Tuesday, February 26, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Babylon 5 - The Gathering/In the Beginning

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good introductions to a great series
Cons: Doesn't stand on its own
The Bottom Line:
A saga begins
And a good introduction
Doesn't stand alone

And So It Began....

Warner Brothers decided to test the market for science fiction show Babylon 5 on DVD with this initial offering. It includes three hours of story on a two-sided disc.

Side A is the re-edit of the 1993 pilot as shown on TNT in 1998. Presented in its original full frame aspect ration, "The Gathering" is an introduction to the space station Babylon 5. When the last of the major races sends an ambassador to this port of call, someone tries to assassinate him. Things really heat up after station commander Jeffery Sinclair is accused of the crime, and our last best hope for peace just might become the starting point for another war.

It's interesting to watch this movie as a fan of the series. It seems slow, many characters didn't make it back when the series started, and the special effects aren't up to par. But I've used it to hook several friends on the show recently, and each time I'm amazed at the groundwork that was laid down and the story arcs that were introduced at this early date. Of course, part of the pacing problems is because we don't know the characters or even the alien species involved. The background provided is necessary for the original viewing and not needed if a viewer is familiar with the series already, making the movie slower.

Side B contains the movie "In the Beginning." Filmed after season 4, it tells the story pivotal back story of the Earth-Minbari War which happened 10 years before the series started but had major implications on the events of the show. Presented here in its original wide screen, it combines all the stories of the war that we've learned over the first four seasons, from the misunderstanding that started it to the climatic Battle of the Line. But it's not all familiar; we get to see the entire story, not just the parts that were important to later happenings on the show. Along the way, we see series characters Delenn, Sheridan, Franklin, G'Kar, and Londo in the time before the series started.

I hadn't seen this movie since its initial airing until I got the DVD. I was amazed at how much history and suspense series creator J. Michael Straczynski was able to put into the movie even though we knew the basics. It is interesting to note that it was included here, since it contains major spoilers for the first few seasons of the show. It can be watched early, but it does spoil those early seasons.

Unfortunately, Warner decided to test the DVD market for Babylon 5 with a product that features no extras. This is one series where I would love to see more behinds the scenes information. Commentaries and bloopers would make my day. Still, I found the picture and sound quality to be good.

Fortunately, this initial release did well enough to convince Warner Brothers to release the rest of the series. This disc is now obsolete because both movies got better releases in the movie collection released in 2005.

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