Al does Babylon 5: In the Beginning

“No one who saw them fighting against the inevitable could help but be moved to tears by their courage. Their stubborn nobility. When they ran out of ships, they used guns. When they ran out guns they used knives and sticks and bare hands. They were magnificent.”

The Scoop: 1998 NR, directed by Michael Vejar and starring Bruce Boxleitner, Mira Furlan, and Peter Jurasik

Tagline: The First Sensational Babylon 5 Movie!

Summary Capsule: Humans and Minbari cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. And in the end, they build some space station.

Al’s Rating: I’ve spent way too much time trying to write this review. There’s no way I’m waiting around until I come up with a clever rating, too.

Al’s Review: Like everything else in my Babylon Diaries series, this review is way behind schedule. In most other cases, though, I’ve had personal issues, schoolwork, computer problems, or other real-life stuff I can heap the blame on.  With In the Beginning, however, all the responsibility falls on me. I saw In the Beginning soon after finishing Season 4 of Babylon 5 and again a few weeks after that to try and motivate myself to write. I’ve fallen asleep to it a couple of times since then and I saw it yet again earlier today in the hope that I would find some inspiration. And after all that, I’ve still got nothing.  There are things in this movie I like—interesting things, clever things, even some moving things—and it certainly feels like it should be enough to knit a review together.  When I stand back and really try to look at it, though, I always just wind up saying “Eh.”

But let me give it one more try anyway.

As the title might suggest, In the Beginning rewinds the clock back before President Clark, before the Shadow War, and before the Babylon Project. It brings us all the way back to the disastrous first contact between the humans and the Minbari and the war precipitated by the mistakes made that day.  It’s an event we’ve heard plenty about and seen bits and pieces of, so it is kind of neat to go back and take a look at where it all began and how our characters were involved.

A few of the contrivances stretch credibility (Sheridan serving with Ivanova’s brother? Okay. Sheridan and Franklin going on a mission together that was brokered by G’Kar and winds up being ambushed by Londo?  Cmon.), but, on the whole, it works really well.  Pivotal incidents are finally explored, like Sheridan’s victory against the Black Star, and, for the first time, we really get a taste of the desperation that hung over events like The Battle of the Line.  It’s funny, but seeing the humans so roundly defeated over and over again becomes affecting after a while.  Even on my second and third viewing, I was surprised how much some parts of the story got to me.

I think where the movie succeeds is in the tone that it manages to strike. The story of the Earth-Minbari War is told to a pair of young children by the elderly Emperor of the Centauri Republic, Londo Mollari. It’s not a story of glory or heroism, but of arrogance, stupidity, regret, and bad luck.  In other words, they’re all things Londo knows a lot about. The quality his voice gives the narration is both chilling and sad.  It’s a great choice and a nice callback to The Gathering, where he does the same thing.

And yet, it’s been two months since my first viewing of In the Beginning and I’m still struggling to write this review. And mostly, it’s because I’m finding that I didn’t really like it.  If I was a loyal viewer in 1998, I guarantee that this would have given me my Babylon 5 fix until the new season premiered.  As someone who’s coming to the party a decade later,  it just feels like something they were using to chum the waters so they could be sure that the fish were still biting.

It’s got some good stuff in it—some great stuff, really—but I never totally shook the feeling that I was watching a cash grab by the network.  Unfortunately for me (and my credibility as a reviewer), I can’t seem to find anything specific to point to.  In fact, I’m tempted to go back and dampen down my enthusiasm for the good stuff I found in this movie because finding examples of the bad stuff is so difficult.  It’s there, though.  I swear it’s there.  The movie is like an art project that’s been drawn with care and has all the construction paper pieces cut out perfectly but gets stuck together by gooey, lumpy paste that leaks out the sides and makes weird bulges in the middle.

Does that make any sense? Probably not. I guess In the Beginning just doesn’t feel like a story that the writers were dying to tell.  It was just something that they had in the back of their heads for a rainy day. It feels like TNT wanted to remind people that the show was coming back for a Season 5, so the writers pulled it down from the shelf and blew the dust off of it. And, in the end, that’s just not good enough.

"When they ran out of ships, they used guns. When they ran out of guns, they used bare hands. When they ran out of bare hands, they were kind of screwed."

Intermission!

  • I love when we get to see Old Londo. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I just so totally buy him as a crotchety senior citizen who wants his oatmeal.
  • I’m a little shocked how well Sheridan’s buzz cut works at making him look younger.
  • Ivanova, on the other hand, just looks silly.
  • Does G’Kar’s makeup look a little more like what he wore in The Gathering or is it just me?
  • Note the file footage of Sinclair from And the Sky Full of Stars (108), Delenn and Dukhat in Atonement (409), and King Arthur from A Late Delivery from Avalon (313).
  • Both the children and the Centauri woman are members of Emperor Mollari’s household, and all got there through murder. Luc and Lyssa are the niece and nephew of Urza Jaddo, whom Mollari killed in a duel in the Babylon 5 installment, Knives (217). Senna, the Centauri woman, is the daughter of Lord Refa, whom Mollari had assassinated in the installment, And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place (320). In both cases, Mollari took the children of his victims into his family.
  • According to Babylon 5 canon, Senna later marries Vir Cotto. When Vir becomes emperor, she reigns also, as empress.

Groovy Quotes

Londo Mollari: Ah, arrogance and stupidity all in the same package. How efficient of you.

Luc: Are you really the Emperor?
Londo: I sometimes ask myself the same question. Yes, I’m the Emperor. Here, you see? This is the seal of the Centauri Republic. Only the Emperor can wear it. So either I am the Emperor, or I am in a great deal of trouble. Or both.

Londo Mollari: The quiet ones are the ones that change the universe… The loud ones only take the credit.

Delenn: They fight bravely. They cannot harm our ships but they continue to try.
Coplann: Whether they fight or not they know the will die anyway, so really is this bravery or simple desperation?

Londo Mollari: The humans, I think, knew they were doomed.  Where another race would surrender to despair, the humans fought back with greater strength.  They made the Minbari fight for every inch of space.  In my life, I have never seen anything like it.  They would weep, they would pray, they would say goodbye to their loved ones, and then throw themselves without fear or hesitation at the very face of death itself, never surrendering.  No one who saw them fighting against the inevitable could help but be moved to tears by their courage.  Their stubborn nobility.  When they ran out of ships, they used guns.  When they ran out guns they used knives and sticks and bare hands.  They were magnificent.  I only hope that when it is my time, I may die with half as much dignity as I saw in their eyes in the end.  They did this for two years they never ran out of courage but in the end, they ran out of time.

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7 Comments

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  7. Regarding the cash grab idea. You have to consider that back when it aired they didn’t have DVDs out so when it switched channels there was a pretty reasonable expectation that any new viewers would not have known the backstory.

    I think in the grand scheme there really weren’t many new viewers which is what soured the Crusade experiment but in the day it made sense.

    As a second point, many folks suggest that folks new to Babylon 5 skip the first season and circle back to it later if/when they are hooked by the second season. If one follows that strategy In The Beginning would provide a nice background if watched first.

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