Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Babylon 5: The Road Home

Josh Reviews Babylon 5: The Road Home

I’m a big fan of Babylon 5! While I always was more of a Star Trek fan, and I preferred Deep Space Nine over B5 in the battle of the nineties sci-fi shows set on space stations, I have tremendous respect and affection for what J. Michael Straczynski created with Babylon 5.  His “novel for television” approach was incredibly influential on what all TV looks like these days.  And his achievement of writing almost every single episode of Babylon 5’s five seasons (of generally 24 episodes per season) will likely never be matched.  The cast was strong, the visuals and designs were memorable, the stories were epic. Babylon 5 was a great show!

Sadly, none of the attempts to revive/extend the series have succeeded.  After B5 ended, it was followed by the spin-off Crusade, but that show was treated horribly by the network, aired out of order, and cancelled after a half-season.  After B5 reruns were successful on the Sci-Fi Channel, they made a TV movie in 2002 called Legend of the Rangers, but that backdoor-pilot never went to series.  A few years later, in 2007, Mr. Straczynski oversaw the direct-to-DVD movie Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, which was supposed to be the start of an anthology series of short stories set across the B5 universe, but that never went beyond that first installment.

And now, to my delight and amazement, B5 has returned with a new animated movie, Babylon 5: The Road Home!  This is not a reboot, but a new story set in the pre-established B5 universe, featuring all of the surviving main cast-members!

Set after the events of the B5 TV show, this film begins on the day that John Sheridan leaves Babylon 5 to become president of the new Interstellar Alliance.  But Sheridan finds himself getting swept through time, jumping back and forth across the events of his life and the series, and even into alternate worlds.

I really enjoyed this new B5 adventure!  It was a pleasure to be back in this world again, and to spend time with these characters.

This is not aimed at newbies.  While I think a newcomer could understand and enjoy this movie, and perhaps be curious enough to then dive into the original show to learn more about these characters, to my mind this movie is a love-letter to the long-time B5 fans.

Mr. Straczynski’s script cleverly brings us across the B5 universe and finds ways to incorporate pretty much every major character from the show, and several minor ones as well!

It was a pleasure to hear that classic B5 theme music again as the opening credits played, and it was even more joyful to hear the voices of all the surviving B5 cast-members again: Bruce Boxleitner as Sheridan, Claudia Christian as Ivanova, Peter Jurasik as Londo, Tracy Scoggins as Lochley, Bill Mumy as Lennier, and Patricia Tallman as Lyta.

At the same time, it’s sad to realize how many of the show’s original cast are no longer with us.  The movie’s end credits include a lovely tribute ti the memories of: Richard Biggs (who played Dr. Franklin), Tim Choate (who played Zathras), Jeff Conaway (who played Zak), Jerry Doyle (who played Garibaldi), Mira Furlan (who played Delenn), Stephen Furst (who played Vir), Andreas Katsulas (who played G’Kar), and Michael O’Hare (who played Sinclair).

Mr. Straczynski, with the agreement of the surviving cast-members, made the choice to recast all of those roles for this film,  I am sure that was a difficult choice, but I believe it was the correct one.  It is a gift to the fans to allow these beloved characters to live on.  And I am impressed by the new voice actors they’ve assembled.  Some sound exactly like the original actors, while others bring a slightly different spin to their role, but they all felt “right” to me.  Bravo to this new team of actors.

The animation is terrific, smooth and crisp.  More importantly, they have done a superlative job of capturing the look and feel of the B5 universe!  The station itself, the Starfuries, the ships and costumes and props, all look pretty much perfect!  From the cities on Minbar to the innards of the Great Machine on Epsilon Three, every location looked exactly the way it should.

They’ve also done a nice job of capturing the look of the characters.  The designs are simplified for animation, of course, but for the most part they’ve succeeded in capturing the look of the original actors. Garibaldi and G’Kar look particularly great.  They had a little more trouble with the women; I wasn’t quite sold on the look of Lyta and Ivanova, and Lochley wasn’t easily recognizable.  (They also missed a bit with Zak. Between the voice and the look of his face, they didn’t quite capture this character. I kept asking myself why we were spending so long watching this one random pilot!  I also wish the new voice of Sinclair didn’t sound so similar to Bruce Boxleitner as Sheridan.)

The time-travel story was fun, and a great way to fit lots of B5 characters and locations into this one story.  I do wish they’d either just stuck with time-travel within the main B5 timeline, or various alternate-universes.  Mixing and matching between the two diluted the story, for me; it felt a little too random.

As usual with B5, the comedy mixed into the drama was hit and miss for me. I laughed at the Lost in Space joke, but I rolled my eyes at some of the other bits.

Other thoughts:

* It was classic JMS to undercut the dramatic opening credits with that with bit about socks.
* I liked seeing the Icarus and Zhadum. That was a fun surprise. (Wasn’t that Sheridan’s wife on the coms? I guess they didn’t have time to get into that particular plot point in this film.)
*Good action during the Shadow attack on B5! That was a great sequence.
* Boy did it make me happy to see that classic B5 shot of the Starfuries launching!
* Sheridan conveniently sticks around B5 during the Shadow attack a lot longer than anywhere else.  Also, that massive Shadow attack doesn’t trigger enough agitation to jump him sooner??
* I loved the choice of using G’Kar as voice of the universe at the galactic rim.

My only real complaint about this film was that I thought the ending was very strange.  SPOILERS in the next paragraph, so stop here if you don’t want to know.

Still with me?  OK, I was very surprised that we didn’t get an epilogue with Sheriden and Delenn, back home after this crazy adventure.  That was somewhat unsatisfying to me.  Even weirder was the choice to spend the final minutes of the movie in the alternate universe B5. I loved that sequence, giving us little moments with all of the B5 characters.  That was cool!  Nostalgic and fun!  But what are we to make of this?  Are Ivanova’s final lines meant to suggest that future animated stories — or maybe the long-rumored live-action reboot — will be spent in this alternate universe?  Was this a goodbye to the main B5 timeline??

I am not opposed to a B5 reboot.  I’d love to see more stories in this universe, and the original B5 was beset with so many problems of budget, actors leaving, lack of network support, etc., that I’d love to see JMS given another go at this universe.  With modern-day visual effects, that could be very special!

I’d also happily be on board with more animated adventures like this one!  Maybe animation is the best vehicle to realize JMS’s expansive vision for this sci-fi universe.

Whatever happens next, The Road Home was a delightful return to Babylon 5. After so many years of hoping for more B5, I am glad this exists!!

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