Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Babylon 5 Companion Books: Signs And Portents & The Coming Of Shadows

The Babylon 5 companion books written by Jane Killick could be some of the best companion books to complement a science fiction series I've ever read. These outstanding books are certainly as good if not better than the Stargate SG-1 Illustrated Companion Books and that's saying alot. They are loaded to the hilt with details and interviews about the series.

I thought I would write about some of the analysis that is inside these books that piqued my interest or curiosity and I felt compelled to comment about specific points along the way. I never read a book until I have completed the actual season for the obvious reason of avoiding spoilers. It's also notable that my interest grew regarding the details in these books with each passing season. I spent very little time with Signs And Portents and only a little more time on The Coming Of Shadows. Part of me would like to go back to read those two books over again knowing what I know now. I have a feeling certain aspects of the show would be of great interest to me in retrospect. Anyway, as I began writing on the third book I realized it would be far too much to place in one entry, which is why I give you a few thoughts that struck me with the first two installments.
Book One: Signs And Portents

Signs And Portents begins with a brief but delightful forward from Michael O’Hare and is quickly followed by a section dubbed Getting Babylon 5 Into Orbit. It is an insightful, entertaining read on exactly how J. Michael Straczynski was able to get his vision off the ground. It was excruciatingly difficult and this twelve page segment is fascinating as it discusses the battle of getting a science fiction program outside of Star Trek on the air. Straczynski really had to sell his vision and it was a tough sell based on his completely original mythology.
Book Two: The Coming Of Shadows

One of the reasons I like Babylon 5 is for its rugged, dirty look. It doesn't try to mimic or be something it's not. It never once copies the more professional, sterile, pristine and polished feel of Star Trek. It's the polar opposite. Don't get me wrong, I love Star Trek, but Babylon 5 is unique. There are some terrific quotes along the way.
Making Babylon 5 On A Budget: A segment from this section speaks volumes about the look of Babylon 5. "The money, and how little we have of it, made so many decisions for us. For example, the idea of putting contrasting colors and values on the sets in a very textural way came from the fact that we couldn't afford the very polished-looking sets that they have over at Trek and the other kinds of shows. We just couldn't afford that kind of finish. So my point of view was, like in the theatre, if you've got to hide a bunch of staple holes, wood grain, or something like that, then just paint it. It's almost like camouflage. So that was one of the things that drove the show a lot in the first season and the second season, and it became successful- it gave the show a kind of grittier look."
My copy of The Coming Of Shadows with an alternate cover.
The Coming Of Shadows: I couldn't help but note Straczynski's comments in the episode chapter from which Babylon 5 Season Two took its name thematically. I love the following passage:

He points out, "The circumstances that lead to the war could be averted at many different stages," says Joe Straczynski. "That moment when Londo and G'Kar are at the Zocalo and G'Kar is buying him a drink, that is a moment of incredible irony and sadness for Londo because he sees right there in front of him that he had a chance for peace- 'I just blew it!' When G'Kar drinks to the Centauri emperor, that's the basis from which you can build diplomatic relations: you see in Londo's face, 'My God what have I done?' That's one of those episodes where you get the feeling that there is no one putting on the brakes in this show and it's totally out of control. I love those kind of moments."
This is quite possibly one of my top 10 favorite moments in the entire series.

This was the moment in the show where Londo and G'Kar literally switch places in many ways. It's a fantastic episode and the book really delves into it in detail. I love Season Two for the many amazing G'Kar and Londo exchanges. The character development and dialogue between these two characters performed by the acting talents of the late Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik respectively are literally out of this world.

Gropos: This was an interesting insight offered to us:

Jerry Doyle was really angling for a romantic liason between Garibaldi and Talia. He had just filmed a scene in Soul Mates in which Talia had planted a kiss on him [subsequently cut], and he felt the character was going in a different direction. "So the script comes along and I screw this girl that comes on the space station, and I just say, 'No, it doesn't work.' They said, 'What do you mean it doesn't work?' and I say, 'Well, I'm not going to throw away a potential relationship for the sake of getting laid'... I just thought it was wrong for the character. I thought it was wrong for the relationship. I thought it was going to give the audience a different look at Garibaldi by saying no."

The scene was rewritten to present an interesting role reversal whereby the woman is making all the moves and the man is saying no. "I don't think the scene makes sense. I don't think it's right. I think it was right for him to sleep with her. Then her death would have been much more of a blow to him than it was. That was something that we just didn't agree on," informed writer Larry DiTillio.

Where do you stand Babylon 5 fans? I have to concur with Jeff Doyle. He's spot on and he knew his character best here. I think the writer, Larry DiTillio, was off base actually. I'm glad it played out as it had. It made alot more sense to me and I'm not sure what the writer was thinking really.
Divided Loyalties: While I was reading this chapter Andrea Thompson noted she was ready to move on from the show because her role was fairly infrequent. I’d say I can’t blame her. She’s right. Certain guest stars seemed to be earning meatier roles than her. Additionally, she references the attraction that was built up between her and Ivanova which most everyone picked up on. Her feeling was the two characters should have kissed. I agree. I think one of them should have made the move. I was feeling like it might happen and I would have been blown away had it been so. Needless to say it didn’t. Straczynski indicated he didn’t want it to be titillating. Listen, I say titillate damn it! I would agree with Straczynski that his hand was forced to move the Ivanova/ Winters relationship forward quicker than he intended. I definitely appreciate the gradual build Straczynski places into his innumerable story arcs. It was clear to me at that time that Ivanova had switch hitter potential.
Well friends, just a few quick thoughts from those books that piqued my interest. Like I said, if I were reading them all over now I suspect I would have had some additional questions or musings regarding specific scenes from both Season One and Season Two.

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