Al Does Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

“Ten years. Ten years since the world changed. Ten years since I changed. But it feels like I never left the place. Babylon 5 is a place of beginnings and endings. I wonder which this will be.”

The Scoop: 2007 NR, directed by J Michael Straczynski and starring Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins, and Peter Woodward.

Tagline: None.

Summary Capsule: Fathers and demons and princes, oh my!

Al’s Rating: Even on Social Security, Sheridan and Lochley can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

Al’s Review: So, I think it’s fair to say that Babylon 5 made an impression on me. A big one. It made me laugh. It made me cheer. It made me cry. It made me embarrassed when I’d excitedly bring it up in conversation and then realize no one knew what I was talking about. Everything that’s come since the end of Babylon 5 has been a different story. I haven’t hated or even really disliked what I’ve been watching, but nothing has measured up when compared to the intensity of feeling I got from the series. So, in a way, Babylon 5: The Lost Tales was my last, best hope for something truly memorable to come out of the Expanded Universe.

When I turned it on, it quickly became clear that I could be in for a long, long seventy minutes.  The Lost Tales features virtually no sets, only a handful of characters I recognized, and almost no link to the epic stories I loved on the TV show. In fact, it turns out that this isn’t even actually a movie. It’s a pair of slightly-shorter-than-broadcast-length episodes named Over Here and Over There. Over Here stars Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) and a priest named Father Cassidy, who are contemplating performing an exorcism on a crew member claiming to be possessed. Over There stars President John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), who is on his way to Babylon 5 when he receives a vision from Galen (Peter Woodward) that a Centauri prince accompanying Sheridan to the station will grow up to destroy Earth unless Sheridan stops him—today.  Both stories, as I said, feature the barest minimum of a cast and sets that, more often than not, consist of two chairs against a wall. It’s practically black box theater in a lot of respects. What I haven’t said, and what honestly took me by surprise, was how much I enjoyed it.

A lot of love obviously went into this production and it far outweighs any negatives I could bring up. The CGI, the lavish sets, the bustling world of Babylon 5—at the end of the day, it’s all just chrome. The Lost Tales has writing that is sharp and intelligent, and characters who are alive with personality and history. Sheridan still possesses his world-weary humor and thinking man’s bravery; Lochley is still the same tireless hardass (but with a new bar on her shoulder! She’s a Colonel!). Its fun to see them back in the saddle (even if it’s only been a few weeks for me), and Bruce Boxleitner and Tracy Scoggins are clearly having a blast.

I probably enjoyed the Lochley episode (minisode?) a little more than the Sheridan one. Sheridan’s tale feels very typical of B5 and, while that’s in no way a knock against it, I appreciated that Lochley’s took some risks. It doesn’t give us an easy, sci-fi “aliens did it” answer to the problem and it presents an interesting perspective on the future of religion on Earth. It’s not a subject that a lot of shows choose to tackle and the way that it’s approached here was refreshing.

If there’s one thing The Lost Tales proves, it’s that there’s still a lot of life left in Babylon 5. I don’t know that we’ll ever again see large, complex stories that have galaxy-altering consequences, but I’m okay with that. As much as I’ve ragged on B5’s special effects in the past, they’re not really the part of the story that matters: it’s all about the characters, and small tales like these are perhaps more satisfying at this point than epic struggles pitting our aging heroes against another unstoppable fleet borne of ancient evil. This little DVD is not the spectacular film I thought I wanted, but The Lost Tales is fulfilling nonetheless. If they were to never make another Babylon 5 story after this, I’d be okay with it. Of course, if they want to release one or two more, I promise to be the first in line.

One Last Look

Intermission!

  • Quantumspace, huh? Sure, why not.
  • It’s interesting to see how similar-but-not-quite-the-same 2007 Bruce Boxleitner looks compared to 2281 John Sheridan from “Sleeping in Light”.
  • We finally get a look at Earth! It’s future-y!
  • Mention is made that G’Kar and Dr. Franklin are both exploring “beyond the rim”. This is a small tribute to Richard Biggs (Franklin) and Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar), who both passed away prior to filming.
  • The Lost Tales was originally the idea for a hypothetical Season 6 of Babylon 5, where the cast would not follow a set arc but instead would enact whatever stories the writers came up with.
  • J Michael Straczynski had intended (maybe still intends?) that The Lost Tales would be Part One of an ongoing “Lost Tales” collection, hence the subtitle “Voices in the Dark”.
  • A Garibaldi tale was also to be included in this set, but had to be cut for time and budget reasons.

Groovy Quotes

Father Cassidy: A decline in faith and influence of the Church was to be expected once human penetrated heaven and found there no angels, no choir eternal, not even a delinquent seraphim left behind by the general evacuation. Just infinite space. For two hundred years, human have walked among the stars on legs of fire and steel, daily encountering far greater wonders than the burning bush.
Col. Lochley: True, but still, there are a lot of scientists who believe in God.
Father Cassidy: Oh, sure. Physicists have tried to soften the blow with quantum mechanic consolation prizes noting mysteries yet to be resolved in tiny subatomic particles whose actions hint at the presence of intelligence. But where, in those infinitesimal spaces, can be found the God who stopped the sun in the sky over Jericho, parted the Red Sea, birthed the universe and shaped molecules of dust until their name was Man and Woman? Once we got into space, the deck was stacked and the clock was ticking.

Father Cassidy: Before you go any further, I have to ask, are you religious yourself?
Col. Lochley: [considers] Yeah, sometimes I think I’m pretty religious. Then I realize I haven’t been to church in ages and I feel guilty, so then I go… but then am I going because I’m faithful or because I’m guilty?
Father Cassidy: Ah. So you’re just like the rest of us, then. Good.

Father Cassidy: Are you saying you are the devil?
Burke: No, just a humble servant.

Burke: Man sought his God in the stars and found only silence. But if the hand of darkness can be found, does that not imply it’s opposite?

Col. Lochley: When the darkness comes, it’s good to know you’re standing in the one place where the lights are always on.

Sheridan: Is there a problem, Miss Chambers?
Chambers: It just rather stark in here.
Sheridan: Well, the Minbari are minimalists. For the last 400 years, their viewing rooms didn’t even have chairs. They stood the whole time; a group of nine staring into the void. When I suggested putting in some chairs, I almost triggered a full-scale revolution. I’d go for some throw pillows next, but I’m afraid of being assassinated.

Chambers: You don’t like reporters, do you?
Sheridan: Of course I do. Properly cooked.

Sheridan: Was that a new dress?

NY Cabbie: Get out of the road! What are you doing? Learn to fly!
Sheridan: Up yours!

Sheridan: What the hell is your problem? Don’t you people have any hobbies?

Galen: There is hope, but it is at best a slim hope.
Sheridan: Yeah, well I’ve never known hope when it wasn’t on a diet.

Galen: We are surrounded on all sides by mysteries, President Sheridan. And mysteries once solved re never quite as interesting, are they?

Prince Vintari: Anyway, Emperor Mollari thought I’d be safer with you. He said “I would trust Sheridan with my life.”
Sheridan: Well, that’s –
Prince Vintari: Then he corrected himself and said he would trust you with *my* life, because he had plans for next week. Then he left the room, laughing.

Sheridan: Ten years. Ten years since the world changed. Ten years since I changed. But it feels like I never left the place. Babylon 5 is a place of beginnings and endings. I wonder which this will be.

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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Revisit Babylon 5 Week! « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. An aspect I like about the second half is that it takes the old, “If you met Hitler back when he was just a crappy painter and knew what he would become you’d kill him in an instant,” argument and turn it on its head. What especially impressed me was how Vintari was mostly shown as someone weary of Centauri political intrigue, yet there were also a couple of hints of the monster Galen warns about.

  3. Lost Tales made me think Babylon 5 went out with a whimper.

    I think I remember hearing JMS say there will be no further Lost Tales despite good sales (helped by such a low production cost). He controls the rights to make movies, and non-television projects but must work with Warner Brothers on movies and he’s just not interested in working with them anymore.

    I think his success in screenwriting got someone interested in making a Babylon 5 reboot movie and he was considering it now that time has passed a number of actors had moved on. Of course I heard that a long time ago and still nothing, so perhaps it fell through long ago.

    A Babylon 5 movie series that more or less followed his original plan would be very cool.

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