Friday, May 16, 2008

B5 The Movie Collection: The Gathering

Taking a tip from Babylon 5 connoisseur M, I have opted to check out the Babylon 5 pilot film, The Gathering [from The Movie Collection], before moving on to Season Three. So, here I am going backwards again, but at least this time I’m moving forward with something new.

Since most of the film works to establish characters it was fun to see this whole thing unfold. Clearly the pilot attempts to draw viewers and supporters into Straczynski's masterplan. At the center of The Gathering our characters are introduced and revealed amidst an attempted assassination on the life of Ambassador Kosh via poisoning. Folks, I even found the pilot film to be much better than I anticipated. Perhaps knowing what I know after two seasons had me enjoy the writing and characters in a way I might not have enjoyed as much had I been seeing this first. I’ll never know. Needless to say, this was a solid pilot and I could easily see why it was picked up.

Now, the pilot film I viewed indicated it was a “special presentation” by TNT. Interestingly, as I watched, I immediately felt that the special effects had been touched up particularly on B5 itself. The colors looked more vibrant than what I had been watching and the remastering of this pilot seemed sharper than some of the so-called remastering on the first two seasons to date. The Gathering appeared noticeably crisper and cleaned up for this DVD release. I don’t think it was my imagination. My eyes weren’t lying were they?

One of the things I have truly loved about Babylon 5, over Stargate SG-1, is the fact it is a science fiction show based in outer space. Unlike Stargate SG-1, you actually need space suits or masks [so far anyway]. You need airlocks and if you step out of the airlock without a space suit YOU WILL DIE! When SG-1 travels trough a wormhole, wahlah instant breathable atmosphere [with the rare exceptions]. Nearly every planet visited sports an oxygen-based atmosphere resembling Vancouver. I like the reality of Babylon 5’s space-based saga. Okay, not that Vorlons are real, but the rules in which the story is set apply some reasonable degree of scientific principle. I know it’s not perfect, but I buy into it mostly. I'm sucked in and suspend my disbelief where necessary.

So onto my observations concerning The Gathering, the pilot to Babylon 5 and the series that is fast becoming one of my favorites. I thought Michael O’Hare’s hair was a little better groomed here. It definitely seemed less bushy. How about G’Kar’s make-up? I love the way G’Kar has been established currently in the series, but it was interesting to see his flabby, amphibian-like neck skin. I’ll tell you, the make-up department really is an amazing unit on this series. When the camera is close-up on characters like Delenn or G’Kar, I always look for lines and imperfections in the work and I’m hard-pressed to ever find fault. It is flawless, impressive work on a TV timetable.

I loved the establishing shots of the B5 monorail running through the station’s center. Speaking of those train cars, how about those harnesses that hold the folks on board. Terribly constricting as far as seeing the actors. I’m happy to see they got rid of those for the series.

WHOA! How about that alien dude with the BIG ASS boots! That’s hysterical. I don't believe we've seen that little guy with those 'shit kickers' since.

Delenn’s production design has come a long way. She is loaded with make-up here and even sported G’Kar-like spots on her head. It must have been hard for her, as she has mentioned in some of my reading. I did recognize her voice and her smile; otherwise she was pretty well covered, though you can see her ears in this pilot unlike the first season. I think I prefer her Sinead O’Connor and bone mantle look for Season One, but ultimately I love her current human-Minbari hybrid appearance. She is a beautiful woman and it would have been a shame not to appreciate her in that way. I'm glad Straczynski allowed her to shine.

It was fun to look back at the Londo we used to appreciate as good-humored, wisecracking and even a bit buffoonish. He’s become so dark, troubled and dictatorial in Season Two. Oh how he has changed and fallen from grace. Vir nails it too in his exchange with Lennier in The Fall Of Night [Season Two finale] referring to Londo as a different guy. Everyone knows it including Garibaldi. It must have been one heck of an experience for Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas as actors to portray their respective roles and transform these characters across long-ranging arcs. Don’t say it! “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” : )

G’Kar’s proposition of telepath Lyta Alexander to join him for a direct mating exercise to harness her genetics a new kind of Narn was quite amusing. “The direct mating is far more cost effective. Now would you prefer to be conscious or unconscious during the mating? I would prefer conscious but I don’t know what your pleasure threshold is.” Hmmm, now that’s a confident Narn! Impressive G'Kar.

I also noted the score was quite sweeping in style and ambitious for Franke [working as always with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra] who didn’t allow it to sound too synthetic. Season One was more electronica-laced or as I like to call it “soft-core porn,” as I recollect. Season Two has been much improved for me personally in its style. I've enjoyed some of the pieces immensely that have complemented specific sequences. Good music tends to enhance a scene and certainly shouldn't detract from it. Often you won't notice a great score in my opinion and Season One I noticed the music accompaniment a little too much.

Now, as far as the character development goes, there were some nice moments with hindsight being 20/20. There is the scene where O’Hare speaks with the senator on Babcom when Garibaldi enters the room and he lends some background to the Security Chief’s character. The senator talks about how Garibaldi has been bounced from station to station and has little confidence in him. O’Hare refutes his testimony by backing his guy. Justifiable loyalty my friends.

Sinclair gets a bit of babe action from Carolyn [does Catherine Sakai know about this?]. By the way, is it me, or do any of you ever have those moments of pause before you utter the name Sheridan or Sinclair? I have this 'hole in my mind' to coin a phrase. It’s like traveling to England and driving there for two weeks and coming back to America. You have those moments when you’re in the car and thinking, “am I on the right side of the road? [Or is it left?].” I get really screwed up sometimes.

When the crew continues its investigations of the unknown assassin, Sinclair finally orders a shutdown of Babylon 5 based upon Earth Alliance Regulations. I thought, as commander, he waited too long to give that order. The guy could have been long gone at that point. I felt given the nature of Babylon 5 as a very defined and self-contained off-world site it might have been best to lock it down immediately. It's a very containable incident. By the way, I think Babylon 5 needs a cloaking device to protect itself from unexpected assaults. With all of the technology at its disposal it would seem like a good idea, of course funding might be the issue in this very reality-based universe [well, reality is a relative term in science fiction, but you know what I mean].

I love this scene between Delenn and G’Kar because it hints to all kinds of information concerning the series that might not make sense until you've seen at least the first two seasons. It would be one of those moments I might not fully appreciate had I watched it first. In fact, I know I wouldn’t remember it. It’s a great allusion of things to come. How about those crazy Minbari rings and Delenn using some sort of hand energy to open the wall to get them?

A reference to Centauri history is laid out between Garibaldi and Londo in a great exchange in the Zocalo. Ahh, those were the days.

WHOA! Look at this! Another crazy lookin' dude! I don't believe we've seen this fella again.

So Lyta scans Kosh and finds Sinclair, or someone impersonating him [so I'm thinking shape shifter at this point], has poisoned Kosh with a poisonous skin tab. As a result the senator takes measures to remove Sinclair and place Laurel Takashima in charge. Hull testing commences around Babylon 5 and an undetected ship attached to the hull destroys one of the station probes. Sinclair is placed before the council and it is recommended by G’Kar he be deported to the Vorlon homeworld to stand trial.

The vote finds G’Kar and Londo in favor of sending Sinclair to Vorlon space while Delenn abstains. Sinclair’s woman is quite displeased with Delenn's inaction.

Oh and then I come across the G’Kar ‘gill implants.’ Does he still have those things? Cool, but I don’t recall his neck having those same kind of skin flabs. It's funny they were made notable because earlier in this entry I thought he did have an amphibian-like appearance, where by he looks a bit more reptilian in the series. The changes are subtle, but they are there.

By the way, the Centauri have a kind of vampiric-like quality in some ways with those canines. Granted there doesn’t appear to be any bloodsucking going on as far as I know, well at least not literally. The Narn situation is certainly debateable.

Later a second attempt on Kosh occurs at medlab by the shape changer this time impostering Lyta, but Sinclair arrives to save the day. Meanwhile the intruder vessel is discovered and contained. As it turns out the invader is utilizing an advanced technology referred to as a ‘changeling grid.’ Very cool. I didn’t suspect that angle. Now if they have that kind of technolody how about a cloacking device. Is Babylon 5 too big to apply such a mechanism?

Tamlyn Tomita is pretty damned cute as Takashima, but she doesn’t hold a candle to our Ivanova. I’m glad she was bumped in favor of Claudia Christian. I love supple-lipped Ivanova! The doctor was an upgrade to Richard Biggs as well and clearly Straczynski had an African American actor in mind for the role based upon the Doctor portrayed here in the pilot. He kind of reminded me a little of Sidney Poitier just not quite as good looking. Biggs hasn't panned out to be quite what I had hoped so far in the series, but he has his moments.

The Vorlon Empire arrives to acquire Sinclair, but Sinclair is with Garibaldi doing their best to hunt down the assassin. Could those guns be any bigger and more cumbersome in a dangerous situation? Hell, they're freakin' massive! No wonder they downsized to the PPG, I mean, those guns are Aliens-like-styled ridiculous. They look like super soakers!

The final third of the pilot essentially goes on autopilot and gets a bit routine, but understandable, since Straczynski was attempting to draw an audience and get his show picked up. At last, the perpetrator is identified as a Minbari. He touches upon Season One’s big mystery. “There is a hole in your mind” he tells Sinclair before enabling a self-destruct mechanism. The suicide Minbari explodes taking out an area of Babylon 5.

Hey look! It’s Morden as crewman Guerra. I have a feeling the producers/ Straczynski liked what they saw in the actor and altered their plans. Perhaps they even asked Ed Wasser, “what do you want?” ; )

In another twist, it turns out G’Kar had his hand in getting the changeling grid on board Babylon 5. Sinclair does a nice job deducting how it all transpired. It was this early period that definitely turned me off to G’Kar. His motives were unclear and perhaps a bit misguided. Actually, that's not true, G'kar and the history of his people is clearly one of oppression and this narn clearly begins with a vengeful heart. I was reminded of Soul Mates [Season Two], thinking back, when he used one of Londo's three wives to poison Londo with the darts if I recall
. So he looks a bit despicable here and he has had his moments along the way where we as fans were clearly less sympathetic.

Sinclair asks Delenn about the “hole.” Delenn reacts awkwardly and replies, “I would never tell you anything that was not in your best interests,” as certain questions are setup to draw interest in for the potential series. Thank God someone took a chance on Straczynski’s work!

The Gathering cast includes:

Michael O’Hare [Jeffrey Sinclair]
Tamlyn Tomita [Laurel Takashima]
Jerry Doyle [Michael Garibaldi]
Mira Furlan [Delenn]
Peter Jurasik [Londo Mollari]
Andreas Katsulas [G’Kar]
Patricia Tallman [Lyta Alexander]

Is it me or is that a digitally-enhanced tree in the mix? It was even moving as if from a breeze. Babylon 5 must have one heck of a ventilation system!

So, what film should I watch next and where exactly should I insert over the course of the final three seasons without giving anything away?


Anonymous said...

You shouldn't watch any of the other movies until you're past "Atonement" in Season 4. "Thirdspace" is set somewhere around 4x09, and there are major spoilers in "In the Beginning" for the 4th season episode "Atonement". The other movies are set after 2262 - the end of the series, that is.

It seems you've watched the "Special Edition", which is a creator's cut of "The Gathering" produced in 1998. The original cut isn't available other than on, AFAIK. It had a different sound track by Stuart Copeland of the Police, and the plot was quite a bit slower. The 1998 version might also have improved the SFX.

Sakai knows about Caroline, she even asked how she's doing when she came aboard in Season 1 episode Parliament of Dreams.

Several seemingly unresolved questions in the pilot point to the fact that Takashima was involved in letting the changeling net (which is illegal technology, thus no way of using it to cloak B5) and the assassin aboard. She originally was supposed to be the sleeper personality that was transferred to Talia, and also the traitor that shot Garibaldi in the back.

Delenn was originally intended to be not just Minbari, but also male, and Chrysalis would've transformed her into not just partly human, but also female. They intended to dubb her voice electronically to make her sound male, but couldn't get it work, so they dropped that idea (thankfully).


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Perfect. Thanks for the advice M! I will pretty much wait until Season 5 then. Also, great background information without giving away anything. I have to admit, I do think I would have enjoyed this recut more. I love that note about Delenn. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

One thing for the coming season(s) -now that you've seen the pilot, you really should watch for the evolution of Lyta Alexander. People are constantly raving about the characterisation and character development of Londo and G'kar, and understandably so - after all, these two are at the center of the major events. But the great thing about Straczynski's writing is that this isn't limited to two or three characters at the center of the stage. There isn't one character who shows up in more than five episodes and isn't three-dimensional. And there isn't one character who shows up in more than 10 episodes and doesn't undergo significant changes. Lyta - and also Vir - are great examples for it.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

You're right. It's a great point. I definitely see movement from everyone. Ivanova comes to mind. I'm also looking for some future movement on Garibaldi. I really like him but he's been holding a little too steady. But by and large they are all fascinating. Vir...yeah, love him more and more.

Zlatna said...

Mira Furlan was once asked at a convention what she had thought the first time she had seen herself in the makeup for The Gathering. She said "I asked if anyone had a gun......"

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

haha WOW! Yeah, sounds like she was none too happy.