it invariably floundered, with the majority feeling lightweight and derivative. Even its final season stumbled when story arcs were wrapped up in the previous year, while the aborted Crusade and Legend of the Rangers spin-offs distilled much of the show’s fireworks but little of its creativity or elegance. It was the overall story that the viewers cared about, not the pit-stops along the way. Now only the pit stops remain to be visited.

Despite all this, jms has just announced at Comicon that WB have green-lit new Babylon 5 episodes straight-to-DVD, each centring around a particular character. It’s a potentially intriguing idea, but after all this time the question is whether jms can ever recapture the show’s old strengths in a short anthology format. His comic scripts show that his writing continues to improve in leaps and bounds, particularly in the dialogue department, but his real ace in the hole remains his plotting; that knack for pulling the rug out from under you. Even when you know it’s coming, he never fails to surprise you. The flipside of this is that his build-up still tends towards the derivative and by-the-numbers. He can churn out a decent story with some snappy dialogue, but most of what makes his writing effective is not demonstrated in a single instalment.

Needless to say I’ll be viewing the new material when it becomes available, and I’ll be happy to have my fears proved unfounded. But I do wonder why, having lambasted Trek for lumbering on past its sell by date, he’s determined to make exactly the same mistake with his own series.