2021 Babylon 5

b5I’ve already written regards this blog next year looking back as much as reviewing/commenting on ‘new’ films and television. Oddly, recent news from various quarters seems to have reinforced that, with a strange sense of synchronicity. Two of my favourite anime, the wonderful Satoshi Kon film Millennium Actress and the tv series Planetes, are being released early next year by All the Anime,  Millennium Actress on 4K UHD and Planetes on Blu-ray, each firsts for the UK.  I’m really enthused regards revisiting them, and shall hopefully be able to write about how wonderful they still are having not seen them for years: one of my fears of revisiting old favourites next year is in discovering they aren’t as great as I used to think they were, but you know, sometimes things just look even better in hindsight, so the opposite might be just as true.

Added to those anime returning is recent news regards my old favourite tv show,  J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 coming to Blu-ray next Spring in remastered form. Well, I say remastered, there are caveats to that, but all the same, this is frankly wonderful news. I’ve read that a new remaster of the show is now available on Apple iTunes and is apparently being set for a disc release on Blu-ray in the Spring. The show has returned back to its original transmitted 4:3 format in order to preserve some level of quality to the aged CGI visual effects shots and allow a remaster of the on-set material, essentially upscaling the show as was done with reasonable success with Farscape a few years back. While B5 was forward-thinking enough to be consciously shot ‘protected’ for widescreen, and was released as such on DVD several years back, unfortunately this was undermined by the original VFX hard-drives being lost long ago, which meant that any scenes involving VFX had to be zoomed-in from 4:3 to 16:9, just making the already dated CGI look even worse. The only way of truly remastering the show properly would be recreating all the VFX shots from scratch in 16:9 and editing them into the 16:9 live-action material, at what is apparently a far too prohibitive cost for Warner Brothers to countenance. Its frustrating, but its just how things are, so this new endeavour of remastering the show in its original 4:3 format is the best we will ever get.

As for the show itself, well, one has to remember how old B5 is now, and all the many great genre shows that came after it. I recently watched a YouTube video of the Babylon 5 cast then-and-now and it was really scary seeing just how many years have passed (and how many of the cast have been lost to us over the years), but it did have me feeling very nostalgic and swaying towards a re-watch of the show, so this remaster news is rather timely.  I think something that will help B5 stand apart is the fact that it was always distinctly old-fashioned space opera, rather than space fantasy or hard sci-fi; very much the kind of stuff one could read in the 1950s and 1960s. Hopefully the charm of that will help forgive some of its failings, and for myself I’m really curious having not seen it in years (I never really got through all those DVD boxsets, it just looked so poor). And hey, its a triple-dip! I had the show on (really expensive, all told, looking back on it) VHS tapes where they released them two episodes at a time, or something like that, and yes, bought those DVD sets. Maybe the third time will be the charm. Yes its a real pity nobody at Warners (or some millionaire fan) thought it worthy of investing in redoing those effects and bringing the show up to modern standards, but at the very least this preserves the old, authentic experience of the original transmissions back in the day. I just hope that news of Blu-ray releases holds true (apparently place-holders have been spotted with European vendors, and it makes sense for a disc release while physical is still worth something). I look forward to someday next Spring  sitting down with a strong coffee steaming from my Babylon 5 mug while I revisit that dangerous place, our last, best hope for peace… 

5 thoughts on “2021 Babylon 5

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    Oh that’s good news.
    I’m not sure I can invest the time myself to watch the whole thing again, and I’d kind of prefer to keep my happy memories of Sunday evening viewing in the 90s (in my first flat!). I’m glad they’re not re-creating the effects: it should stay how it was in its day.

    1. I have to confess, for the last few years I’d been wishing for a full remaster, go to the original widescreen material, remaster it into proper HD, then go and re-render the CGI visual effects in HD and widescreen and produce something more like the ST: TNG remasters. However, having this news settle in, I’m thinking it might be the right way, as you say- at the very least, it’ll be more authentic towards the original experience of watching this show: some of the season finales were genuinely edge of the seat jaw-dropping entertainment. Goodness I adored this show so much. I don’t mind admitting that I sobbed at the very end, that last episode… and so few shows have affected me that way since.

      Even the very worst B5 -and there were a few stinkers- is better than the horrid ST:Discovery. B5 always had poor dialogue and some of the acting talent betrayed its low-budget roots but some of the writing was extraordinary in scope and ambition, and some of the acting was absolutely terrific with great chemistry that reminded me greatly of the 1960s Holy Trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. I sympathise with your view that investing all the time required of a rewatch is a daunting prospect, but I’d be glad of the opportunity to try. We’ll see what happens in 2021.

    1. Hmm, but you must remember how refreshing that darkness was, especially at the time with so much typically positive Star Trek around back then. Nothing wrong with Star Trek’s positivity (indeed, where is it now with the dull and miserable Picard and ST; Discovery?) but B5 felt so fresh back then. It was very old-fashioned, pulp-sci fi space opera, huge in scope. Often it reached and failed but at least it reached. Like some movies, age isn’t always kind as years go by and new stuff improves and surpasses, but hey, if you were there when this show was on the air, it was really something.

  2. I hadn’t heard about them doing an HD remaster. I sort of assumed they never would, a mix of the CGI issue and just the sheer cost of remastering over 100 episodes of TV from scratch, especially for a show that Warner clearly don’t care that much about (based on comments JMS has made down the years). Even if it was their desire to have it be 16:9 for posterity, going back to 4:3 makes sense — the zoomed-in CGI looked atrocious even on DVD, so in HD it would surely be nigh unwatchable.

    Hopefully the whole thing is done with a love and care akin to the TNG remaster and not, say, the rushed hatchet job performed for Buffy. Though I’ll be torn about whether to buy it — “mmm, HD” vs the big DVD set I never actually finished watching that already glowers at me from the shelf.

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