Babylon 5: The Lost Tales – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Cast:

Bruce Boxleitner… John Sheridan
Tracy Scoggins… Colonel Elizabeth Lochley
Peter Woodward… Galen

Run Time: 75 minutes
Release Date: July 31, 2007

The Movie

It’s odd. Babylon 5 was an excellent science fiction series set in a rich universe, rife for spin-offs, sequels and other additions. And yet, pretty much every attempt to follow-up the success of the main series has been, at best, mediocre. Even so, when J. Michael Stracynski announced that we would be getting a series of stories, focusing on the adventures various established characters in the Babylon 5 universe almost a decade after where season five ended, I was pretty excited. The concept was solid and the buzz was good; I thought we might finally get a worthy addition to the Babylon 5 universe. Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales – Voices in the Dark is presented as a movie, but in actuality, it is two loosely connected episodes. The common theme of the stories seems to be taking cliche story ideas and transposing them within the B5 universe. The first part features Colonel Lochley calling in a priest to help deal with a case of… wait for it, demonic possession (we’ll get into exactly how lame that is in a minute). The second story has Galen warning Sheridan about a young Centauri that will one day be responsible for a devastating attack on Earth. Sheridan then has to wrestle the moral dilemma of whether to murder the man before he becomes a monster.

The exorcism story just doesn’t work, for a number of reasons. First of all, while Babylon 5 has alluded to the existence of supernatural beings on a number of occasions, there’s never been anything so direct or so Earth-centric. Lochley doesn’t reluctantly call in a priest as a last resort to deal with a crewman’s affliction. As far as we know, she immediately decides the only logical explanation is that the man’s been possessed by a demon. If demonic possession had already been established as a common occurrence, it’d be acceptable, but the priest even tells Lochley that there hasn’t been a confirmed possession for ‘over 100 years.’

The other problem with the demon is that it seems to fit into the Judea-Christian version of a demon. Not only does the Christian Hell exist, it’s bound to the Earth. In a sci-fi universe, with hundreds of sentient species and thousands of settled planets, it makes no sense for Hell to be something exclusive to Earth. If you want aliens AND demons, you can’t have an Earth based Hell (unless you’re going to have a plethora of Hells, one for each planet/species).

It’s amazing how quickly the opening minutes of this episode manage to totally kill of any enthusiasm you may have. When Father Cassidy first arrives on the station, his conversation with Lochley is painful. For some reason Lochley goes into this big spiel, trying to convince the priest that it’s okay to believe in the supernatural even in light of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Father Cassidy comes off rather well here; he believes, but he’s pretty laid back about it and he has no qualms with those who don’t believe. Lochley, on the other hand, comes off as something of a zealot. Tracy Scoggins delivery of the lines certainly doesn’t help make the conversation less painful either. By the time Lochley takes Father Cassidy to meet the demon, the show has managed to piss away all the goodwill it earned by being an anticipated addition to the Babylon 5 universe.

By the time Lochley’s episode is finished, the bar is set pretty low for the second one, focusing on Sheridan’s moral dilemma. In normal circumstances, the Sheridan episode would be considered good, but a little too cliche and predictable to be called great. Held up against the horrid Lochley episode though, it looks damned brilliant.

This one starts off with Galen showing Sheridan a possible future in which the Centauri Empire attacks and overwhelms the Earth. The Centauri responsible for the attack is Lord Refa’s son, Prince Regent Vintari (third in the line of succession). It so happens that he’s one of the dignitaries that will be traveling to Babylon 5 on Sheridan’s ship. Galen’s agents are to ensure Sheridan has a chance to eliminate, Vintari, in an unfortunate ‘accident.’

While the dilemma Sheridan faces is a complete cliche (hell, at one point Galen even brings up the whole ‘would you kill Hitler as a youth, if you had the chance?’ You’d think that over the centuries a new candidate would turn up to star in that hypothetical; President Clark immediately springs to mind), they at least muddied the waters by having Vintari by less than a complete innocent. While he had a lot of youthful enthusiasm and a sympathetic fear of assassinations, he also had a darker side, as evidenced when Vintari tells Sheridan his feelings on Vir Cotto. There was lots of signs of the tyrant Galen foretold Vintari would one day become, which, for once, gave the ‘kill an innocent’ side of the argument a little weight.

Unlike the Lochley episode, this one feels like Babylon 5; with a few minor changes, it’s something that very easily could have been an episode of the regular series. Of course, that’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because this episode captures the feel of Babylon 5 quite well. But it’s a little too much like a regular episode; nothing really makes it stand out as worthy of a DVD event.

In both parts, the CG is something of a mixed bag. The exterior CG looks pretty good; there are some shots of the station, and a brief space battle, that really stand out as some nice looking CG. The exterior shots almost always look like they are CG, but they are of high enough quality that it’s not really a problem. The interior shots are another story. The CG sets do not work well at all. It’s incredibly obvious (especially in the wide shots) that the actors are standing in front of a green screen; it’s a bad sign when your follow-up, years later, looks worse than the original production.

Ultimately, while the second episode is good, it’s nowhere near strong enough to carry Voices in the Dark all by itself. The first episode just drags the whole thing down. If the planned third segment, focusing on Garibaldi, hadn’t been cut during the planning stages, Voices in the Dark might have been something good. As is, the overriding emotion one feels is that of disappointment. If the two episodes had been released as separate entities, the Lochley episode would get a 4/10 and the Sheridan a 7.

The Audio/Video

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it’s pretty good. As disappointing as the DVD was, it’s nice to hear a B5 score again. The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen and looks nice. The interior CG sets do not mesh well with the actors, but I think that’s a function of shoddy CG rather than poor video quality.

The Extras

Interviews
There are three interviews here, running about five minutes a piece. First J. Michael Straczynski and Bruce Boxleitner talk about the shooting of Voices in the Dark. The second interview, “Meet Tracy Scoggins” has Tracy Scoggins giving a tour of the set while reflecting on her character and series in general. JMS returns for another interview, this time with Peter Woodward. The two talk about technomages and Babylon 5 in general.

Memorials
JMS, Tracy and Bruce reminisce about the late Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs. A very touching featurette that expands on the way Lost Tales dealt with the deaths of two key actors. For some reason though, they were too cheap and/or lazy to get the rights to any footage from the main series. So when one of the actors is talking about a scene, instead of seeing that scene, they just flash up some publicity photos. I think having those brief scenes would have really helped the memorials, but they serve their purpose quite well as they are.

Straczynski Diaries
A series of brief behind the scenes videos hosted by JMS. The diaries cover everything from building the sets to working on the special effects in post. Also, there’s an amusing obsession with sock puppets.

Fireside Chats
Straczynski talks about the original Babylon 5, Lost Tales and a variety of other subjects. Despite the names, the chats take place in an office (presumably Straczynski’s); there’s no actual fire.

Inside Pulse

There are only two reasons to buy Babylon 5: The Lost Tales – Voices in the Dark and both require you already being a die-hard fan of Babylon 5. If you’re like a junkie, and you just need a new your B5 fix, regardless of the impurities, pick this DVD up. If you’re hoping for more (hopefully much better) Lost Tales in the future, pick this DVD up. If you fill neither of those conditions, you’re probably best off staying far away from this one.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Voices in the Dark
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

5
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

7
REPLAY VALUE

5
OVERALL
5.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

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