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Babylon 5 is an American space opera television series created by writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski, under the Babylonian Productions label, in association with Straczynski's Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. Domestic Television. After the successful airing of a test pilot movie on February 22, 1993, Babylon 5: The Gathering, in May 1993 Warner Bros. commissioned the series for production as part of its Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN).[1] The show premiered in the US on January 26, 1994, and ran for five seasons.

Babylon 5
Season 4 poster
Season 4 poster
Genre
Created byJ. Michael Straczynski
Starring
Composer(s)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes110 (+ 6 TV films) (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Cinematography
  • John C. Flinn III
    (102 episodes, 1994–1998)
  • Fred V. Murphy
    (8 episodes, 1995–1998)
Running time43 minutes
Production company(s)Babylonian Productions, Inc.
Synthetic Worlds, Ltd.
(pilot)
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
DistributorWarner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
(1993-1997)
(seasons 1-4)
Warner Bros. Domestic Pay-TV, Cable & Network Features Distribution
(1998-1999)
(season 5)
Release
Original network
Picture format
Audio formatDolby Surround 2.0
Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD)
Original releaseFebruary 22, 1993 (1993-02-22) –
November 25, 1998 (1998-11-25)
Chronology
Preceded byBabylon 5: The Gathering
Followed byCrusade (TV series)
Related showsThe Legend of the Rangers
The Lost Tales
External links
Website

Unusually for the time, Babylon 5 was conceived as a "novel for television", with a defined beginning, middle, and end; in essence, each episode would be a single "chapter" of this "novel".[2] A coherent five-year story arc unfolds over five 22-episode seasons. Tie-in novels, comic books, and short stories were also developed to play a significant canonical part in the overall story.[3]

The series follows the human military staff and alien diplomats stationed on a space station, Babylon 5, built in the aftermath of several major inter-species wars as a neutral focal point for galactic diplomacy and trade. Babylon 5 was an early example of a television series featuring story arcs which spanned episodes or whole seasons. Whereas contemporary television shows tended to confine conflicts to individual episodes, maintaining the overall status quo, each season of Babylon 5 contains plot elements which permanently change the series universe.[4] Babylon 5 utilized multiple episodes to address the repercussions of some plot events or character decisions, and episode plots would at times reference or be influenced by events from prior episodes or seasons.[5]

Many races of sentient creatures are seen frequenting the station, with most episodes drawing from a core of around a dozen species. Major plotlines included Babylon 5's embroilment in a millennia-long cyclical conflict between ancient, powerful races, inter-race wars and their aftermaths, and intrigue or upheaval within particular races, including the human characters who fight to resist Earth's descent into totalitarianism. Many episodes focus on the effect of wider events on individual characters, with episodes containing themes such as personal change, loss, subjugation, corruption, defiance, and redemption.

Contents

SettingEdit

Babylon 5, set primarily between the years 2257 and 2262, depicts a future where Earth has a unifying Earth government and has gained the technology for faster-than-light travel. Colonies within the solar system, and beyond, make up the Earth Alliance, which has established contact with other spacefaring species. Ten years before the series is set, Earth itself was nearly defeated in a war with the intellectual Minbari, only to escape destruction when the Minbari unexpectedly surrendered at the brink of victory; since then, Earth has established peaceful relationships with them.

Among the other species are the imperialist Centauri; the Narn, who only recently gained independence from the Centauri empire; and the mysterious, powerful Vorlons. Several dozen less powerful species from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds also have diplomatic contact with the major races, including the Drazi, Brakiri, Vree, Markab, and pak'ma'ra. An ancient and secretive race, the Shadows, unknown to humans but documented in many other races' religious texts, malevolently influence events to bring chaos and war among the known species.

The Babylon 5 space station is located in the Epsilon Eridani system, at the fifth Lagrangian point between the fictional planet Epsilon III and its moon.[6] It is an O'Neill cylinder 5 miles (8.0 km) long and 0.5–1.0 mile (0.80–1.61 km) in diameter. The station is the last of its line; the first three stations were all destroyed before completion, while Babylon 4 mysteriously vanished shortly after being made operational.[7] It contains living areas which accommodate various alien species, providing differing atmospheres and gravities. Human visitors to the alien sectors are shown using breathing equipment and other measures to tolerate the conditions.[8]

CastEdit

Regular castEdit

Babylon 5 featured an ensemble cast which changed over the course of the show's run:

Recurring guestsEdit

In addition, several other actors have filled more than one minor role on the series. Kim Strauss played the Drazi Ambassador in four episodes, as well as nine other characters in ten more episodes.[10] Some actors had difficulty dealing with the application of prosthetics required to play some of the alien characters. The producers therefore used the same group of people (as many as 12) in various mid-level speaking roles, taking full head and body casts from each. The group came to be unofficially known by the production as the "Babylon 5 Alien Rep Group."[11]

SynopsisEdit

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast airedNetwork
Pilot1February 22, 1993 (1993-02-22)Syndicated
122January 26, 1994 (1994-01-26)October 26, 1994 (1994-10-26)
222November 2, 1994 (1994-11-02)November 1, 1995 (1995-11-01)
322November 6, 1995 (1995-11-06)October 28, 1996 (1996-10-28)
422November 4, 1996 (1996-11-04)October 27, 1997 (1997-10-27)
522 + 4 filmsJanuary 4, 1998 (1998-01-04)January 3, 1999 (1999-01-03)TNT
Spin-off1January 19, 2002 (2002-01-19)Sci Fi

The five seasons of the series each correspond to one fictional sequential year in the period 2258–2262. Each season shares its name with an episode that is central to that season's plot.

Season 1 – Year 2258Edit

Sinclair, the commander of Babylon 5, is a hero of the Minbari war, troubled by his inability to remember events of the war’s last day. Though supported by Minbari ambassador Delenn, who is secretly a member of the Minbari ruling Grey Council, other Minbari remain distrustful of him. The Narn have recently succeeding in regaining their independence from Centauri, and Centauri ambassador Mollari finds a new ally in the enigmatic Mr. Morden to strike back at the Narn. Xenophobic groups on Earth challenge humanity's contact with aliens, and President Santiago, who has favored such contact, is assassinated.

Season 2 – Year 2259Edit

Sinclair is transferred to be ambassador to Minbar, and Sheridan is assigned command of the station. He and Delenn believe Santiago's death is part of a conspiracy as now-president Clark takes steps to isolate Earth and install an totalitarian government. The aging Centauri Emperor dies, and against his wishes, Mollari and his ally Lord Refa replace him with his unstable nephew Cartagia. Aided by Morden's allies, the Shadows, the Centauri initiate a full-scale attack on the Narn homeworld, re-conquering it. Vorlon ambassador Kosh requests Sheridan's help to fight the Shadows.

Season 3 – Year 2260Edit

Sheridan and Delenn establish a "conspiracy of light" to fight the influence of the Shadows. When Clark declares martial law, Sheridan declares Babylon 5's independence from Earth government. Mollari realizes his deal with Morden has become dangerous but is unable to end it. Sinclair travels back in time to become Valen, the legendary Minbari religious leader. In retaliation for involving the Vorlons in the war, Kosh is killed by the Shadows. Despite Kosh's warnings, Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum, the Shadow homeworld, and crashes a spacecraft filled with explosives on it, seemingly dying in the explosion.

Season 4 – Year 2261Edit

Sheridan is rescued from Z'ha'dum by the mysterious Lorien. With the Shadows in retreat, the Vorlon further their efforts to destroy any species touched by the Shadows. Mollari overthrows Cartagia with the aid of Narn ambassador G’Kar. Sheridan discovers the Vorlons and Shadows have used the younger races in a proxy war, and convinces both sides to stop the war and leave the younger races in peace. Sheridan leads Minbar, Centauri, and Narn to form a new Interstellar Alliance. With their help, Sheridan is able to free Earth from control of President Clark and install a new, more peaceful regime.

Season 5 – Year 2262 and beyondEdit

A group of rogue human telepaths take sanctuary on the station, seeking Sheridan’s aid to escape the control of Psi Corps, the autocratic Earth agency that oversees telepaths. Remnants of the Shadows' allies attempt to break up the Alliance by setting the various races against each other, and manipulate events on Centauri to install Mollari as Emperor but under their control. Mollari withdraws Centauri from the Alliance. Twenty years later, Sheridan has a last reunion with his friends before leaving to join Lorien and the older races "beyond the rim". No longer needed, Babylon 5 is decommissioned and scuttled.

ProductionEdit

OriginEdit

Having worked on a number of television science fiction shows which had regularly gone over budget, Straczynski concluded that a lack of long-term planning was to blame, and set about looking at ways in which a series could be done responsibly. Taking note of the lessons of mainstream television, which brought stories to a centralized location such as a hospital, police station, or law office, he decided that instead of "[going] in search of new worlds, building them anew each week", a fixed space station setting would keep costs at a reasonable level. A fan of sagas such as the Foundation series, Childhood's End, The Lord of the Rings, Dune and the Lensman series, Straczynski wondered why no one had done a television series with the same epic sweep, and concurrently with the first idea started developing the concept for a vastly ambitious epic covering massive battles and other universe-changing events. Realizing that both the fixed-locale series and the epic could be done in a single series, he began to sketch the initial outline of what would become Babylon 5.[12][13]

Once I had the locale, I began to populate it with characters, and sketch out directions that might be interesting. I dragged out my notes on religion, philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, science (the ones that didn't make my head explode), and started stitching together a crazy quilt pattern that eventually formed a picture. Once I had that picture in my head, once I knew what the major theme was, the rest fell into place. All at once, I saw the full five-year story in a flash, and I frantically began scribbling down notes.

—J. Michael Straczynski, 1995[14]

Straczynski set five goals for Babylon 5. He said that the show "would have to be good science fiction" as well as good television – "rarely are shows both good [science fiction] and good TV; there're [sic] generally one or the other [emphasis in original]." It would have to do for science fiction television what Hill Street Blues had done for police dramas, by taking an adult approach to the subject. It would have to be reasonably budgeted, and "it would have to look unlike anything ever seen before on TV, presenting individual stories against a much broader canvas." He further stressed that his approach was "to take [science fiction] seriously, to build characters for grown-ups, to incorporate real science but keep the characters at the center of the story."[15][16] Some of the staples of television science fiction were also out of the question (the show would have "no kids or cute robots").[17] The idea was not to present a perfect utopian future, but one with greed and homelessness; one where characters grow, develop, live, and die; one where not everything was the same at the end of the day's events. Citing Mark Twain as an influence, Straczynski said he wanted the show to be a mirror to the real world and to covertly teach.[12]

Following production on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Straczynski approached John Copeland and Doug Netter, who had also been involved with Captain Power and showed him the bible and pilot script for his show, and both were impressed with his ideas.[18] They were able to secure an order for the pilot from Warner Bros. who were looking at the time to get programming for a planned broadcast network. Warner Bros. had remained skeptical about the show even after greenlighting the pilot. According to Straczynski, Warner Bros. had three main concerns: that American attention spans were too short for a series-long narrative to work, that it would be difficult to sell the show into syndication as the syndicate networks would air the episodes out of order, and that no other science-fiction television show outside of Star Trek had gone more than three seasons before it was cancelled.[19] Straczynski had proved out that the syndication fear was incorrect, since syndicate stations told him they show their shows in episode order to track broadcasts for royalties; however, he could not assure Warner Bros. about the attention span or premature cancellation concerns, but still set out to show Warner Bros. they were wrong.[19]

WritingEdit

Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes of Babylon 5, including all 44 episodes in the third and fourth seasons;[20] according to Straczynski, a feat never before accomplished in American television.[21] Other writers to have contributed scripts to the show include Peter David, Neil Gaiman, Kathryn M. Drennan, Lawrence G. DiTillio, D. C. Fontana, and David Gerrold. Harlan Ellison, a creative consultant on the show, received story credits for two episodes.[22] Each writer was informed of the overarching storyline, enabling the show to be produced consistently under-budget. The rules of production were strict; scripts were written six episodes in advance, and changes could not be made once production had started.[23]

With not all cast members being hired for every episode of a season, the five-year plot length caused some planning difficulties. If a critical scene involving an actor not hired for every episode had to be moved, that actor had to be paid for work on an extra episode.[19] It was sometimes necessary to adjust the plotline to accommodate external influences, an example being the "trap door" that was written for every character: in the event of that actor's unexpected departure from the series, the character could be written out with minimal impact on the storyline.[24] Straczynski stated, "As a writer, doing a long-term story, it'd be dangerous and short-sighted for me to construct the story without trap doors for every single character. ... That was one of the big risks going into a long-term storyline which I considered long in advance;..."[25] This device was eventually used to facilitate the departure of Claudia Christian and Andrea Thompson from the series.

First thing I did was to flip out the stand-alones, which traditionally have taken up the first 6 or so episodes of each season; between two years, that's 12 episodes, over half a season right there. Then you would usually get a fair number of additional stand-alones scattered across the course of the season. So figure another 3–4 per season, say 8, that's 20 out of 44. So now you're left with basically 24 episodes to fill out the main arc of the story.

—J. Michael Straczynski, 1996[26]

Straczynski purposely went light on the five-year narrative elements during the first season as he felt the audience would not be ready for the full narrative at the time, but he still managed to drop in some scenes that would be critical to the future narrative. This also made it a challenge for the actors, as to understand motivations without being told what those were driving towards; Straczynski said "I didn’t want to tell them too much, because that risks having them play the result, rather than the process."[19] He recalled that Peter Jurasik had asked him about the scene from "Midnight on the Firing Line" where Londo and G'Kar are choking themselves to death, as to determine the context of the scene, and Straczynsky had to be coy with this.[19]

During production of the fourth season, the Prime Time Entertainment Network, which Warner Bros. opted to use for Babylon 5, was shut down, leaving the planned fifth season in doubt. Unwilling to short-change fans of the show, Straczynski began preparing modifications to the fourth season that would allow him to conclude his overall arc should a fifth season not be greenlit, which ultimately became the direction the fourth season took. Straczynski identified three primary narrative threads which would require resolution: the Shadow war, Earth's slide into a dictatorship, and a series of sub-threads which branched off from those. Estimating they would still take around 27 episodes to resolve without having the season feel rushed, the solution came when the TNT network commissioned two Babylon 5 television films. Several hours of material was thus able to be moved into the films, including a three-episode arc which would deal with the background to the Earth–Minbari War, and a sub-thread which would have set up the sequel series, Crusade. Further standalone episodes and plot-threads were dropped from season four, which could be inserted into Crusade, or the fifth season, were it to be given the greenlight.[27] The intended series finale, "Sleeping in Light", was filmed during season four as a precaution against cancellation. When word came that TNT had picked up Babylon 5, this was moved to the end of season five and replaced with a newly filmed season four finale, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars".[28]

CostumeEdit

Ann Bruice Aling was costume designer for the show, after production designer John Iacovelli suggested her for the position having previously worked with Bruice on a number of film and theatrical productions.[29]

With the variety of costumes required she compared Babylon 5 to "eclectic theatre", with fewer rules about period, line, shape and textures having to be adhered to.[30] Preferring natural materials whenever possible, such as ostrich leather in the Narn body armor, Bruice combined and layered fabrics as diverse as rayon and silk with brocades from the 1930s and '40s to give the clothing the appearance of having evolved within different cultures.[31][32]

Often we try to coordinate the sensibilities of the aliens. I try to work with Optic Nerve to ensure that the head meets the body in some sensible way. We talk about similar qualities, textures and colors and the flow of the total being. Truthfully, often the look of the prosthetic comes somewhat earlier and from that I have an understanding of what direction to go.

— Ann Bruice Aling, 1995[30]

With an interest in costume history, she initially worked closely with Straczynski to get a sense of the historical perspective of the major alien races, "so I knew if they were a peaceful people or a warring people, cold climate etc. and then I would interpret what kind of sensibility that called for."[31] Collaborating with other departments to establish co-ordinated visual themes for each race, a broad palette of colors was developed with Iacovelli, which he referred to as "spicy brights".[33] These warm shades of grey and secondary colors, such as certain blues for the Minbari, would often be included when designing both the costumes and relevant sets. As the main characters evolved, Bruice referred back to Straczynski and producer John Copeland who she viewed as "surprisingly more accessible to me as advisors than other producers and directors", so the costumes could reflect these changes. Ambassador Londo Mollari's purple coat became dark blue and more tailored while his waistcoats became less patterned and brightly colored as Bruice felt "Londo has evolved in my mind from a buffoonish character to one who has become more serious and darker."[30]

Normally there were three changes of costume for the primary actors; one for on set, one for the stunt double and one on standby in case of "coffee spills". For human civilians, garments were generally purchased off-the-rack and altered in various ways, such as removing lapels from jackets and shirts while rearranging closures, to suggest future fashions. For some of the main female characters a more couture approach was taken, as in the suits worn by Talia Winters which Bruice described as being designed and fitted to within "an inch of their life". Costumes for the destitute residents of downbelow would be distressed through a combination of bleaching, sanding, dipping in dye baths and having stage blood added.[31]

Like many of the crew on the show, members of the costume department made onscreen cameos. During the season 4 episode "Atonement", the tailors and costume supervisor appeared as the Minbari women fitting Zack Allan for his new uniform as the recently promoted head of security. His complaints, and the subsequent stabbing of him with a needle by costume supervisor Kim Holly, was a light-hearted reference to the previous security uniforms, a design carried over from the pilot movie which were difficult to work with and wear due to the combination of leather and wool.[32]

Prosthetic makeup and animatronicsEdit

While the original pilot film featured some aliens which were puppets and animatronics, the decision was made early on in the show's production to portray most alien species as humanoid in appearance. Barring isolated appearances, fully computer-generated aliens were discounted as an idea due to the "massive rendering power"[34] required. Long-term use of puppets and animatronics was also discounted, as Straczynski believed they would not be able to convey "real emotion" without an actor inside.[34]

VisualsEdit

In anticipation of future HDTV broadcasts and Laserdisc releases, rather than the usual 4:3 format, the series was shot in 16:9, with the image cropped to 4:3 for initial television transmissions.[35] Babylon 5 also distinguished itself at a time when models and miniature were still standard by becoming one of the first television shows to use computer technology in creating visual effects. This was more due out of budgetary concerns, as they did not have the budget to produce miniatures and other practical specific effects; Straczynski estimated that each of their episodes cost US$650,000 to make compared to the US$1.5 million each episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation had cost.[19] The visual effects were achieved using Amiga-based Video Toasters at first, and later Pentium, Macs, and Alpha-based systems.[36] It also attempted to respect Newtonian physics in its effects sequences, with particular emphasis on the effects of inertia.[37]

Foundation Imaging provided the special effects for the pilot film (for which it won an Emmy) and the first three seasons of the show, led by Ron Thornton. After co-executive producer Douglas Netter and producer John Copeland approached Straczynski with the idea of producing the effects in-house, Straczynski agreed to replace Foundation, for season 4 and 5, once a new team had been established by Netter Digital, and an equal level of quality was assured,[38] by using similar technology and a number of former Foundation employees.[39] The Emmy-winning alien make-up was provided by Optic Nerve Studios.[40]

Music and scoringEdit

Sleeping in Light
 
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedMarch 23, 1999 (1999-03-23)
GenreClassical, Electroacoustic
Length25:01
LabelSonic Images
Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [41]

Christopher Franke composed and scored the musical soundtrack for all 5 years of the show when Stewart Copeland, who worked on the original telefilm, was unable to return for the first season due to recording and touring commitments.[42]

Initially concerned composing for an episodic television show could become "annoying because of the repetition", Franke found the evolving characters and story of Babylon 5 afforded him the opportunity to continually take new directions.[43][44] Given creative freedom by the producers, Franke also orchestrated and mixed all the music, which one reviewer described as having "added another dimension of mystery, suspense, and excitement to the show, with an easily distinguishable character that separates "Babylon 5" from other sci-fi television entries of the era."[43][45]

With his recording studio in the same building as his home located in the Hollywood Hills, Franke would attend creative meetings before scoring the on average 25 minutes of music for each episode.[43] Utilizing the "acoustic dirt produced by live instruments and the ability to play so well between two semitones" and the "frequency range, dynamics and control" provided by synthesizers, he described his approach "as experimental friendly as possible without leaving the happy marriage between the orchestral and electronic sounds".[44]

Utilising Cubase software through an electronic keyboard, or for more complex pieces a light pen and graphics tablet, he would begin by developing the melodic content round which the ambient components and transitions were added. Using playbacks with digital samples of the appropriate instruments, such as a group of violins, he would decide which tracks to produce electronically or record acoustically.[43][44]

Scores for the acoustic tracks were emailed to his Berlin scoring stage, and would require from four musicians to the full orchestra, with a maximum of 24 present at any one time. One of three conductors would also be required for any score that involved more than 6 musicians. Franke would direct recording sessions via six fibre optic digital telephone lines to transmit and receive video, music and the SMPTE timecode. The final edit and mixing of the tracks would take place in his Los Angeles studio.

A total of 24 episode and three television film soundtracks were released under Franke's record label, Sonic Images Records, between 1995 and 2001. These contain the musical scores in the same chronological order as they played in the corresponding episodes, or television films. Three compilation albums were also produced, containing extensively re-orchestrated and remixed musical passages taken from throughout the series to create more elaborate suites. In 2007 his soundtrack for The Lost Tales was released under the Varèse Sarabande record label.

Broadcast historyEdit

Warner Bros. slotted the show to premiere on its nascent Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN). Although appearing as original content from another studio in a stable of syndicated content from Warner Bros., it was somewhat anomalous, and the cause of some friction between Straczynski's company and Warner Bros.[19]

The pilot film, The Gathering, premiered on February 22, 1993, with strong viewing figures, achieving a 9.7 in the Nielsen national syndication rankings.[46] The regular series initially aired from January 26, 1994 through November 25, 1998,[47] first on PTEN, then in first-run syndication, debuting with a 6.8 rating/10 share. Figures dipped in its second week, and while it posted a solid 5.0 rating/8 share, with an increase in several major markets,[48] ratings for the first season continued to fall, to a low of 3.4 during reruns.[49] Ratings remained low-to-middling throughout the first four seasons,[50] but Babylon 5 scored well with the demographics required to attract the leading national sponsors and saved up to $300,000 per episode by shooting off the studio lot,[46] therefore remaining profitable.[51] The fifth season, which aired on cable network TNT, had ratings about 1.0% lower than seasons two through four.

In the United Kingdom, the show aired every week on Channel 4 without a break, with the result that the last four or five episodes of the early seasons screened in the UK before the US.[52] Babylon 5 was one of the better-rated US television shows on Channel 4,[53] and achieved high audience Appreciation Indexes, with the season 4 episode "Endgame" achieving the rare feat of beating the prime-time soap operas for first position.[54]

Straczynski stated that PTEN only required the show to be profitable for the network to remain in production, and said that while this was the case for its first four seasons, on paper it was always losing money; the entire series cost an estimated $90 million for 110 episodes.[55] Straczynski estimated in 2019 that the show ended about US$30 million in the red, and stated that he had never made any profits on Babylon 5.[19]

Babylon 5 successfully completed its five-year story arc on November 25, 1998, after five seasons and 109 aired episodes, when TNT aired the 110th (epilogue) episode "Sleeping in Light," which had been filmed as the Season finale 4 when Babylon 5 was under threat of ending production at that point. After a fifth season was assured, a new Season 4 finale was used so that "Sleeping in Light" could remain as the series finale.

ThemesEdit

Throughout its run, Babylon 5 found ways to portray themes relevant to modern and historical social issues. It marked several firsts in television science fiction, such as the exploration of the political and social landscapes of the first human colonies, their interactions with Earth, and the underlying tensions.[56] Babylon 5 was also one of the first television science fiction shows to denotatively refer to a same-sex relationship.[57][58] In the show, sexual orientation is as much of an issue as "being left-handed or right-handed".[59] Unrequited love is explored as a source of pain for the characters, though not all the relationships end unhappily.[60]

Order vs. chaos; authoritarianism vs. free willEdit

Neither the Vorlons nor the Shadows saw themselves as conquerors or adversaries. Both believed they were doing what was right for us. And like any possessive parent, they'll keep on believing that until the kid is strong enough to stand up and say, 'No, this is what I want.'

J. Michael Straczynski, 1997[61]

The clash between order and chaos, and the people caught in between, plays an important role in Babylon 5. The conflict between two unimaginably powerful older races, the Vorlons and the Shadows, is represented as a battle between competing ideologies, each seeking to turn the humans and the other younger races to their beliefs. The Vorlons represent an authoritarian philosophy of unquestioning obedience. Vorlon characters frequently ask, "who are you?" focusing on identity as a catalyst for shaping personal goals;[62][63] the intention is not to solicit a correct answer, but to "tear down the artifices we construct around ourselves until we're left facing ourselves, not our roles."[64] The Shadows represent another authoritarian philosophy cloaked in a disguise of evolution through fire, of fomenting conflict in order to promote evolutionary progress.[65] Characters affiliated with the Shadows repeatedly ask, "what do you want?" emphasising personal desire and ambition, using it to shape identity,[63] encouraging conflict between groups who choose to serve their own glory or profit.[66] The representation of order and chaos was informed by the Babylonian myth that the universe was born in the conflict between both. The climax of this conflict comes with the younger races' exposing of the Vorlons' and the Shadows' "true faces"[61] and the rejection of both philosophies,[63] heralding the dawn of a new age without their interference.

The notion that the war was about "killing your parents"[61] is echoed in the portrayal of the civil war between the human colonies and Earth. Deliberately dealing in historical and political metaphor, with particular emphasis upon McCarthyism and the HUAC,[67] the Earth Alliance becomes increasingly authoritarian, eventually sliding into a dictatorship. The show examines the impositions on civil liberties under the pretext of greater defense against outside threats which aid its rise, and the self-delusion of a populace which believes its moral superiority will never allow a dictatorship to come to power, until it is too late.[68] The successful rebellion led by the Babylon 5 station results in the restoration of a democratic government and true autonomy for Mars and the colonies.[69]

War and peaceEdit

What interests me, what I wanted to do with making this show, was in large measure to examine the issues and emotions and events that precede a war, precipitate a war, the effects of the war itself, the end of the war and the aftermath of the war. The war is hardware; the people are at the center of the story.

—J. Michael Straczynski, 1997[70]

The Babylon 5 universe deals with numerous armed conflicts which range on an interstellar scale. The story begins in the aftermath of a war which brought the human race to the brink of extinction, caused by a misunderstanding during a first contact.[71] Babylon 5 is built to foster peace through diplomacy, described as the "last, best hope for peace" in the opening credits monologue during its first three seasons. Wars between separate alien civilizations are featured. The conflict between the Narn and the Centauri is followed from its beginnings as a minor territorial dispute amplified by historical animosity, through to its end, in which weapons of mass destruction are employed to subjugate and enslave a planet. The war is an attempt to portray a more sobering kind of conflict than usually seen on science fiction television. Informed by the events of the first Gulf War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Prague, the intent was to recreate these moments when "the world held its breath" and the emotional core of the conflict was the disbelief that the situation could have occurred at all, and the desperation to find a way to bring it to an end.[72] By the start of the third season, the opening monologue had changed to say that the hope for peace had "failed" and the Babylon 5 station had become the "last, best hope for victory", indicating that while peace is ostensibly a laudable goal, it can also mean a capitulation to an enemy intent on committing horrendous acts and that "peace is a byproduct of victory against those who do not want peace."[73]

The Shadow War also features prominently in the show, wherein the Shadows work to instigate conflict between other races to promote technological and cultural advancement, opposed by the Vorlons who are attempting to impose their own authoritarian philosophy of obedience. The gradual discovery of the scheme and the rebellion against it underpin the first three seasons,[74] but also as a wider metaphor for competing forces of order and chaos. In that respect, Straczynski stated he presented Earth's descent into a dictatorship as its own "shadow war".[75] In ending the Shadow War before the conclusion of the series, the show was able to more fully explore its aftermath, and it is this "war at home" which forms the bulk of the remaining two seasons. The struggle for independence between Mars and Earth culminates with a civil war between the human colonies (led by the Babylon 5 station) and the home planet. Choosing Mars as both the spark for the civil war, and the staging ground for its dramatic conclusion, enabled the viewer to understand the conflict more fully than had it involved an anonymous colony orbiting a distant star.[56] The conflict, and the reasons behind it, were informed by Nazism, McCarthyism and the breakup of Yugoslavia,[67] and the destruction of the state also served as partial inspiration for the Minbari civil war.[76][77]

The post-war landscape has its roots in the Reconstruction. The attempt to resolve the issues of the American Civil War after the conflict had ended, and this struggle for survival in a changed world was also informed by works such as Alas, Babylon, a novel dealing with the after-effects of a nuclear war on a small American town.[78] The show expresses that the end of these wars is not an end to war itself. Events shown hundreds of years into the show's future tell of wars which will once again bring the human race to the edge of annihilation, demonstrating that humanity will not change, and the best that can be hoped for after it falls is that it climbs a little higher each time, until it can one day "take [its] place among the stars, teaching those who follow."[79]

ReligionEdit

If you look at the long history of human society, religion – whether you describe that as organized, disorganized, or the various degrees of accepted superstition – has always been present. And it will be present 200 years from now... To totally ignore that part of the human equation would be as false and wrong-headed as ignoring the fact that people get mad, or passionate, or strive for better lives.

—J. Michael Straczynski, 1993[80]

Many of Earth's contemporary religions are shown to still exist, with the main human characters often having religious convictions. Among those specifically identified are the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity (including the Jesuits), Judaism, and the fictional Foundationism (which developed after first contact with alien races).[81] Alien beliefs in the show range from the Centauri's Bacchanalian-influenced religions,[80] of which there are up to seventy different denominations,[82] to the more pantheistic as with the Narn and Minbari religions.[83] In the show's third season, a community of Cistercian monks takes up residence on the Babylon 5 station, in order to learn what other races call God,[84] and to come to a better understanding of the different religions through study at close quarters.[85]

References to both human and alien religion is often subtle and brief, but can also form the main theme of an episode.[86] The first season episode "The Parliament of Dreams" is a conventional "showcase" for religion, in which each species on the Babylon 5 station has an opportunity to demonstrate its beliefs (humanity's are presented as being numerous and varied),[80] while "Passing Through Gethsemane" focuses on a specific position of Roman Catholic beliefs,[87] as well as concepts of justice, vengeance, and biblical forgiveness.[88] Other treatments have been more contentious, such as the David Gerrold-scripted "Believers", in which alien parents would rather see their son die than undergo a life-saving operation because their religious beliefs forbid it.[80]

When religion is an integral part of an episode, various characters express differing view points. In the episode "Soul Hunter", where the concept of an immortal soul is touched upon, and whether after death it is destroyed, reincarnated, or simply does not exist. The character arguing the latter, Doctor Stephen Franklin, often appears in the more spiritual storylines as his scientific rationality is used to create dramatic conflict. Undercurrents of religions such as Buddhism have been viewed by some in various episode scripts,[89] and while identifying himself as an atheist,[80] Straczynski believes that passages of dialog can take on distinct meanings to viewers of differing faiths, and that the show ultimately expresses ideas which cross religious boundaries.[90]

AddictionEdit

Substance abuse and its impact on human personalities also features in the Babylon 5 storyline. Garibaldi is a relapsing-remitting alcoholic, who practices complete abstinence throughout most of the series until the middle of season five, only recovering at the end of the season. Zack Allan, his eventual replacement as chief of security, was given a second chance by Garibaldi after overcoming his own addiction to an unspecified drug. Dr. Stephen Franklin develops an addiction to injectable stimulant drugs while trying to cope with the chronic stress and work overload in Medlab, and takes a leave of absence from his position to recover. Executive Officer Susan Ivanova mentions that her father became an alcoholic after her mother's suicide. Captain Elizabeth Lochley tells Garibaldi that her father was an alcoholic, and that she is a recovering alcoholic herself.[91]

InfluencesEdit

Babylon 5 draws upon a number of cultural, historical, political and religious influences to inform and illustrate its characters and storylines. Straczynski has stated that there was no intent to wholly represent any particular period of history or preceding work of fiction, but has acknowledged their influence on the series, insamuch as it uses similar well established storytelling structures, such as the Hero's Journey.[92][93]

While the series is replete with elements which some argue are intended to invoke other works of fiction, myth or legend, there are a number of specific literary references. Several episodes take their titles from Shakespearean monologues,[94][95] and at least one character quotes Shakespeare directly.[96] The Psi-Cop Alfred Bester was named after the science fiction author of the same name, as his work influenced the autocratic Psi Corps organisation the character represents.[97]

There are a number of references to the legend of King Arthur, with ships named Excalibur appearing in the main series and the Crusade spin-off, and a character in "A Late Delivery from Avalon" claiming to possess the sword itself. Straczynski links the incident which sparked the Earth-Minbari war, in which actions are misinterpreted during a tense situation, to a sequence in Le Morte d'Arthur, in which a standoff between two armies turns violent when innocent actions are misinterpreted as hostile.[98]

The series also references contemporary and ancient history. The Centauri are in part modelled on the Roman empire.[99] Emperor Cartagia believes himself to be a god, a deliberate reference to Caligula.[100] His eventual assassination leads to the ascension of Londo and eventually Vir, both unlikely candidates for the throne, similar to Claudius' improbable ascension after Caligula was assassinated.[101] The series also references the novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves when Cartagia jokes that he has cured a man of his cough after having him beheaded, something also done by Caligula.[102]

In more recent historical references, in the episode "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dhum," Sheridan ponders Winston Churchill's Coventry dilemma, of whether or not to act on covertly gathered intelligence during a war. Lives would be saved, but at the risk of revealing to the enemy that their intentions are known, which may be far more damaging in the long term. The swearing in of Vice President Morgan Clark invokes the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, being deliberately staged to mirror the scene aboard Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President.[103]

Although Straczynski is a professed atheist, Babylon 5 refers to the Christian faith in a number of places. Several episodes have titles which refer to the Christian faith, such as "Passing Through Gethsemane", "A Voice in the Wilderness," and "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place," the latter being a line from the gospel song "There's no Hiding Place Down Here." The monks led by Brother Theo who, in the episode "Convictions," take up residence on Babylon 5, belong to the Dominican Order, a Roman Catholic mendicant Order.

Use of the InternetEdit

The show employed Internet marketing to create a buzz among online readers far in advance of the airing of the pilot episode,[104] with Straczynski participating in online communities on USENET (in the rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated newsgroup), and the GEnie and CompuServe systems before the Web came together as it exists today. The station's location, in "grid epsilon" at coordinates of 470/18/22, was a reference to GEnie ("grid epsilon" = "GE")[105] and the original forum's address on the system's bulletin boards (page 470, category 18, topic 22).[106]

Also during this time, Warner Bros. executive Jim Moloshok created and distributed electronic trading cards to help advertise the series.[107] In 1995, Warner Bros. started the Official Babylon 5 Website on the now defunct Pathfinder portal. In September 1995, they hired series fan Troy Rutter to take over the site and move it to its own domain name, and to oversee the Keyword B5 area on America Online.[108]

ReceptionEdit

In 2004 and 2007, TV Guide ranked Babylon 5 #13 and #16 on its list of the top cult shows ever.[109][110]

AwardsEdit

Awards presented to Babylon 5 include:

Nominated Awards include:

  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series, 1995 (episode, "Acts of Sacrifice")[111]
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series, 1995 (episode, "The Geometry of Shadows")
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for a Series, 1995 (episode, "The Geometry Of Shadows")
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Cinematography for a Series, 1996
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Makeup for a Series, 1997 (episode, "The Summoning")
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Makeup for a Series, 1998 (television movie, In The Beginning)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Paramount plagiarism controversyEdit

Straczynski indicated that Paramount Television was aware of his concept as early as 1989,[116] when he attempted to sell the show to the studio, and provided them with the series bible, pilot script, artwork, lengthy character background histories, and plot synopses for 22 "or so planned episodes taken from the overall course of the planned series".[117][118]

Paramount declined to produce Babylon 5, but later announced Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in development, two months after Warner Bros. announced its plans for Babylon 5. Unlike previous Star Trek shows, Deep Space Nine was based on a space station, and had themes similar to those of Babylon 5, which drew some to compare it with Babylon 5. Straczynski stated that, even though he was confident that Deep Space Nine producer/creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller had not seen this material, he suspected that Paramount executives used his bible and scripts to steer development of Deep Space Nine.[119][120][121] Straczynski and Warner did not file suit against Paramount, largely because he believed it would negatively affect both TV series. He argued the same when confronted by claims that the lack of legal action was proof that his allegation was unfounded.[121]

Influence and legacyEdit

Generally viewed as having "launched the new era of television CGI visual effects",[122] Babylon 5 received multiple awards during its initial run, including two consecutive Hugo Awards for best dramatic presentation,[112][113] and continues to regularly feature prominently in various polls and listings highlighting top-rated science fiction series.[123][124][125]

Babylon 5 has been praised for its depth and complexity against a backdrop of contemporary shows which largely lacked long-term consequences, with plots typically being resolved in the course of a single episode, occasionally two.[126] Straczynski was deeply involved in scriptwriting, writing 92 of 110 teleplays, a greater proportion than some of his contemporaries.[127] Reviewers rated the quality of writing on a widely varying scale, identifying both eloquent soliloquies and dialogue that felt "stilted and theatrical."[128][129]

Straczynski has claimed that the multi-year story arc, now a feature of most mainstream televised drama, is the lasting legacy of the series.[130] He stated that both Ronald D. Moore and Damon Lindelof used the 5-year narrative structure of Babylon 5 as blueprints for their respective shows, Battlestar Galactica and Lost.[19] He also claims Babylon 5 was the first series to be shot in the 16:9 aspect ratio, and to use 5.1 channel sound mixes.[130] It was an early example of widespread use of CGI rather than models for space scenes, which allowed for more freedom and larger scale in creating said scenes. While praised at the time, due to budgetary and mastering issues these sequences are considered to have aged poorly.[128][131]

A recurring theme among reviewers is that the series was more than the sum of its parts: while variously criticising the writing, directing, acting and effects, particularly by comparison to current television productions, reviewers praised the consistency of plotting over the series' run, transcending the quality of its individual elements. Many retrospectives, while criticising virtually every individual aspect of the production, have praised the series as a whole for its narrative cohesion and contribution to serialized television.[129][132][133][134][135]

DC began publishing Babylon 5 comics in 1994, with stories (initially written by Straczynski) that closely tied in with events depicted in the show, with events in the comics eventually being referenced onscreen in the actual television series.[136] The franchise continued to expand into short stories, RPG's, and novels, with the Technomage trilogy of books being the last to be published in 2001, shortly after the spin-off television series, Crusade, was cancelled. Excepting movie rights, which are retained by Straczynski, all production rights for the franchise are owned by Warner Bros.[137]

Babylon 5 media franchiseEdit

In November 1994, DC began publishing monthly Babylon 5 comics. A number of short stories and novels were also produced between 1995 and 2001. Additional books were published by the gaming companies Chameleon Eclectic and Mongoose Publishing, to support their desk-top strategy and role-playing games.

Three tv films were released by Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1998, after funding a fifth season of Babylon 5, following the demise of the Prime Time Entertainment Network the previous year. In addition to In the Beginning, Thirdspace, and The River of Souls, they released a re-edited special edition of the original 1993 tv film, The Gathering. In 1999, a fifth tv film was also produced, A Call to Arms, which acted as a pilot movie for the spin-off series Crusade, which TNT cancelled after 13 episodes had been filmed.

Dell Publishing started publication of a series of Babylon 5 novels in 1995, which were ostensibly considered canon within the TV series' continuity, nominally supervised by Straczynski, with later novels in the line being more directly based upon Straczynski's own notes and story outlines. In 1997, Del Rey obtained the publication license from Warner Bros., and proceeded to release a number of original trilogies directly scenarized by Straczynski, as well as novelizations of three of the TNT telefilms (In the Beginning, Thirdspace, and A Call to Arms). All of the Del Rey novels are considered completely canonical within the filmic Babylon 5 universe.

In 2000, the Sci-Fi Channel purchased the rights to rerun the Babylon 5 series, and premiered a new telefilm, The Legend of the Rangers in 2002, which failed to be picked up as a series. In 2007, the first in a planned anthology of straight-to-DVD short stories entitled, The Lost Tales, was released by Warner Home Video, but no others were produced, due to funding issues.[138]

Straczynski announced a Babylon 5 film at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con,[139] but stated in 2016 that it had been delayed while he completed other productions.[140] In 2018 Straczynski stated that although he possesses the movie rights, he believed that neither a film nor television series revival would happen while Warner Bros. retained the intellectual property for the TV series, believing that Warner Bros would insist on handling production, and that other studios would be hesitant to produce a film without also having the rights to the TV series.[141]

Home video releasesEdit

In July 1995, Warner Home Video began distributing Babylon 5 VHS video tapes under its Beyond Vision label in the UK. Beginning with the original telefilm, The Gathering, these were PAL tapes, showing video in the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the initial television broadcasts. By the release of Season 2, tapes included closed captioning of dialogue and Dolby Surround sound. Columbia House began distributing NTSC tapes, via mail order in 1997, followed by repackaged collector's editions and three-tape boxed sets in 1999, by which time the original pilot telefilm had been replaced by the re-edited TNT special edition. Additional movie and complete season boxed-sets were also released by Warner Bros. until 2000.

Image Entertainment released Babylon 5 laserdiscs between December 1998 and September 1999. Produced on double-sided 12-inch Pioneer discs, each contained two episodes displayed in the 4:3 broadcast aspect-ratio, with Dolby Surround audio and closed captioning for the dialogue. Starting with two TNT telefilms, In the Beginning and the re-edited special edition of The Gathering, Seasons 1 and 5 were released simultaneously over a six-month period. Seasons 2 and 4 followed, but with the decision to halt production due to a drop in sales, precipitated by rumors of a pending DVD release, only the first twelve episodes of Season 2 and the first six episodes of Season 4 were ultimately released.[142]

In November 2001, Warner Home Video began distributing Babylon 5 DVDs with a two-movie set containing the re-edited TNT special edition of The Gathering and In The Beginning. The telefilms were later individually released in region 2 in April 2002, though some markets received the original version of The Gathering in identical packaging.

DVD boxed sets of the individual seasons, each containing six discs, began being released in October 2002. Each included a printed booklet containing episode summaries, with each disc containing audio options for German, French, and English, plus subtitles in a wider range of languages, including Arabic and Dutch. Video was digitally remastered from original broadcast masters and displayed in anamorphic widescreen with remastered and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Disc 1 of each set contained an introduction to the season by Straczynski, while disc 6 included featurettes containing interviews with various production staff, as well as information on the fictional universe, and a gag reel. Three episodes in each season also contained commentary from either Straczynski, members of the main cast, and/or the episode director.

Since its initial release, a number of repackaged DVD boxed sets have been produced for various regional markets. With slightly altered cover art, they included no additional content, but the discs were more securely stored in slimline cases, rather than the early "book" format, with hard plastic pages used during the original release of the first three seasons.

Mastering problemsEdit

While the series was in pre-production, studios were looking at ways for their existing shows to make the transition from the then-standard 4:3 aspect ratio to the widescreen formats that would accompany the next generation of televisions. After visiting Warner Bros., who were stretching the horizontal interval for an episode of Lois & Clark, producer John Copeland convinced them to allow Babylon 5 to be shot on Super 35mm film stock. "The idea being that we would telecine to 4:3 for the original broadcast of the series. But what it also gave us was a negative that had been shot for the new 16×9 widescreen-format televisions that we knew were on the horizon."[143]

The widescreen conversion thing was executive short sightedness at its finest!!! We offered to do ALL of Babylon 5 in widescreen mode if Warner Bros would buy us a reference monitor so we could check our output. (only $5000 at the time) Ken Parkes (the "Business affairs" guy) and Netter (penny wise, but pound foolish) said no! So we did everything so it could be CROPPED to be widescreen! Each blamed the other by the way. Doug Netter said, "Ken Parkes said no". Ken Parkes said, "Doug Netter said no". SHEESH!!! So for $75 an episode they could have had AWESOME near Hi-Def.

— Ron Thornton, 2008[144]

Though the CG scenes, and those containing live action combined with digital elements, could have been created in a suitable widescreen format, a cost-saving decision was taken to produce them in the 4:3 aspect ratio. When those images were prepared for widescreen release, the top and bottom of the images were simply cropped, and the remaining image 'blown up' to match the dimensions of the live action footage, noticeably reducing the image quality. [143][145] The scenes containing live action ready to be composited with matte paintings, CG animation, etc., were delivered on tape already telecined to the 4:3 aspect-ratio, and contained a high level of grain, which resulted in further image noise being present when enlarged and stretched for widescreen.[146]

For the purely live-action scenes, rather than using the film negatives, according to Copeland, "Warners had even forgotten that they had those. They used PAL versions and converted them to NTSC for the US market. They actually didn't go back and retransfer the shows."[147] With the resulting aliasing, and the progressive scan transfer of the video to DVD, this has created a number of visual flaws throughout the widescreen release. In particular, quality has been noted to drop significantly in composite shots.[148][149]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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  91. ^ "Babylon Five S 05 E 19 The Wheel Of Fire / Recap". TV Tropes. Retrieved February 19, 2019. ...children of alcoholics usually wind up one of two ways, either they try to help everybody else because they couldn't help themselves, or they become alcoholics. I couldn't stop what was happening to my father, so I became the very thing I hated.
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  96. ^ "Guide Page: Infection". The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. November 5, 1999. Retrieved February 8, 2019. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth." (His reply to Garibaldi's joking guess that Sinclair's interview would get him shipped off the station and himself promoted into Sinclair's position.) This is a quote from Shakespeare (King Lear.)
  97. ^ "Babylon 5 Behind the Scenes: Literary and Historical References". www.midwinter.com. Retrieved February 2, 2019. The antagonist in "Mind War" was named after Alfred Bester, author of "The Demolished Man," a classic SF work about telepathy. The novel also featured a telepaths' guild similar in many ways to B5's Psi Corps.
  98. ^ "Guide Page: "The Coming of Shadows"". The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. July 13, 2004. Retrieved February 8, 2019. The G'Kar-Emperor thread was similar to the King Arthur legend: Arthur's and Mordred's armies are poised for battle but make one last attempt to negotiate, but a soldier raises his sword to kill a snake and everyone attacks. There's another applicable metaphor for the sword story; you'll see it a little later [in season 3].
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