Nothing encapsulates the power
of the epic science fiction series Babylon 5 better than its voiceover
for the credits. In Season 3 it is Commander Ivanova who speaks: "The
Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed. But in the Year
of the Shadow War, it became something greater: our last, best hope... for
Setting the traditional
episodic format of television science fiction on its head, the five-year
continuous story arc of Babylon 5 built up a fascinating and captivating
story through Season 1 and Season 2. The Narn and Centauri at each others'
throats... the lurking danger of the Shadows... the growing darkness in the
Earth government... the unrest on the Mars colony... all these elements have
been building up and sending off sparks. The question has been, what is going
to blow first? It's for good reason that the season as a whole is titled
"Point of No Return." There is no reset button on Babylon 5...
and actions taken in the past are having the most dramatic of consequences.
Season 3 packs the most punch
of any season of Babylon 5 so far... and that's saying a lot, given the
series' strong start in Season 1 and
escalating drama and tension in Season 2. In Season
3, several story lines come to the forefront, with events that have been
picking up steam now coming to an explosive level. The political conflict back
on Earth has resulted in increasing social repression even on the station, as
we see in the appearance of the Night Watch organization; a string of tense
episodes like "Messages from Earth," "Point of No Return,"
and "Severed Dreams" shift that story line into high gear. At the
same time, the war with the Shadows goes from being a vaguely disturbing threat
to a terrifying reality, in episodes like "Interludes and
Examinations," the two-part "War Without End" that picks up on
certain mysterious events from Season 1, and, of course, the season finale
"Shadow Dancing" and "Z'ha'dum." It's a clear sign that
Straczynski's techniques of foreshadowing and careful buildup are effective,
when just the title of the final episode is chilling...
The focus may be on the Shadows
and the troubles on Earth, but in the background, other storylines continue to
develop. The Narn-Centauri war continues to build up pressure, with late-season
episodes like "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place" leaving us
eager for Season 4. The continuing thread concerning the telepaths also finds
its place into Season 3's episodes; in addition to the return of Lyta
Alexander, we also see Psi Cop Bester (Walter Koenig) once again.
For this season, all 22
episodes were written by series creator
J. Michael Straczynski: with so many plot threads being developed, along
with others being foreshadowed for the future, this was the only way to manage
all the material properly. Given the impressively high quality of the episodes
throughout Season 3, this was an excellent decision on the part of the series
Of course, not every single
episode is up to Babylon 5's high standard: Season 3 does include
"Grey 17 Is Missing," with a lamentable monster called a Zarg making
an appearance. Straczynski himself has commented (as quoted in the Lurker's Guide to B5) that
"I just have this constant desire to go to everyone's house and personally
apologize..." Once you see the Zarg, you'll see why. But even in this
episode, the other storyline interwoven with the Zarg storyline is handled
satisfactorily, and as a whole it merely serves to underline just how good the
rest of the episodes are.
On a more individual level, Babylon
5 continues to develop its characters very effectively: these are not
static personalities, but real, changing people. I've always considered the duo
of the Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and his nemesis, the
Narn ambassador G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) as being the characters with perhaps the
most depth in the series, and this is borne out as we see them each traveling
his (perhaps foreordained) path. Another instance of character development is
Dr. Franklin; while earlier seasons hinted at tensions beneath his professional
demeanor, it's here that those tensions finally come to the boiling point, as
we see in episodes like "Walkabout." The cast of "main
characters" is slightly fluid, with various figures naturally moving into
the limelight or out of it as the overall story arcs dictate: in Season 3, the
characters of Zack Allen, the down-to-earth security officer, and Mr. Morden,
the very shady "associate" of Ambassador Mollari, are brought more
into the action. In Season 3, we are also introduced to several new characters
who will prove to be important contributors to the story as it develops: Lyta
Alexander (Patricia Tallman), who is not exactly new (having appeared in the
pilot), and one of my favorite secondary characters, Marcus Cole (Jason
Season 3's powerful storylines
draw extensively on the material presented in the first two seasons, both in
plot and in character development, so for maximum enjoyment, viewers who are
new to Babylon 5 should start with Season 1 or at most Season 2. But
whatever you do, don't miss out completely! Babylon 5 is the cream of
the crop of science fiction television. If you thought Season 2 was exciting...
Season 3 is even better.
Babylon 5: Season 3 is
packaged in the same stylish and generally user-friendly manner as the previous
two seasons. The six DVDs in the set are packaged in a "book" whose
hard plastic pages hold each disc, with the "book" fitting inside a glossy
(and iridescent) paper slipcase. It's similar to the packaging of Star Trek:
Deep Space Nine, except that the spine of the "book" is paper
rather than plastic, which does leave the B5 set open to wear and tear
as the pages are turned. I do appreciate the compact packaging, which looks
nice and takes up a surprisingly small amount of shelf space.
I am pleased to report that Babylon
5: Season 3 looks better than either of the preceding seasons; it doesn't
reach the level of perfection that, as a fan, I'd ideally like to see, but it's
good enough that I can sit back and enjoy it with no qualms. As with Seasons 1
and 2, all of Season 3's episodes are presented in anamorphically-enhanced
1.85:1 widescreen. The episodes were filmed with this aspect ratio in mind, so
viewers of the DVD are seeing a more complete image than they saw in B5's
original television broadcast (except for viewers who saw it on the Science
Fiction Channel's widescreen broadcast).
It looks like Warner stepped in
to perform the print restoration and cleaning that was lacking in the previous
seasons. As far as I could tell, the image is completely free of print flaws:
no scratches, blobs, dirt, lines, or any other distracting flaws. Even by
itself, this is a notable improvement and one that I'm very happy to see. The
computer-generated images (CGI) also look better on the whole. Scenes where CGI
and live-action shots are combined, or follow one after another, show some
blockiness but not as noticeably as before. The CGI-only shots, such as the
station itself and spacecraft, also look better: sharper and brighter, with
fewer flickering effects.
That's not to say that
everything is as good as it could be. The image overall does show a substantial
amount of noise and a touch of grain, especially in dimly lit shots, which of
course reduces the amount of fine detail in the image. Edge enhancement is
present, but kept within acceptable limits, and isn't as much of an issue as
All in all, Season 3's improved
image quality is an extremely positive note for Babylon 5 and fans
should breath a sigh of relief.
As with the earlier seasons, Babylon
5: Season 3 is presented in a nice Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. There's nothing to
really knock you off your feet, so to speak, but the sound quality is
excellent, with clear dialogue and a nice balance of music, voices, and
effects. Some surround effects are used, which does add to the overall
immersiveness of the viewing experience.
Special features can be found
on discs 1, 3, 4, and 6 of the set.
Of most note are audio
commentary tracks for three of the episodes: on disc 3, "Severed
Dreams" has a commentary from series creator J. Michael Straczynski; on
disc 4, "Interludes and Examinations" has a commentary from cast
members Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry Doyle, Richard Biggs, and Ed Wasser; and the
season finale, "Z'ha'dum," has a commentary from Straczynski.
Several interesting featurettes
are also included. Disc 1 has a six-minute introduction to the season from
Straczynski and others. Disc 6 has two short pieces on alien makeup, with
comments from makeup effects artist John Vulich and others: "Behind the
Masks: Creating the Aliens of Babylon 5" (eight minutes) and
"Building a Better Narn" (seven minutes). "Designing Tomorrow:
The Look of Babylon 5" is a ten-minute piece n the production and
art design of the show, again featuring interviews with various artists and
crew. These are interesting pieces that are sure to appeal to both long-time
and new fans of the show.
Lastly, "The Universe of Babylon
5" is a section that offers text-based information on various aspects
of the show's setting and back story: "Personnel Files," "Shadow
Dossier," and "Data Files." Because of potential spoilers, these
should not be looked at before you see all the episodes... and after you have
seen all the episodes, there's not much point to reading this section.
Menus are clear and easy to
Babylon 5: Season 3
showcases the award-winning, ground-breaking science fiction series at the height
of its powers, with creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski juggling a
complex assortment of plots and characters, developing seeds that were planted
in earlier seasons, and setting the stage for even more in the next season...
all without missing a beat. Given that Warner has done a significantly better
job for the video transfer, it's with no reservations whatsoever that I give Babylon
5: Season 3 DVDTalk's highest recommendation.