This is one of the most interesting ideas that I have seen for a DVD boxed set in some time. Just as there were five seasons of Babylon 5, there were five made for TV movies created as well. Each was essentially a super-episode that was based on the series, but not necessarily a vital part of the story arc of the overall program. This DVD set includes all five of these bonus films.
Included in this collection is the feature-length pilot, as well as a prequel. The other three films have no added agend…, which I believe actually helps them along. One of the benefits of being attached to a television series is that much of the introductory work is done before the movie begins, so the writers are free to jump right in to the story. Of course, this can also be a problem when dealing with viewers that may not be knowledgeable of the series. These films will not bring in any new fans, as the barriers to entry are just too great.
It is nice to see the show evolve through these films. Where in the first installment the acting is horribly wooden and the jokes are deplorable, by the time you get to the final film, the acting is drastically improved, and the jokes are… well… still quite bad. Oh well. If the series was really good, it wouldn’t have been on TNT.
Truth be told, I was not impressed with these films in the least. If Star Trek is the popular kid in the back of the Sci-Fi school bus, Babylon 5 is sitting in the front, trying to discuss politics with the bus driver. There are any number of space-based shows that are better than this one. This series is just not going to be attractive to anyone except for the most hardcore science fiction fan.
Much like the quality of the films as a whole, the audio quality gets gradually better with each film. The first one features a truly bad soundtrack, with very little ambient noise and even some vocal distortion at higher registers. As the films get newer, however, the audio stretches its wings somewhat. By the time the viewer gets to the final movie, the audio quality isn’t even a factor anymore. It’s still not mixed like a Hollywood action film, but it is certainly up to a quality level that is acceptable for films such as these.
As goes the audio, so goes the video. The first film is definitely the sad kid in the bunch, as it is the only one with a full screen presentation. The picture is grainy, there are some focus problems, and the lighting is atrocious. As the films get newer, however, the picture gets better. All of the remaining films are in a widescreen format, which really lends an air of professionalism to the productions. By the time the viewer reaches the final film, the picture quality has finally reached the levels present on many television shows today, such as The Soprano’s.
One marginal complaint that I have is with regards to the horrible computer animation that is used for the exteriors on the show. I understand the need to save money on expensive effects, but I have always felt that if a shot is not worth doing properly, then it shouldn’t be done at all. These films are absolutely filled with bad, bad computer animation of spaceships and space stations. I appreciate the fact that the producers are trying to expand the world, but this is not the way to do it. Other shows, such as Firefly and Star Trek do fine without extensive exteriors. I just wish that the same beliefs held true with these productions.
There are only a few special features included in this set, but they are used to good effect. The biggest extra here is the commentary track that accompanies each film. Luckily for the viewer, this is not the standard chat track that seems to show up so often these days, where the commentators spend most of their time in silence. The filmmakers are full if information, and they have no problem sharing it with the viewer. I was thoroughly impressed with the knowledge of those that worked on this show. So much so, in fact, that I felt that the show should have been much better than it actually was. This brilliant team really underachieved with this program and the accompanying films.
Other special features include a brief introduction to each film, which serves as a mini-featurette on the background of the piece, as well as a few behind-the-scenes quips. Finally, there is a nine minute featurette included with the final film that discusses the challenges presented with producing a film that occurs in the future. All in all, it’s a pretty respectable collection of extras.
This movie set has a little bit of everything. Some of the audio quality is horrid, and some of it is clear. Some of the video quality is awful, and some of it is quite good. Acting ranges from poor to marginal. Storylines run the gamut from snooze-fests to mildly intriguing. The truth is, it’s hard to make a cohesive set out of five different made for TV films, even if they are about the same characters.
What has been given to the public is a mixed bag. If you are a fan of the show, this set will probably entertain you a great deal. However, these films are hardly self-contained. What has always been nice about the Star Trek films is the fact that, while it helps, you don’t have to have a lot of pre-existing knowledge of the show before you can enjoy the films. That is not the case here. This is a collection of films for fanboys. If this is you, then enjoy. If not, it’s probably best to steer your starship clear of this release.
Special Features List