Wednesday, January 23, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Babylon 5 - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: The beginnings of the story arc are here.
Cons: Some wooden acting and sub-par episodes
Bottom Line:
A bit uneven
But setting things in motion
That pay off later

"Nibbled to Death by Cats"

The year is 2258. Ambassadors from all five of the major races are finally on board Babylon 5, a space station deep in neutral territory designed to create peace in the universe. But trouble is brewing just below the surface. The Narn and Centauri races have not forgotten their old hatred. Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari is hiding something. And a secret from human Commander Sinclair's past that he doesn't even know is coming back to the foreground. Things will be anything but smooth sailing as the year progresses.

I am a diehard fan of the show, and I was thrilled to see it come to DVD. Having said that, this is my least favorite season. Fun, important, episodes that start the story arc like "Parliament of Dreams," "And the Sky Full of Stars," "Signs and Portents," and "Chrysalis" are off-set by clunkers like "TKO," "Infection," and "Survivors." These episodes don't have original stories and are boring. While watching it with friends who haven't seen it, I've thought about leaving out some of these clunkers, but every episode is important because it sets up the characters, races, and situations that we will be dealing with for the rest of the series. To fully appreciate seasons 4 and 5, you need to start here.

Not only did this season have story problems, but it also had acting problems. This is the only season that stars Michael O'Hare as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair. His acting is passable, but it seems wooden in the most important scenes. Claudia Christian is also stiff in a few episodes as Lt. Commander Ivanova, but she gains her feet more quickly. Standouts in the cast include the alien ambassadors Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik, and Andreas Katsulas. Their characters jump off the screen. It's always fun watching them in this season since their characters will change so much before everything is over.

The other strike against this season is the special effects. This was the first TV show to regularly use computer-generated effects. It came out the year before Toy Story, so they are in keeping with what was possible at the time. Still, some of them look a little fake. This is a very minor complaint, on the whole. And the alien make-up looks great. There are a few regular races that require a bit more then Star Trek ever did.

The DVD set itself is wonderful. Though originally shown in full frame, it's presented here in wide screen. The surround sound is great, but the picture, while good over all, could have been cleaned up a little in spots. Fans will love the extra features. JMS's audio commentaries on two episodes are informative and entertaining. There are two behind the scenes features which are very informative and I loved seeing some of the actors without make-up for their interviews. The new documentary seemed rather short for what it was. However, the documentary made during the initial airing of these episodes is great fun. Personally, I liked the station tour, but other parts of the encyclopedia included would only be of interest to new fans. The one thing I most wished they'd included? A blooper reel. The rest of the season sets do have this special feature.

A word or warning about the special features. If you haven't seen the series, don't watch them. The encyclopedia entries don't spoil things, but the other features do talk about how the story develops in future seasons. This show is best unspoiled.

While not the best this series has to offer, Babylon 5 Season 1 is important background that makes the rest of the series so much better. Fans will be thrilled, and new comers will be hooked. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to own a piece of television history.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Midnight on the Firing Line
2. Soul Hunter
3. Born to the Purple
4. Infection
5. The Parliament of Dreams
6. Mind War
7. The War Prayer
8. And the Sky Full of Stars
9. Deathwalker
10. Believers
11. Survivors
12. By Any Means Necessary
13. Signs and Portents
14. TKO
15. Grail
16. Eyes
17. Legacies
18. A Voice in the Wilderness Part I
19. A Voice in the Wilderness Part II
20. Babylon Squared
21. The Quality of Mercy
22. Chrysalis

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