Saturday, June 28, 2014

Babylon 5: The Gathering (live action movie)

Rather than argue with someone on the Internet about this series, I opted to do a Babylon 5 re-watch project instead. We'll see how long I can keep it up.

I decided to begin at the beginning, with The Gathering, the series pilot and the first movie. I had forgotten how bad it was.

The Gathering is both a mystery and an introduction to the world of B5 and most of the main characters. I could probably fill half a page with details, but the basic story is that a new ambassador is scheduled to arrive at Babylon 5, a space station built by humans and intended to accommodate both humans and all known alien races. The new ambassador, Kosh, is a Vorlon, an alien hardly anyone knows anything about. Within minutes of arriving on Babylon 5, Kosh collapses, the victim of an assassination attempt. Efforts to learn who attacked Kosh and what poison they used lead to the revelation that Sinclair is the most likely culprit. Sinclair insists he's being framed. Unfortunately, he only has a short period of time to prove his innocence before the Vorlons arrive to take him away for trial on their home world.

Had I started my B5 experience with this movie, I don't think I would have gone any further. The story felt very choppy until the point of it all was finally made clear (with the attempt on Kosh's life). The series' creator, J. Michael Straczynski, tried to cram too much detail into the script. Then there were the visuals: the makeup and prosthetics looked sloppy, and I had forgotten how simplistic the CGI sometimes was.

Commander Sinclair was stiff, even with his girlfriend around to try and humanize him a little, and Commander Takashima seemed like she was trying too hard to sound commanding. I didn't dislike everyone, though: Garibaldi and Londo were probably my most favorite characters in the movie.

The occasional attempts to add “sexiness” were cringe-worthy. Sinclair's girlfriend's comment about having picked up some “completely frictionless” bedsheets was stupid – think about it for two seconds, and you'd realize you couldn't even sleep on those sheets, much less have sex on them. And G'Kar's offer to pay Lyta to either sleep with him or allow him to harvest her DNA so that the Narns could develop their own telepaths was both gross and not well thought out – Lyta and G'Kar sleeping together is unlikely to produce any children at all, considering that they're two entirely different species. I was not amused when G'Kar said Lyta could opt to either be conscious or unconscious during the sex – he would prefer conscious, but “I don't know what your...pleasure threshold is.” Ugh. No.

As far as the murder mystery aspect goes, I still don't understand how the poison was administered to Ambassador Kosh in the first place. Lyta, the telepath who “witnessed” the attack via Kosh's mind, saw a patch put on Kosh's wrist. However, 1) I don't think Kosh has wrists, glowing or otherwise, and 2) one of the characters stated that Vorlons could not be outside their encounter suits or they would die. The series later shows that #2 isn't exactly true, but, at the very least, Vorlon secrecy should have prevented Kosh from showing a part of his body to a human, even Sinclair.

All in all, I don't recommend this movie to anyone except die-hard B5 fans. It has many, many rough edges and, besides, several details introduced in this movie are dropped in the TV series. It would probably be less confusing for B5 newbies to skip this entirely and start with the TV series. The main things people would be missing out on are the introduction of the mystery of Sinclair's "lost time" at the end of the Earth-Minbari War and a wicked little joke played on Ambassador G'Kar.

Extras:

The one extra for this movie is a commentary track featuring J. Michael Straczynski and John Iacovelli (production designer). There was a lot of information in the commentary that I didn't know, such as explanations for why Johnny Sekka (Dr. Kyle) and Tamlyn Tomita (Commander Takashima) disappeared after this movie and were not a part of the TV series. JMS also discussed why Delenn's original makeup made her look so androgynous - he had originally intended for her to be a male who morphed into a female at the end of Season 1. Those familiar with the history of the series will also recognize several attempts to avoid directly naming Deep Space Nine. For the record, I watched and enjoyed both shows, although I was a much more religious viewer of B5.

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