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Gaspode Has Our First Review Of BABYLON 5: THE LOST TALES!!

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“Babylon 5: The Lost Tales”, a direct-to-DVD movie (and rare directorial effort by “Babylon” mastermind J. Michael Straczynski), hits shelves July 31, and Warner Bros. is already issuing screeners. “If you’re not a B5 fan, I would not recommend this little slice of interstitial continuity, because you don’t have a hope of figuring out what’s going on here,” says our spy “Gaspode.” “But for fans of the series, I think you’ll like it a lot.” Here's "Gaspode":
About a decade and a half ago, somebody in Warners Publicity sent me the pilot for a new series that nobody had ever heard of, called Babylon 5. Never heard of it, but I popped the tape into my VCR for a look-see. The sound and music still hadn’t been added, the computer-generated FX were a bit wonky and some of the aliens looked like rejects from The Muppet Show. Believe it or not, I was hooked. Earlier this afternoon, I sat down to watch a DVD of Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, first in a possible series of direct-to-video stories that take place in those in-between years before ‘Sleeping in Light.’ Let me cut right to the chase here: if you’re not a B5 fan, I would not recommend this little slice of interstitial continuity, because you don’t have a hope of figuring out what’s going on here. But for fans of the series, I think you’ll like it a lot. Mild spoilers to follow. The initial volume, ‘Voices in the Dark’ is comprised of two stories that together run a bit more than an hour. In the first, Tracy Scoggins returns as now-Colonel Lochley who summons a priest (played by Alan Scarfe) to B5 in order to deal with a problem of a spiritual nature (which sorta makes sense, since he’s a priest and all). While both Scoggins and Scarfe do a decent job with the heavy lifting dialogue-wise, the pace is a bit too slow for my taste. While series creator Joe Straczynski (who wrote and directed TLT) has successfully explored religion before in episodes such as ‘The Parliament of Dreams,’ this one wasn’t quite up to that level. The second story begins on Minbar, with President Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) heading back to B5 for a big shindig celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Interstellar Alliance. Unfortunately his trip is interrupted first by a pesky ISN reporter (played by a very sexy Teryl Rothery) and more disturbingly, a visit by technomage the enigmatic technomage (Peter Woodward, who doesn’t look a day older in this DVD, leading me to believe he really may be a technomage). Invading Sheridan’s dream state, Galen shows him a disturbing vision of the future, as well as a major-league moral dilemma. I don’t want to give too much away, but think about the problem that Christopher Walken talked to Herbert Lom in The Dead Zone and substitute a young Centauri prince for Greg Stillson. Where the Lochley story lags a bit, Sheridan’s tale beautifully captures the spirit of what B5 was all about. There’s a nice performance by the always-dependable Boxleitner, and once again, Woodward gets all the best lines. And speaking of lines, there’s a wonderful reference to G’Kar and Franklin that will definitely raise a few tears from die-hard fans. Okay, that pretty much covers things from a story perspective. Let’s talk about some of the other positives and negatives. On the plus side, the production values are top-notch. I was a bit worried to hear that TLT was going to be shot almost entirely on green screen, but with a few minor glitches where the characters appear just a little bit too superimposed over the digital backgrounds, the HD image is crisp and clean. There’s a wonderful opening credit sequence, and the digital FX are also superb, notably a sequence that takes place in a futuristic New York (at least we know where most of the budget went) and a new version of Hyperspace called Quantum Space. Finally, Christopher Franke’s score is as good as it ever was on the original series, with the possible exception of a couple of beats in the first story that were just a bit too heavy-handed for my taste, but that’s a minor complaint. On the negative side, my biggest complaint is that TLT felt a bit deserted at times, particularly the Lochley story. One aspect of the original series that helped provide some of its texture was that the corridors were always filled with alien extras and station personnel. During the first half, I began to think the station had been evacuated, with maybe just half a dozen background extras, and the station is getting ready for a big tenth anniversary blowout? Maybe everybody was working in the B5 kitchen; you know how long it takes to get the spoo right. And while we’re on the subject, what’s the point of including a line that diplomats and ambassadors from a hundred different worlds will be on hand for the party when we don’t actually see any of them? In addition to the main story, there are a smattering of extras including interviews with JMS and cast members, a pair of memorials to Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs, a series of JMS interviews called ‘Fireside Chats,’ and The Straczynski Diaries, which are a lot more entertaining than they sound. The best is a tongue in cheek segment in which JMS tries to convince straight-faced Warners exec Greg Maday that they can save even more money by replacing the actors with sock puppets, using the real-life actor’s voices. Okay, there’s just something about Galen being played by a black sock holding a Sharpie for a staff that cracked me up. And now that I think about it, maybe those sock puppets could have solved the problem with extras that I mentioned earlier. So what’s the final verdict on Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, volume one? As a first effort in a new format, there are certainly a few minor flaws, but I imagine most of them will be ironed out in future volumes, and let’s hope this one sells well enough to justify them. With so many lost tales still to be told in the B5 universe, it will be interesting to see if Straczynski gets a chance to tell them. Submitted for your approval, Gaspode

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