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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Babylon 5 - The Movie Collection
Babylon 5 - The Movie Collection
Warner Bros. // Unrated // August 17, 2004
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted September 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

I'm a huge fan of Babylon 5. The series' groundbreaking style of storytelling, featuring complex story arcs unfolding across multiple seasons, was ideally suited to the exciting science-fiction plots that series creator J. Michael Straczynski dreamed up. The Narn-Centauri conflict. The Shadow War. The Earth civil war. The major alien races were complex and well-developed, with clearly different cultures and attitudes, and even a great deal of internal variation. The individual characters were similarly well-rounded, with their own agendas and their own (often very different) ideas of what was right and wrong... and because of the continuing story arcs, what happened to the characters in each episode actually mattered.

If you've glanced at the rating and recommendation I've given for Babylon 5: The Movie Collection, you may be wondering why, given the praise I've just lavished on the show, this set gets such low marks. Let me tell you, I didn't expect it either, until I'd finished watching all five TV-movies included here. The quality starts high, with the excellent "The Gathering" and "In the Beginning," but it swiftly heads downward with the remaining three films. Let's take a look at each one.

The Gathering

Babylon 5's 90-minute pilot episode is the star of the set. Although the first episode of Season 1 starts off the show perfectly well on its own, "The Gathering" is a great way to start B5 off with a bang. For one thing, its storyline, involving an assassination attempt on the Vorlon Ambassador while on B5, will become essential to other parts of the larger story arc. For another, it's just an extremely well-told story, with an intriguing plot, plenty of mysterious elements, and a cast of fascinating characters whom we want to find out more about. We know that there are layers upon layers of intrigue here, tantalizing us with the stories that remain to be told... In short, "The Gathering" is very much in the storytelling style of B5's first four seasons, which means it's great fun.

In the Beginning

While "The Gathering" sets the stage for the events that would take place during B5's five-year story arc, "In the Beginning" takes us further back to a time before the Babylon stations were even built... when the devastating Earth-Minbari war was not yet on the horizon. The film tells a fascinating story of the "early days" while also revealing fascinating hidden aspects to events that we've already heard about in the B5 episodes... like the importance of Sinclair to the Minbari, or the role that the Centauri played in the Earth-Minbari war. It's nicely done, both in the main story and in the frame story, where Londo narrates the events that we see.

This movie was made after the fourth season of B5, and should under no circumstances be watched until you've seen those episodes, because a great many things are revealed in "In the Beginning" that would spoil the mysteries of the earlier seasons.

"The Gathering" and "In the Beginning" are available in a single-disc release, as well as in the Movie Collection. That's a very good thing, since while the first two films are worth owning, the last three are not.


And now we get to the weaker movies. The best thing I can say about "Thirdspace" is that it's forgettable. The premise of the story, which is set between the fourth and fifth seasons, is that B5 discovers an ancient alien artifact that seems to be a gateway into a realm beyond hyperspace: "thirdspace." Things start going haywire, though, when the artifact begins to telepathically affect people on B5; it seems to be nastier than anyone expected. Chaos ensues. Oh my, will B5 be destroyed, or will the crew manage to save it at the last minute? The plot is hokey, contrived, and padded, and there's utterly no dramatic tension here, despite valiant attempts to create it; the film just strikes all the wrong notes, and in the end it's just silly and weak.

The River of Souls

Taking place approximately concurrently with the fifth season, "The River of Souls" is, like "Thirdspace," also silly and weak. An archaeologist working for Edgars Industries steals a mysterious artifact that turns out to belong to the Soul Hunters; as the story develops, it turns out that the souls inside this globe are angry at their imprisonment and eager to get revenge, even if it means destroying the station and everyone on it. Martin Sheen does an interesting turn as the central Soul Hunter character, but really, there's nothing that can save "The River of Souls" from being a pretentious, silly mess. Various attempts at humor, centered around the sub-plot of a holographic brothel on the station, fall flat; B5 has never handled "light" material well in the past, and it certainly doesn't do so now. But even the dramatic material is poorly handled, in large part due to a lousy script that includes a lot of unnecessary expository padding.

A Call to Arms

If "Thirdspace" and "The River of Souls" are forgettable, "A Call to Arms" is not. Unfortunately. The reason it's memorable is because it's actively awful. In fact, it's so flat-out bad that after I finished watching it, I went back and double-checked the credits, thinking that maybe Straczynski had not been involved with it. (No, he was responsible for this mess.) Set several years after the end of Season 5, "A Call to Arms" has President Sheridan getting a dream vision that reveals that the allies of the Shadows are about to attack Earth... and of course, he's the only one who can stop them. (The end is clearly a set-up for the television series featuring the Rangers.) The movie really doesn't feel like B5 at all: it feels like the setting and characters were handed over to someone else to do a story with... someone who had no idea what B5 was about, or what its strengths were. There is absolutely no redeeming value to this film whatsoever. The plot is weak to begin with, but it's also full of holes. The battle tactics are childishly simplistic. The characters don't act like themselves. And the script is, in truth, beyond bad.

There's one thing that "Thirdspace," "The River of Souls," and "A Call to Arms" have in common (other than weak plots and lame writing): crappy special effects. I'm actually not referring to the transfer here, but to the quality of the special effects themselves, and to the cinematography of the special-effects scenes. In the original series and in the first two films, all the space battle sequences are truly impressive and exciting to watch. In contrast, the scenes with ships in combat in the third movies, especially "A Call to Arms," are decidedly lackluster: confusing, poorly done, and uninteresting to watch. Considering that Straczynski and company would presumably have had more, rather than less, time to make these shots, compared to the original series, their poor quality is mystifying.


Babylon 5: The Movie Collection is a five-DVD set, with one disc for each film. It's packaged in the same style as the season sets: in a "book" with hard plastic pages, fitting into a glossy paperboard slipcase. An insert booklet with an introduction by Straczynski and chapter information on each film is included.


"The Gathering" is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio; all the other films appear in their original widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and are anamorphically enhanced.

Overall, the image quality ranges from passable to reasonably good. The prints appear to be in good condition, with only a few flaws making their way into the image; in this way, all the films look better than the first season of B5. Noise and grain are persistent in darker scenes throughout the films, especially in "The Gathering"; likewise, a tendency for the image to be decidedly soft and fuzzy in special-effects or long-distance shots is common to all the films.

I did a side-by-side comparison of "The Gathering" and "In the Beginning" between this release and their release in the single-disc version, and as far as I can tell, they're the same video transfer.


All five films are presented with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, which means that "The Gathering" and "In the Beginning" get an upgrade from the Dolby 2.0 track in the earlier release. For the first two films, a comparison of the two versions indicates that the 5.1 soundtrack does provide a better audio experience, but not overwhelmingly so. There's more of an immersive quality to the sound, and possibly a touch more depth to the overall sound, but it's not a significant leap.

For the three more recent films, the soundtrack offers a satisfactory but not really exceptional listening experience. The dialogue and effects are usually clear and crisp, but the sound mix doesn't really heighten the "big" sequences like the space battles as much as it could have. (Then again, those sequences were fairly lame to begin with.) The music is balanced reasonably well, but especially in the last film, it's not the same rousing B5 score from the series.


The Movie Collection has been released with a reasonable set of extras, as each film has a short introduction from J. Michael Straczynski and others involved with the film, as well as a commentary track. Each introduction runs about four minutes, and basically touches on general issues regarding the inspiration for, and making of, that movie. Although they're described as introductions, I'd suggest that viewers watch them after the fact, to avoid any potential spoilers.

The commentaries are as follows:

"The Gathering": J. Michael Straczynski and production designer John Iacovelli.

"In the Beginning": Straczynski and director Michael Vejar.

"Thirdspace": director Jesús Salvador Treviño and actors Bruce Boxleitner, Jeff Conaway, Stephen Furst, and Patricia Tallman.

"River of Souls": Straczynski, director Janet Greek, and actor Tracy Scoggins.

"A Call to Arms": Straczynski and director Michael Vejar.

Lastly, there's also an 8-minute featurette on the final DVD, called "Babylon 5: Creating the Future." Straczynski and others involved with the series discuss the creative issues involved with creating a realistic future. It's mildly interesting but doesn't go that much in depth.

Final thoughts

The first two Babylon 5 movies, "The Gathering" and "In the Beginning," are great stuff, and should be included in the collection of any B5 fan. That's not in question. However, the three other movies included in this set ("Thirdspace," "The River of Souls," and "A Call to Arms") range from forgettable at best to actively awful at worst. I cannot recommend even wasting your time, let alone your money, on those three films.

The fact that "The Gathering" and "In the Beginning" have new 5.1 soundtracks as well as commentary tracks makes the Movie Collection at least a little bit appealing for B5 fans; on the other hand, I'm not sure it's worth paying for the dead weight of the other three films in order to get the upgrade. If you're really dying to hear the commentaries for the first two films, maybe it's worth checking out the Movie Collection.

If you're indifferent to the commentaries, I'd suggest that you skip the Movie Collection and buy the single-disc release that contains "The Gathering" and "In the Beginning" instead. That way you'll be able to get the two good movies and you won't waste either your money or your viewing time on the three duds. With the special features in mind, the Movie Collection squeaks by with a grudging "rent it" that's really a "skip it" for most viewers.

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