TV Review – “Babylon 5: The Movies”

The first five Babylon 5 movies have been
released in a single package. (Legend of the
Rangers
wasn’t included in this package.)

Cast and Crew

J. Michael Straczynski wrote all five of the movies
that return to the
Babylon 5 universe. The original cast returns in
most cases. For
The Gathering, that is the original cast,
since that’s the
pilot movie.

This
DVD release

includes English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Past TV reviews can be found here.

Original Airdate


These movies were made in 1993 (The
Gathering
), 1997 (In
The Beginning
), and 1998 (Thirdspace,
A River Of
Souls
, and A Call To Arms).

Synopsis

The Gathering is the original pilot movie,
detailing the
events that surrounded Kosh’s arrival on Babylon 5.
In The
Beginning
shows the events that surrounded the
Earth-Minbari war,
as viewed from a time after most of the events of the
series take
place. Thirdspace is set between seasons
three and four
(roughly), and describes one particular story that
was unrelated to
the ongoing saga. Similarly, A River Of
Souls
follows the
series with a new adventure unrelated to most of what
came before it.
Finally, A Call To Arms serves as a prequel
for Babylon
5: Crusade
.

High Point

I think In The Beginning is the best of the
set. It really
starts pulling pieces together and adding to the
entire project.

Low Point

Thirdspace is probably the worst of the set.
What I love
most about Babylon 5 is the grand, sweeping saga that
fills every
corner of the universe. This and A River of
Souls
don’t
quite seem to fit, since they’re essentially one-off
stories that
don’t play a larger role in the entire series. I
think that’s why
they didn’t quite feel like Babylon 5 to me.
Thirdspace is
the low point simply because A River of
Souls
is a better
story. Thirdspace had a few moments that
didn’t quite add
up, such as Ivonova’s continued sanity.

The Review

This is hard to review in a single set of categories.
There’s a huge
spread in the content here, moreso than any of the
complete TV season
sets I’ve got. As a result, it’s hard to get extreme
ratings in any
category. In The Beginning and A Call
To Arms
are
both great, and would be in the mid-thirties if they
were scored
individually. The Gathering has the kind of
writing we’ve
learned to expect from the series, but enough
differences
(particularly the make-up effects) to disorient the
viewer who was
familiar with what was coming. (If not for voice and
body language,
Delenn would be unrecognizable.) I’ve decided to
rate them as a
single package anyway, just becase that’s the way
they’re being sold.
If you’ve already got the The Gathering / In The
Beginning

DVD, I’m not sure you’ll want this entire package.
(If you don’t have
that DVD, get this package instead.) This will add
commentaries,
introductions, and better transfers, as well as
another excellent
movie, but the third and fourth movies aren’t that
spectacular. If
you plan to pick up Babylon 5: Crusade when
it eventually
ships, this is worth owning for the effective
introduction you’ll get
in A Call To Arms.

The originality of this suffers because two
fifths of the set
lack the “piece of a larger tapestry” feel that
Babylon 5 did
so well in all of its previous television
incarnations.
Thirdspace and A River of Souls had
the episodic
feel that I grew tired of watching Star Trek: The
Next
Generation
. A Call To Arms redeems the
set after those
two, as it sets the stage for a new tapestry that
promised to look as
gorgeous as the one that was woven over the first
five seasons of the
series. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects in the first four films were
very much like the
series. Those in A Call To Arms seemed to
take things up a
notch, as though they were testing out an upgrade
that they planned to
use for Crusade. I give it 4 out of 6.

The stories were well written individually.
Only three of
the five felt like the unique kind of storytelling
that made
Babylon 5 stand out from the other genre
shows on the air.
In The Beginning really shines in this
category. This was
the first complete Babylon 5 broadcast that
I really got. I
missed most of the series during its original
broadcast (seeing only
two episodes at the 1996 Canadian Undergraduate
Physics Conference,
and not getting much out of them having none of the
background needed
to truly understand it). I heard it was a prequel,
so I assumed one
could understand it without having seen the series.
That was correct,
and I enjoyed it. Watching it with full knowledge of
the series
behind me, I realize how much I’d missed out on the
first time
around. (The “what do you want?” part is a perfect
example; a new
viewer can follow it, but a familiar viewer remembers
a subtle but
significant phrase from the first season.) I give it
5 out of 6.

The acting was just what we’d come to expect
from Babylon
5
. It says a lot about how great the casting
was that these
actors had their roles down this early. The only bad
acting came from
Tamlyn Tomita in The Gathering. I can see
why we got Claudia
Christian when the series finally went episodic. I
give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response was mixed. Three of
the movies worked
very well. (Do I still need to specify which three?)
The other two
just feel so out of place in Babylon 5 that
I couldn’t really
get engaged in them. Part of that problem was the
limited character
roster. I appreciate that A River of Souls
was the first
chance to see Captain Lochley demonstrating why she
earned the job,
but the large tapestry feeling of the series was
supported by the
large and well defined cast. Seeing what amounts to
a reunion of the
cast (even if it was so soon after the series)
without the complete
cast was a bit of a let-down. The episodic feel of
two of the movies
also detaches the viewer somewhat, as there feels
like there’s less
chance of anything having series implications later.
(This is
especially true of Thirdspace, which is set
between existing
seasons of the show.) There is some chance of lasting
repurcussions,
but that’s just not the way it feels. A
world-altering ending would
have been a pleasant surprise. The other three
movies work
beautifully, though. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production is well done. I suspect they
had more time
and money to spend on each movie than they had for
two episodes of the
series, in spite of the equality in total length of
the finished
product. If they didn’t, then their acheivement is
even more
impressive. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, we’ve got three great movies (two
of which are
already available in an inferior form) and two decent
movies that
don’t really show what Babylon 5 was so good
at. I give the
package 4 out of 6.

In total, Babylon 5: The Movies receives 31
out of 42.

4 replies on “TV Review – “Babylon 5: The Movies””

  1. nidx says:

    just a fyi …. then I kept on writing
    Thirdspace is set in the middle of season 4 (soon after the shadow war but before the earth war)

    and I thought Martin Sheen was kinda good in his role in River of Souls, also JMS has explained that TNT didn’t want to pay for the full cast for all the actors for any of the TNT films (Besides ITB I *think*) – I think the Lurkers guide has the quotes.

    besides looking at the series as a whole I liked how each episode did not need the entire cast … as opposed to somthing like startrek.

    ok – that is all 4 now

    • rusty0101 says:

      Re: just a fyi …. then I kept on writing
      I suppose this is going to make some people unhappy, but then there are people out there who have no idea at all why I like Science Fiction.

      One of the things I like about each of the movies is that they each can be watched on their own, without having extensive knowledge of the series as a whole. This also works extreamly well for Third Space, and River of Souls. Yes it does help to be familiar with the various characters being used in the movies, but they don’t require that you know all the background either.

      If you think about it, both of these movies allow a seasoned viewer to introduce bits of the series to a friend who has never seen any of the series, gives you the opportunity to tell your guest a bit about each character, and in the end give them the choice of going to the Begining then the Gathering, or even possibly taking up from about where that movie was placed in the series.

      Both the Begining, and the Gathering work together to prepare you for the series. A Call to Arms and Legend of the Rangers both are really pilots for other series in the universe, that didn’t pan out as well as many of us would have liked.

      If you had to pick a well known actor for a soul hunter, I don’t think you could find a better actor than Martin Sheen. I personally think he hit all of the right buttons for a character of a type that was pretty much universally hated, yet could show by his actions was concerned that perhaps his entire race had made a significant mistake in the end. He portrayed well a person who learns that something he was raised and lived believing, may very well be entirely wrong, and that there is nothing he individually can do that will repay those who have been wronged in the process. And still he feels personally responsible for the actions of his people.

      Nope, I don’t expect everyone to agree. I did like each of the movies on it’s own, and as part of the entire series.

      -Rusty

      • valen1260 says:

        Re: just a fyi …. then I kept on writing

        and in the end give them the choice of going to the Begining then the Gathering, or even possibly taking up from about where that movie was placed in the series.

        Both the Begining, and the Gathering work together to prepare you for the series.

        Are you suggesting someone start with Beginning? Blasphemy! It shouldn’t be viewed until after 3rd season at the earliest. ;)

  2. UncleJam says:

    The worst of the bunch…

    … was River of Souls, IMO. Thirdspace wasn’t that great, I’ll agree, but I at least had a desire to see it again when I bought this set. If I never see River again, it will be too soon.

    I’d rank the B5 movies thusly:

    1. In the Beginning
    2. A Call to Arms
    3. The Gathering
    4. Thirdspace
    5. Legend of the Rangers (I know it wasn’t in this set, but still…)
    6. every unmade B5 movie floating around in JMS’s noggin
    7. every homemade B5 fan movie ever made
    8. River of Souls

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