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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Workout DVD #4: Babylon 5



I haven’t been very good about keeping this blog-series on Workout DVD’s going, but I have been pretty good about continuing my workouts. I don’t think I’ve lost much weight, but my pants keep falling down, so that’s a good sign, right? Either that, or I’ve got too many gadgets on my Bat-Utility Belt.

Anyway, the current series in my Workout queue is Babylon 5. Babylon 5 is notable for many things, including being the first American Sci-Fi series to be based on a multi-year story arc, something that had been for years a staple of British Sci-Fi. It also featured gorgeous computer generated special effects, a richly detailed universe, and colorful characters. But what is most notable for me is that it was one of the few TV shows that my wife and I could sit together and watch, and appreciate for completely different reasons.

For Mrs B, it was all about the characters. They just seemed so real, so well fleshed-out. Londo Molari, the Centauri Ambassador, (who for some reason really reminds me of my Aunt Boba), and his eternal feud with G’Kar, the Narn Ambassador, whose planet was occupied by the Centauri for many years. Jeffrey Sinclair, with his Kirk-like over-sincerity. And Susan Ivanova, as far as I can tell the first and only Jewish character in TV Science Fiction (certainly the first who was not a neurotic nerdy type). Actually, I’m pretty sure my wife has patterned her life after Ivanova ("Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova's recommendations. Ivanova is god.." etc).

I was of course hooked the first time I saw a flight of Star Furys pursue a group of pirates to their base in an asteroid field. Week after week I’d set the VCR and we’d sit on the couch and catch the latest chapter in the saga. The first season was fairly standard Sci-Fi, but the story arc became more prominent in the following seasons. So engrossed were we in this show that we actually signed up for cable when it moved to TNT.

The show ran from 1994-1998, but watching the DVDs now, one could swear that they were dealing with today’s events. Producer J. Michael Straczynski (whom I once met at a convention and spoke with at length) created a universe filled with real ethnic diversity and real political history. These alien races have believable motivations for their interactions and behavior. Upon this detailed map, he laid down a story that touched on all major events of modern history:

Ethnic bias and hatred
Empires and the occupied
Fragile alliances
The moral cowardice of nations
The rise of totalitarianism and the failure of appeasement
The media as propaganda tools

The courage needed to stand up and do what’s right, not because it’s popular, not because it’s politically expedient, but because the future is at stake

All of these themes are explored using the characters that we come to know and love, or despise, throughout the early episodes, and unlike recent fare which has descended to the liberal spectre of moral relativism, the actions of our heroes and villains actually makes sense. From their point of view. He doesn’t trivialize ethnic rivalries. He recognizes that hundreds of years of history and bloodshed doesn’t go away with a handshake and good wishes. And he has the courage to say that, yes, some things are just BAD. And they need to be fought.

So I highly recommend this series for anyone who needs five seasons of TV to keep them on an exercise bike. And for everyone else, too.

14 comments:

Soccer Dad said...

I found Babylon 5 to be an acquired taste. Once I got used to it, I found it compelling. Alas my wife never quite found it that way.

I still find it ironic that the actress who played Ivanova was Claudia Christian!

I remember an episode when Tomalak, I mean, G'kar was supposed to assassinate the Centaurian leader. He was contemplating that his life had 2 paths at that point: death or jail. Much as I like Star Trek in its pre-Voyager incarnations, I couldn't think of a Star Trek character thinking such thoughts.

BTW Straczynski has, in his most current career, has descended into the depths of liberal moral relativism. (or however you put it.)

PsychoToddler said...

Interesting. I didn't realize he was penning comics now.

Nevertheless, I don't think you could come away from Babylon 5 thinking he was overly liberal or an America-basher.

He made that Chamberlein guy (who gave us "peace in our time" with the Centauri) into a total idiot, he blasted the non-aligned worlds for refusing to press the attack against the shadows and finish the job, and made it a point to say that if you don't completely destroy evil, it will come back.

That's very much against what the liberals want you to think, that if you only understand evil, they won't seem that bad.

On the other hand, one of the more nepharious minor bad guys was an Israeli...

Soccer Dad said...

When I first saw what Hube wrote about Straczynski, I was surprised. I agree that I saw no sign of that in B5.

Doctor Bean said...

hmmmm.... perhaps after we finish the star trek (original series) episodes, we'll rent this next.

PsychoToddler said...

What?! You've never watched Babylon 5? And to think, I once called you friend.

BTW don't forget to DVR the new "remastered" Star Trek episodes with the updated special effects. Your kids will thank you.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

funny, i always thought JMS was fairly liberal. in other words, he thinks that it's important to care about people.

4708 said...

Babylon 5 comes highly recommended by yours truly. Many thanks to my son for getting me addicted. :)

Shira Salamone said...

"Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova's recommendations. Ivanova is god.." You forgot to mention the end of the scene: Ivanova looks "heavenward" (insofar as anyone standing in a space station can be said to look heavenward) and says, "Sorry." Priceless. :)

I'm with your wife on this one: The characters were so real.

And the female officers and troops didn't go waltzing around the space station in skin-tight cat suits and/or 4-inch-high heels while they were on duty, either. They wore lace-up oxfords. Seriously, can you imagine Seven of Nine making a beeline for the nearest Star Fury? She'd have fallen on flat on her face halfway down the corridor. For the most part, the women of B5 were dressed like human beings, not "eye candy." This may have been a disappointment to some of the male viewers, but it was a pleasant change of pace for at least this particular fed-up female.

Doctor Bean said...

I cought some of it when it was TV, but not since then.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

B5 was truly a great series. When I got married, my wife wasn't really interested in Sci Fi (a flaw I've since corrected, thank you). I introduced her first to TNG, then DS9 (which I think was superior to TNG in many ways), and then to B5. She couldn't get enough! She was a Sociology Major, and this series was like candy to her. We still talk about it often and are thinking about revisiting the series again.

I didn't see this mentioned, but there is a new DVD due out at the end of this month: B5: The Lost Tales...Netflix still doesn't have it in their database, but hopefully it'll show up soon.

Dead - drip - Dead - drip - Dead - drip - DEAD! - drip...

I think this was one of the most powerful scenes in the entire series (V'Hameiven Yavin). RIP, Andreas Katsulas.

PsychoToddler said...

I think what you can say about JMS (Straczynski, as those in the "know" refer to him) is that he has consistently been against totalitarianism, whether domestic or abroad.

He was not afraid to go up against Earthgov when an Orwellian-like state was being imposed. If you want to read into this that he's a liberal, go right ahead.

But he is also not afraid to go to war when the circumstances justify it. And he blasts those who prefer to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass on its own, or let others do the work for them. This seems more in line with what we would consider the Republican POV.

I dunno. For me this seems like a pretty well balanced approach to politics.

What I see as the problem with liberals is that they don't really understand the parallels. Look at Earth in the B5 universe and look at our current administration. It is very easy to see the differences. We have no "Night Watch", no Psi Corp, no state of Martial Law. Due process and free press remain very much intact in the USA, and in Israel, for that matter.

AKO: welcome to the blog! Just about any of G'Kar's scenes are powerful, and that was amongst the most. I recently watched the end of season 4, and I found Ivanova's speech about Marcus and unrequited love to be especially poinant.

There's plenty of clunky dialog, to be sure, but there are some really amazing scenes in the series.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

why should it have to be all about earthgov and nightwatch?

like i said, it's about people. people matter.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

maybe we should stop talking about soul-sucking politics and the labels that go along with it before we start *really* insulting people.

B5 = good.

PsychoToddler said...

It's about people, yes, but also about the effects individual people can have on history.

I just finished watching "the deconstruction of falling stars" and found it very interesting how historians put their own spin on events.