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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – In the Beginning

The second TNT commissioned Babylon 5 movie was called In The Beginning. Straczynski pitched it to the network as a prequel to the four seasons that had already aired. However, Straczynski employed an interesting plot device as he wrote it, choosing to tell the story retrospectively through the eyes and words of one its most beloved characters, Londo Mollari.

Londo

Londo Mollari, at the end of his life, at the beginning of In the Beginning

As we know from flash-forwards in season three’s War Without End (Eps 16 & 17), there is a future in which all of Londo’s deceptions and betrayals have come home to roost. That future has now come to pass.

centauri_prime

Centauri Prime.  Well past its prime.

It is seventeen years after the Shadow war and the surviving remnants of the Shadow fleet have turned their eyes to Centauri prime. Nearing the end of his life, Mollari, now Emperor, watches from his palace as the Shadows and their “associates” turn the once proud Centauri homeworld in to a burning wasteland. He is interrupted from his lamentations by two children playing in the great palace’s halls but instead of shooing them away, he asks them to stay. In a moment of irony that isn’t lost on Londo, or the viewer, he asks the children “What do you want?” They ask for a story and he promises them a story “…About great deeds. About armies of light and soldiers of darkness. About the places where they lived, and fought, and loved, and died. About great empires, and terrible mistakes. A true story.”

And so, it begins……

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

We next meet Londo as a young man. The Centauri republic and Earth Alliance are on good terms and Earth is looking to strategically expand its sphere of influence. Senior Earth Alliance commanders have called a meeting with Londo to find out what he knows about an alien race thus far unknown to Earth – the Minbaris. Londo warns them to leave the Minbari alone, or at least proceed with extreme caution but his warnings appear to fall on deaf ears.

young_londo

Londo in his prime

Meaanwhile, on Minbar, Lenonn, the leader of the Rangers, a group that has watched and waited for a thousand years, fears the fulfillment of a prophecy and seeks the support of the Gray council. On that council are the novitiate Delenn and her mentor, Dukhat. Together they decide to travel to Z’Ha’Dhum to verify Lenonn’s claims – but perhaps Dukhat knows more than he is letting on.

Dukhat

Dukhat has more than just skeletons in his closet

On Earth, a young officer Sheridan is offered a plum assignment as First officer on board the Prometheus to head to the edge of Minbar space on an exploratory mission. Despite the opportunity to advance his career, he declines, citing the fact that the captain of the Prometheus, Captain Jankowski, is regarded as a “loose cannon” by his crew and does not do well in first contact situations.

At Delenn’s swearing in ceremony, the Prometheus comes across and shadows the Minbari ship. The Minbari detect the Earth Alliance ship and, as is traditional for them, change course and approach with all gun ports open in a show of open-handedness. Presuming the Minbari ship to be hostile, Jankowski orders the crew of the Prometheus to open fire – setting in motion a chain of events which will result in the Earth-Minbari war and the almost complete destruction of the human race. A war that will end only when the Minbari suddenly and inexplicably surrender on the verge of total victory at the Battle of the Line.

Minbari_Fleet

The Minbari Fleet “jumps in” at the Battle of the Line

As far as the Babylon 5 movies go, I think In the Beginning is by far my favorite. Having Londo as storyteller is an ingenious plot device because, as Straczynski says in the DVD commentary, it really is Londo’s story to tell. He is one of the few characters who can bear witness to all that passed because, as he says, “I was there.” Besides, Jurasik’s character is arguably one of the most beloved of the series.

Also, whereas in other movies, the infodumps are somewhat jarring, in In the Beginning, they are far more excusable because of the nature of the way the narrative is being relayed. Londo is the storyteller, it is literally his job to tell the story – warts and all.

In terms of story, if you’ve followed Babylon 5 all the way to the end of season 4 at this point, you really aren’t going to learn anything new about major events in the B5 timeline from In the Beginning. We know Commander Sinclair has memory loss from his time at the Battle of the Line, we know the Minbari surrendered at said battle with total victory within their grasp. We know Ivanova lost a brother in the war and that Sheridan earned the moniker “Star Killer” in the same war. But what In the Beginning does give us is the particulars of these events and the context in which they happened, effectively filling in the blanks of what Straczynski has been drip feeding us over four seasons. The movie is interspersed with clips from episodes from the previous four seasons (namely And the sky full of stars (Ep 8, S1), A late delivery from Avalon (Ep 13, S3), War without End Pt 2 (Ep 17, S3), and Atonement (Ep 9, S4)) – which integrate seamlessly and go to further illustrate Straczynski’s brilliant writing and his original vision for an overreaching story arc that spanned all five seasons.

B1

Construction begins on the first of the Babylon Stations

In the Beginning truly is a B5 fans movie. With the exception of Garibaldi, Lyta, Vir and Lennier, the entire ensemble cast puts in an appearance to greater or lesser degrees. In fact In the Beginning explains so many story threads in one nice little package it’s hard to imagine this movie not getting made just for the B5 faithful – let alone to introduce a whole other network’s viewers to this universe and its characters.

katsulas

Andreas Katsulas reprised his role as the patriot G’kar

As I mentioned before, the DVD commentary features Straczynski and he is accompanied by Michael Vejar, who he openly admits was one of his favorite directors on the show. It may be what makes In the Beginning such a gem. Between them they drop nuggets of information about the movie’s plot, production, shooting techniques and schedule. It makes for interesting listening. At one point Straczynski mentions that there is some debate about when In the Beginning should be watched – either before you start watching the series because, well, look at the title of the movie – or at the end of season four of the show. I definitely fall in to the latter camp and I say that only because there are moments of foreshadowing in In the Beginning that just aren’t going to make any sense if you haven’t watched the show up to the end of season four. Not only that, but much of the beauty of Babylon 5 is the plotting and slow revealing of information that Straczynski does so well. To dive in to the show knowing all this back story would, I think, seriously curtail your enjoyment of the show itself, so I say watch In the Beginning here, when you have reached the end of season four.

A great television movie for the B5 fan. Recommended.

Related Posts:

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Thirdspace

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Four

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleaure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci Fi adventure novels

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Thirdspace

Prior to picking up Babylon 5 for it’s fifth and final season, TNT commissioned two Babylon 5 TV movies.  The first of these to be filmed in 1997, but which aired second in 1998, was Thirdspace.

 

 

Thirdspace is set, as we learn in Captain John Sheridan’s opening monologue, in the middle of the Earth year 2261 – the year between wars. In terms of Babylon 5’s series chronology, this places it somewhere between Into the Fire (S4, Ep.6) and Atonement (S4, Ep.9)

Whilst returning to Babylon 5 after a skirmish with raiders, Ivanova’s starfury squadron picks up something on their scanners.  Ever the curious ones, they go to investigate and find a massive artifact floating in hyperspace that they then tow back to the station.

artefact

Always wondered where I’d left that hammer!

Preliminary investigations reveal nothing since anything that goes near the thing gets sucked dry of its power, but back on the station itself, all is not well.  Aboard B5, the telepath Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman), who has visited the Vorlon homeworld and been somehow altered by the ancient alien race, is clearly disturbed by the artifact’s presence.  Could it have anything to do with the fact that the artifact itself is covered in Vorlon hieroglyphs?

sheridan_lyta

“Lyta, if you wanted to get to know me better, all you had to do was ask!”

It is not long before Interplanetary Expeditions (IPX) get wind of the discovery and before you can say “first contact situation,” Dr. Elizabeth Trent (Shari Belafonte) and Bill Morishi (Clyde Kusatsu) have arrived on B5 to request access to (read: take over the investigation of) the artifact.  Having had experience of IPX (It was an IPX expedition to Z’Ha’Dhum which resulted in the loss of his wife), this irks Sheridan no end – thus setting up a tense situation between the B5 captain and the team of archeologists who feel a misplaced sense of entitlement to the artifact.

ipx

Shari Belafonte representing IPX – “We’ll take it from here, Captain.”

As time goes by, stranger and stranger things begin occurring on Babylon 5 with many people experiencing visions (including a shared dream between Vir and Ivanova), and the station itself going into crisis mode as the artifact stationed outside slowly drains B5 of its power.  Thus Sheridan is thrown into a race against time, both to protect the station and its population and to find out what the artifact is before IPX unlock its secret.  All the while Lyta Alexander gets progressively more distressed because, as she knows, the Vorlons have seen this awful thing before.

vir_ivanova

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

As a stand alone movie Thirdspace works, and by that I mean it completes its story arc and comes to a satisfactory conclusion.  What hurts Thirdspace is where it falls chronologically in the overall Babylon 5 story arc.  Because of when Thirdspace is set, many of the major characters we have come to know and love are out of the picture – Garibaldi is absent having resigned as chief of security, Londo and G’kar are both on Centauri prime.  Even some of the major characters who do remain on the station barely feature (Delenn, Franklin, Marcus, Lennier), with a couple of them making only brief cameos.  Admittedly this movie is not about them but the result of the scripting means that Boxleitner, Christian and Tallman have the lion’s share of the acting put firmly on their shoulders and it is on them that the movie ultimately gets carried.  Boxleitner, as always, does an excellent job as Sheridan, and Tallman does a lot of acting weird and passing out when it all becomes too much for her brain to handle, but Besides Shari Belafonte’s commendable effort as Dr. Trenton, the movie feels as if it’s padded with construction worker/starfury pilot “redshirts.”

Like all B5 movies, Thirdspace suffers from infodumps – specifically when Dr. Trenton informs Sheridan of how much they know of Lyta’s visit to the Vorlon homeworld and when Lyta herself tells Sheridan what they (the Vorlon’s) know about the artifact.  However, it is perhaps more excusable in Thirdspace given that the fifth season of B5 was almost written off before being picked up again and the TNT movies provided an opportunity to address some of the story arcs that had been present in the show.  Also, if we’re going to watch Thirdspace as a stand-alone movie, we need to know about these characters and their histories – and there really is no quick or easy way to do it without having a character espouse all this information.

My one major criticism of Thirdspace is its ending which feels like an inevitable outcome from the moment the artifact arrives in B5 territory.  The movie seems to barrel towards its conclusion without a second thought for other possible scenarios that might warrant some lengthier exploration – but maybe that’s the point.  It’s a movie crammed into a finite period of time – it’s meant to have a definitive ending.  The only problem is, when it comes it feels very much like a deux ex machina moment.

There’s a commentary on the DVD which has input form the director, Jesus Salvador Trevino, Bruce Boxleitner, Jeff Conaway, Patricia Tallman and Stephen Furst, but those of you looking for any particular insight will be disappointed.  Trevino does his best to drop some nuggets in about the movie, concept design and the shoot and Boxleitner humors him throughout but for the most part the v/o consists mostly of Tallman, Furst and the late Jeff Conaway goofing around and reminiscing about their time on the show.  If you’re interested in that kind of thing, then great, but it’s not exactly a commentary on the movie per se.

Overall, Thirdspace is an OK addition to the B5 canon but it’s certainly not a “must-see” in terms of its quality, storyline or content relating to the B5 timeline/universe.

Related Posts:

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Four

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleaure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci Fi adventure novels

 

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