US science fiction series based on a space station.
110 episodes of 60 minute duration. TNT. 1993-98.
"...Humans and aliens wrapped in 2,500,000 tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place but it's our last, best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5."
The only US science fiction series in over three decades to offer a serious challenge to Paramount's mighty Star Trek juggernaut, veteran writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski's creation is a richly textured, grandly sweeping televisual epic novel.
Premiering with the pilot episode, "The Gathering" on the TNT in the US on February 1993, the series chronicles the galaxy threatening events arising from the reawakening of a mysterious and near all-powerful alien race known only as "The Shadows" on the human and alien inhabitants of the last of the great Babylon stations, Babylon 5. The five-mile-long space station occupies a strategic location deep in neutral space, serving as a way station and neutral meeting place for the numerous known civilised races of the galaxy. Initially, Babylon 5 functions as host to the delicate talks aimed at establishing lasting peace and stability to a galaxy which has endured centuries of violent conflict between the five major intergalactic powers: the Earth Alliance, the Minbari Federation, the Narn Regime, the Centauri Republic and the cryptic, vastly powerful and unknowably old, Vorlon Empire. Overseeing this volatile melting pot in the beginning is Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, (accomplished Broadway actor Michael O'Hare, who was replaced from season two onwards by Bruce Boxleitner, as Captain John Sheridan, following O'Hare's decision to return to the theatre), ex fighter pilot and hero of the Earth/Minbari war, and a man with an unsuspected, but pivotal role to play in the coming conflict.
Given the similarities in basic formats, it was initially tempting for unfair comparisons to be drawn between Babylon 5 and the various Trek incarnations, but Straczynski maintained from the outset that the genesis and development of his ambitious creation dated as far back as 1988, and as the series progressed, it became increasingly clear that his dark vision of a future galactic turmoil with its obviously structured beginning, middle and end, full of intrigue, betrayal, heroism and sacrifice, is indeed, a cohesive pre-planned whole. Straczynski has openly admitted more than once that his main inspiration of Babylon 5 was Tolkein's seminal fantasy classic "The Lord of the Rings", and it becomes increasingly apparent to the viewers as the events of the five-year story arc unfold. But arguably the series greatest strength lies in the complex, mature and wholly believable evolution of its central characters, especially the key alien figures. From the outset, the series has been fortunate to have had a large ensemble cast of talented actors portraying its core characters. Noted European classical actress Mira Furlan, imbued the character of Minbari ambassador, Delenn with a dignified gentleness and sensitivity which masked a resolutely strong inner core, while former stand-up comedian turned character actor, Peter Jurasik, effortlessly transformed Centauri ambassador London Mollari from a creature of comic bluster into a dark and tragic figure cursed to rule the remnants of a crushed empire on a doomed world. But perhaps the most impressive achievement, performance wise, belongs to noted film and theatre character actor, Andreas Katsulas (already familiar to genre fans for his recurring guest spot on 'ST:TNG' as the devious Romulan commander, Tomalak) as reptilian Narn ambassador, G'Kar. Acting behind heavy prosthetic make-up, Katsulas assayed a subtle, complex and compelling performance, which elevated his character from brutal villain to charismatic religious figure by the close of the series five year run.
Offering impressively realised CGI effects, and an overall grandeur which helped off-set some, in places, questionable lapses in the scripting department, 'Babylon 5' went on at the close of its run to spawn three well received TV Movies, a short-lived spin off series 'Crusade', and a massively successful merchandising machine.
Ambitious, complex, intelligent and truly epic in sweep, 'Babylon 5' proved beyond doubt that there was something more to US television science-fiction than the familiar universe of Roddenberry and Berman's ageing Trek franchise, and in the process, also succeeded in enthralling and entertaining millions of television viewers the world over.
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