Remastered Babylon 5 on Amazon Prime

b5a“Faith manages” was a line Delenn used to say, and I have to wonder at the odd synchronicity in which, having posted just a few days ago regards the possible reboot/remake of Babylon 5, I learned yesterday evening that the remastered Babylon 5 is available on Amazon Prime, albeit by some circuitous route. It turns out that Amazon have launched a ‘mini-channel’ here in the UK (not sure about elsewhere in Europe, but I presume its being rolled out) called imdb TV, which is free but ad-supported, and includes, buried in the long list of available shows, the complete remastered Babylon 5. The imdb-TV channel takes a little of digging to find, and  Babylon 5, for me at least, wouldn’t have a chance of being found had I not been tipped off that it was there (somewhere) but I guess a search for Babylon 5 would have found it easily enough (I prefer to take the Indiana Jones-with-a-remote route, I get a much rosier glow of satisfaction when I get there).

The persistently questionable Amazon compression algorithms likely don’t show the series at its best, and the CGI looks as woeful as it ever did, but back in its 4:3 picture format, the show returns to how we first saw it when it originally aired and the non-effects shots look pretty good, considering (probably would have looked better on a Blu-ray, just saying). Naturally it would be even better without any ads but hey, it weirdly maintains that authentic ‘watching on Channel 4’ ambience I suppose.

I’m not suggesting, tempting as it is, that I’ll manage to rewatch the whole series- maybe if I’d invested in a Blu-ray set I would have felt disposed to make the additional effort/exert better self-discipline. As it is, there’s just so many time constraints these days, but at least I have an option to see the remastered Babylon 5 that I didn’t have before. At very least I shall watch my favourite, key episodes from each season, but you never know…

A Babylon 5 Reboot?

b5rebootThat picture above is almost enough to drive me to tears. So many of those wonderful people gathered for a fun publicity shot, so clearly enjoying themselves, are gone now; Richard Briggs, Andreas Katsulas, Stephen Furst, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Jeff Conaway (and of course, not pictured here, Michael O’Hare). Its the sadness and loss that permeates the memory of Babylon 5.

I expected the chief Babylon 5 event of 2021 would have been a remastered release of the complete series on Blu-ray- alas, that hasn’t transpired, the remaster limited to a digital-only release and streaming on HBO Max over in the States. Regrettable, if not surprising, the way physical formats become increasingly marginalised: possibly the new interest/HD remaster was just two or three years too late for the disc boxsets I had hoped for.

But it seems there was a hidden reason for that HD remaster, as it appears to have been a way of gauging interest in the Babylon 5 franchise- and somebody likes how it turned out. It has been announced by Warner Bros that the show is being rebooted, some totally unexpected news that is part exciting, part intriguing, part absolutely horrible. I suppose in a world in which Blade Runner got both a sequel and an anime series spin-off, anything is possible, but Babylon 5 coming back? Beyond weird. About the only thing that possibly makes any sense at this point is the news that original creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski is involved- on Twitter he has announced that he is currently writing the new show’s pilot. 

Straczynski has revealed that it won’t be a continuation or sequel, if only because of the simple, inescapable fact that we have lost the actors who played the major characters of Delenn, G’Kar, Franklin, Vir and Zack… its impossible to go back again, to the Babylon 5 we used to know and love. Instead he seems to be going back to the original idea for the show, a “from-the-ground-up reboot” retelling the story with what I assume will be a fresh, contemporary spin. Horrible as it might sound. I just find it rather unnerving, reading about kicking off with the season two storyline of John Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner originally) being assigned to Babylon 5, a five-mile long space station positioned in neutral space attempting to maintain an uneasy peace between rival planetary empires. 

It could be brilliant. Imagine Babylon 5 with a considerable budget, in 4K, with cutting-edge visual effects enabling the scale and scope of the galactic space-opera. But it could be terrible. I suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, but it could turn out to be about Earthforce commander Jane Sheridan and all sorts of new characters, a new G’Kar and a new Londo, or a new Delenn, switching sexes etc and just.. well, I suppose that’s the whole point of a reboot, and there’s likely no good sticking too close to the original anyway. But as a fan of the original, who took that shows ups and lows to heart, all those cliff-hangers within the show and outside (would we get a third season? would we get a fourth season?), it feels so difficult even considering going back. Can you go back? Those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy have already found its impossible to bring some things back. Maybe original B5 fans should stick with our DVDs (damn it, I still want my HD remastered discs!) while Straczynski makes the new show for an entirely different audience.

I can only hope that somehow Straczynski finds the formula to reboot it in the same way as Ronald D Moore managed to do it with his Battlestar Galactica; you know, different and better: but its a different thing, turning Glen Larson’s cheesy Star Wars-knockoff/homage into a gritty and adult show, compared to rebooting something that was perfectly fine first time around. Good luck JMS capturing lightning twice. 

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Be careful the endings you wish for?

fugitiveWe were over my mother-in-law’s yesterday delivering the weeks groceries (she’s shielding during the Covid 19 troubles – yes there’s another dishonourable mention for that bugger we’re all so weary of), when during a commercial break there was a spot announcing the commencement of a complete re-run of the old 1960s tv series The Fugitive, which starred David Janssen.  I asked if that series -immensely popular at the time- ever had a proper ending. Turns out, it did- a two-part finale at the end of its fourth season concluded the series with an actual ending, which was quite unusual at the time. Television shows used to come and suddenly just go, when ratings suffered enough to warrant a show’s cancellation. The crew of the Enterprise never completed their five-year mission in Star Trek,  the family Robinson never returned to Earth (or found Alpha Centauri) in Lost in Space, the two doctors trapped in time in The Time Tunnel never found their way back home either.  Fans of these shows and so many others would be just left hanging; their investment in the shows frustrated by open endings.

Its something which we thankfully are usually spared these days. Babylon 5 had an ending, the BSG reboot did, Fringe did, Lost did… Game of Thrones did. Of course, sometimes fans didn’t get the endings they wished for- Game of Thrones being the most obvious example of a show that didn’t stick the landing (and indeed in that particular case the crash proved particularly ugly). Part of the morbid pleasure of sticking with shows these days is the oddly perverse pleasure of seeing how they finally end, whether its a satisfactory conclusion or not. Partly that was why I stuck with The Walking Dead through some nine seasons, until I realised that thing is NEVER going to end, but yeah, surely one of the main reasons to stick with Westworld is to just see how they manage to wrap all that up.

Mind, the movies are catching up- just look how satisfyingly Disney concluded the Skywalker Saga with The Rise of Skywalker… Maybe those 1960s tv shows were onto something.

Feeling the Leviathan’s Wake

leviI’ve recently finished Leviathan Wakes, the first of the nine-book series that forms The Expanse. Partly its to fill the empty expanse (see what I did there?) in my life as I wait for season five of the show to drop on Amazon (hopefully before the end of the year), and partly its to sate my curiosity about what the original books are like, compared to the series.

As it turns out, the series is very faithful to the books by the evidence of this first entry. Can’t imagine many original readers being annoyed by any changes. I must admit I was rather surprised at how much of a page-turning potboiler it turned out to be. The book lacked the slow start and world-building that the series featured, with some characters appearing in the first series of the show not in this book at all, but clearly due to turn up in the second and third books. In some ways I found this a little disappointing, and I actually think the television incarnation might actually be an improvement on the book, because I quite enjoy all that world-building and exposition. It did seem odd, having been used to reading the Game of Thrones books, the sheer density of which dwarfed the HBO series even when it that series followed the decidedly sedate pace of the books. I suppose some readers might actually find the lack of possibly irritating explanations of how the Epstein Drive works or the detailed planetary politics going on in the background etc as being a bonus. I suppose I’ll have to see if the following books fill in some of those details.

Carnival Row Episodes 5 – 8

carnival3Eight episodes seems to have become the de facto length for most tv shows now. I find that a little curious as its something that may have benefitted Game of Thrones years ago, as it stuck to HBOs preference for ten-episode seasons and eight might have been a better sweet spot for the show. Well, that ship has sailed off into the West with Anya Stark so I mention that just in passing.

Carnival Row, then, completes its first season of eight episodes whilst a second season is already being set for production. While its always nice to be enjoying a new series in the knowledge that more is to come, that does carry the caveat that very often these multi-season shows have deliberate story arcs and a regrettable tendency to fall back to cliffhanger endings each season finale. It was something new and fun back in the days of Babylon 5, but it has become increasingly irritating as JMS’s serial epic has since been so widely adopted as a model for genre television.

Thankfully Carnival Row, while teasing future plot-points as its first season draws to a close, nonetheless manages to wrap up most of its current storyline. I was a little disappointed in how some parts of this story was wrapped up perhaps a little bit too neatly, but perhaps thats the price to pay to still keep it self-contained enough. I suppose its a natural problem for initial seasons that they have to introduce the world and its characters, particularly one so outlandish as this, as well as having a satisfying beginning, middle and end.

On the whole it was a pretty good series and promised much for future installments. I hope that a second season will benefit from the experience of this first season and perhaps take the opportunity of more risks and left-field storytelling. I did think that the best of this season was its world-building and establishing its mythology, and that the murder mystery that formed the backbone of its actual storyline turned out more predictable than I’d hoped. More surprises next year, please.

 

Last Week: Battlestar’s coming back

bsgThe relentless shift towards streaming and the rush for new content has seen providers looking at their IP portfolios. News broke last week that NBC Universal, launching a streaming service (titled Peacock) in April 2020, has decided to reboot Battlestar Galactica for what will be a second time. Glen Larson’s original was a pretty blatant Star Wars knock-off in 1978, that is most interesting today for indicating what was the wall of what television could manage back then, and Moore’s 2003 – 2008 reboot was an indication of how sophisticated tv sci-fi had become. Maybe a 2020 reboot will indicate how creatively bereft everything has become, or how general quality has to be diluted by so much content being made now for so many networks/streams- how is anybody in Hollywood out of work anymore?

I must confess I was pretty horrified at the news- I love Ron Moore’s incarnation of BSG, its possibly my favourite sci-fi show. The idea of someone (apparently the guy behind the new show is Mr Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail) going back  to Battlestar and relaunching it in some way is depressing but not surprising. Everyone seems averse to new properties and sees obvious advantages to going back to old stuff, either for nostalgia’s sake or ease of marketing something already familiar or established. I can’t really highlight the creative apathy in this because Moore’s BSG was itself a reboot, and it was great, so I’m sort of championing the very thing I find so disheartening.

But why BSG? Alas, its simply because its something that NBC Universal owns, simple as that. A property that would probably actually benefit from a modern reboot would be something like Babylon 5, but as that is a Warner property, that is only likely to come if the WarnerMedia streaming platform (itself launching next year) deems it a IP worthy of a second try. The caveat I have about B5 is replacing any of its cast, most of whom were pretty amazing- it’s akin to trying to find someone to fill Leonard Nimoy’s shoes casting Spock, which has been troublesome indeed for Paramount and CBS in various later Treks- and of course that’s also a sticking point for any ‘new’ BSG.  Sam Esmail has actually tweeted to disgruntled fans that his project is not a reboot of the Moore series and possibly sounds like something in the BSG ‘universe’ in a similar way to HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series is a spin-off from both graphic novel and movie.

Its really not so much creatively cannibalising an old property but using its IP, and its mythology, as a shortcut- and of course being able to use its title as a recognisable marketing tool. Its still a fairly lousy way of making ostensibly ‘new’ content, but its something we are pretty used to, as Hollywood has been doing it for years, decades, in all manner of movies.  I would much prefer something genuinely new, something none of us have ever seen before, but as the streaming giants bring us ‘new’ shows like Westworld, Watchmen, Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Lord of the Rings etc, I guess I should just appreciate shows like The Expanse, Altered Carbon, The Man in the High Castle, Outlander, Carnival Row, The Boys, Umbrella Academy etc all the more. It clearly isn’t all about reboots and remakes and sequels.

God knows there is such a lot of content out there. Time is the one thing these streaming channels seem to be ignoring- just how much time do they think Joe Public has to actually watch all this stuff? I cannot keep up with it as it is, and the idea that I’m somehow expected to subscribe to more in order to watch more… well, surely everyone has a limit. Especially for those of us who would appreciate the time just to rewatch some of our old faves; I tried a few years ago to rewatch Moore’s BSG throughout and gave up somewhere in season two, and have other Blu-ray box-sets (Chuck, Fringe etc) that I would love to go back to but haven’t even tried.

It will be interesting to see how the various television platforms, new and old, fair in the coming years. I’m sure some will be lost along the way, and its pretty hard to see Disney+ floundering so I suppose it may be a case of the old networks and satellite/cable platforms going the way of the dodo. Along the way we will be getting so much to watch, including a new Battlestar Galactica, as long, I assume, that we will be willing to pay extra for it, and that’s the big question. Its not enough to read that new shows are coming- alongside the news of everything coming I have to keep an eye out for where its coming from, to know if I will even be able to watch it. I’ve ‘missed’ so many shows not because I’m not interested or haven’t the time- rather just because I either haven’t access to it or am not willing to pay for it. The cynic in me assumes that the various torrents will all be busy next year. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Carnival Row Episodes 1 – 4: Magnificent World-Building

"Carnaval Row" Ep101 D22/38 Photo: Jan Thijs 2017While not everything is up to such a high standard, we have been spoiled over the past few years with some really sophisticated television shows that can be superior to anything the cinema gives us. As production values soar and often equal those of cinema (as suggested way back in the days of Babylon 5, CGI has been a great leveller between silver screen and home), television has used its great advantage of running-time to great effect- indeed, the serialisation of so many film franchises is an example of cinema heeding this fact and mimicking television. It could well be argued that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really episodic storytelling for the silver screen.

As far as production value goes, most of these new television shows are not cheap, and largely owe their existence to non-Network channels, such as HBO or streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon. The biggest of them all, apparently, is The Lord of the Rings series from Amazon, which is set to commence shooting in New Zealand early next year. What I have heard of its scale and ambition, that show may well break the wall (to borrow a line from BR2049) between the worlds of television and cinema, and so prove there is no distinction between the two at all. We may even be past that point already, depending upon how one views such epics as Game of Thrones or Westworld or Altered Carbon.  It may ultimately not even be a Good Thing, either, as I’d suggest that good storytelling can often benefit from limitations. Good drama depends more upon good characters and conflict, rather than hordes of CGI armies and spectacle. Too often have good movies been spoiled by reliance on spectacle simply because they are perceived to need to be a blockbuster, to draw audiences in for some new sense of scale in action and visuals. Without access to all such visual splendour, traditional genre television has had to rely on more old-fashioned stuff like good storytelling, characterisation etc

carival4Latest of Amazon’s offerings is Carnival Row, an eight-episode series starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. Its a Victorian steampunk fantasy that is visually arresting: giving it the ‘look’ of a lavish period drama, and then populating it with strange steampunk tech and fantasy creatures such as horned/hoofed satyrs (the Pucks) and dragonfly-winged fairies (the Fae), Centaurs, Trolls, and even a Cthulhu-like monster lurking in the underground maze of the sewers, is something of a masterstroke. But what I found really impressive is its world-building: instead of drawing attention to all the more fantastic visual elements, instead it is offered up as something ordinary, even mundane. The remarkable is simply unremarkable. Moreover, the dialogue is wonderfully dense at times, referencing races, objects, religions, places, and not feeling the need to explain them- they are instead almost offhand details that add a sense of depth and colour to the piece. Rather than explain everything we see and hear, we are left to pick up the pieces ourselves. On the one hand, it is mostly incidental; we can follow the plot regardless, but for anyone wishing to go the extra mile, so to speak, it offers another level of meaning and detail to that plot. Its Tolkien by way of Charles Dickens.

Inevitably, Carnival Row is a drama of its time. At its heart it is a blatant allegory of mass migration, its economic impact and resultant racism and bigotry familiar to most news reports of our day. The various fantastical races of this fantasy -the Pucks, the Fae and the other bizarre creatures, have been displaced by the carnage of war between competing human nations fighting over the mineral wealth of their Old World that dates back long before humans came into the world. The Pact, the victorious human nation, has slaughtered most of the Fae and forced any survivors to either flee or perish as their villages and homes are destroyed. The Burgue, the human nation that lost the war and whose armies have retreated to its own land, has granted some manner of sanctuary for the creatures, with many of them settling into Carnival Row, something of a ghetto of disrepute and a melting-pot for the various races, traditions and religions.

carnival1Here Human, Puck, Fae, Centaur and Troll manage to keep some manner of peace but the tensions are high.  The Burgue’s central government is split between those who wish to maintain sanctuary for the migrant races and those who fear the alien outsiders that are perceived as taking worker’s jobs and spreading crime and disease. An aristocratic family formerly of wealth and good standing but now on the cusp of bankruptcy and poverty, are horrified when a rich Puck businessman moves next door and threatens to bring down the neighbourhood.  A young Fae, Vignette Stonemoss (Delevingne), the sole survivor of a ship that fled her homeland with refugees, is forced into servitude to pay back the money she owes for her passage to ‘freedom’. A streetwise police inspector, Rycroft Philostrate (Bloom) is, unlike most of the police, sympathetic to the plight of Carnival Row’s more colourful denizens and has to circumvent the indifference (and outright hostility) of his superiors when trying to solve a series of bloody and horrible murders in the Row.

The art direction is wondrous, the set designs richly designed and quite elegant. The sense of period lends a reality to everything that makes some of the fantastical elements all the more convincing. Coupled with the beautiful cinematography (which looks really amazing in 4K UHD, with lovely use of HDR) these sets and costumes are a joy to behold. Its really quite cinematic and quite convincing. There is a genuine sense of place, and reality. The casting and acting is really fine, too, with an interesting use of accents bringing another layer of detail to it.

I’m really enjoying it, and so soon after The Boys aired, its clear that Amazon is really moving up a gear with some of its original shows -indeed, perhaps only now are we seeing the results of its increasing investment into the gathering streaming wars. I was rather indifferent to the prospects for Amazons Lord of the Rings show, but on the strength of these two most recent series, my interest has been raised.

 

The Expanse – Season Two

exp2b

I’m almost lost in it. Haven’t felt like this since the heady heights of season three of Babylon 5 or BSG in its prime – only this time around, I’ve not been limited by weekly airdates, watching this season on Blu-ray. Basically, I’d be watching an episode late in the evening, be so swept up by the story and curious to see what happened next that I’d ignore common-sense (and the clock on the wall) and be unable to resist starting the next episode and then… yeah, sneak up to bed around midnight or later and suffer at work the next day… and then repeat again the following evening. Somehow I was beyond hooked, and The Expanse had become all-consuming and irresistable. How had I managed to leave it two years between season one and two on disc when now I struggled to leave it be for several hours? I’m seriously considering buying the books and giving them a go, just to soak it all up again and perhaps find extra details.

I was very impressed with season one of The Expanse, and a frankly embarrassing, all things considered, lengthy hiatus between watching seasons enabled me to rewatch the first season again a few weeks ago just prior to finally giving season two a go. This rewatch probably helped me get the most of season two, as it literally follows immediately on from the events depicted in the first season’s final episode, and as I’m not familiar with the source material it helped to keep track of all the characters/factions. The first season of the show depicts about 65% of the first book, Leviathan Wakes, the remainder left for the first five or so episodes of season two- which seemed a bit odd to me, in my ignorance, when I first saw season one.  Suffice to say spreading the story out properly, beyond the restrictions of the first seasons ten-episode limit, was a very smart move. While it makes it hard/impossible for newbies to join the show cold, the second season really gets up and running very quickly, and the finale of that first book gives the second season a blistering mid-term crescendo that is breathtaking in the sheer audacity of its scope and it is to the show’s credit that it doesn’t go downhill from there, but actually maintains that level and manages a gobsmacking finale.

To be clear, while the first season was very good, this sophomore season is just simply amazing. Really, I was so blown away at just how brilliant this show had become in this very confident and assured second season. Its almost faultless; a refreshingly hard-sci fi series that tells a huge and involving, at times surprising and extraordinary space-opera tale that’s up there with Babylon 5 in its epic scale of politics and space-battles, balanced by a gritty and realistic approach that is clearly indebted to the BSG reboot of several years ago. Many times I would be watching the show thinking ‘this is how Babylon 5 might have looked with a bigger budget/modern tech’ and while we’ll never see the likes of B5 again with its brilliant, unique (and sadly lost, over the intervening years) cast, The Expanse has taken on the achievements of that show and taken it forward to the next level. Not coincidentally, it also seems to have carried the torch of being the next anti-Star Trek. Seriously, I have no idea when I’ll be in the mood to watching the new Discovery episodes now.

exp2You’ll have possibly noticed that I haven’t actually mentioned anything about plot or actual events etc. That’s because I don’t want to spoil this show for anyone- it needs to be experienced blind, full of those twists and surprises that I have found so enthralling. Which likely seems funny to some readers, particularly those in the US as season two is already a few years back for them.

Of course, there is one particular commonality between Babylon 5 and The Expanse– and that is cancelation. B5 always teetered on the brink each season and The Expanse actually did get canceled as its third season aired. Thankfully Amazon saved the day and I can now turn to season three confident I’ll see the story continue in 2019. It’ll be a bitch having to wait, mind. Having three seasons to watch like this spoils you. I’ve read that Amazon will have the three seasons of The Expanse up on Prime next month and hopefully that will ensure the possibility of a new wider audience prior to season four arriving later this year. The Expanse deserves bigger success.

Now if you will excuse me, I have that third season box waiting for me…

 

 

 

Returning to The Expanse

exp1.jpgWell if things have been a little quiet lately on this blog its largely due to me finally getting to a belated rewatch of season one of The Expanse, now that I have season three to watch as well as season two. Suffice to say that in the grand tradition of all things Netflix, I managed to watch all ten episodes over the past four days- maybe binge-watching is an acquired skill having watched so much on Netflix over the past several months, but it’s likely just the short days/long dark evenings that have helped.

The Expanse is as great as I remembered– maybe even more so, as there have been clear advantages to rewatching this first season again. As before, one of the elements I most enjoyed was its gritty, future-noir detective story feel, inevitably a nod to Blade Runner so inevitably up my street. Thomas Jane is brilliant as life-weary/crooked cop Joe Miller who is put on a missing-persons case that he is expected to fail at. Instead of trying/failing/filing it away, something about the case and the woman, Julie Mao, raises his interest and it becomes something of an obsession. Meanwhile, out in the Belt near Saturn, the ice-freighter Canterbury picks up a distress signal from a ship called the Scopuli, but the derelict vessel they investigate is actually a trap- seemingly engineered by authorities from Mars, and the freighter is destroyed leaving a handful of survivors/witnesses in a fleeing shuttle. Political repercussions of the attack spread quickly throughout the system, bringing the opposing powers of Earth and Mars to the brink of war. Miller’s investigations lead him to links between Julie Mao and the doomed Scopuli and a conspiracy involving bio-engineered weapon tech of possibly alien origin, and the survivors of the Canterbury, led by Earther James Holden, become increasingly trapped in this web of intrigue themselves, eventually leading to them and Miller being caught together in events involving the deaths of thousands on Eros station.

There’s certainly nothing else quite like it out there, I think. The nearest thing I can suggest is that it’s like a sci-fi Game of Thrones but that’s lazy and not really fair- yes its epic with a big cast of characters and contesting factions/intrigue but beyond that the similarities end. GOT tended to lean towards sex and nudity early on to get attention and The Expanse (other than a scene early on in the first episode) avoided this. As its really a giant space opera set in the 23rd Century it really leans towards Babylon 5 (one of my favourite shows) but with a bigger budget and/or the benefits of obvious advances in CGI. It has a huge scale and looks absolutely gorgeous in HD- my player obviously upscaling to 4K on my OLED. It looks really filmic but is full of interesting characters and big ideas. Watching it this time around I noticed it’s a production from Alcon Entertainment, who were also behind BR2049, and yes, it’s certainly that same kind of intelligent, adult science fiction.  While there are things that can no doubt be picked apart by the experts, the show does lean towards a real-science, physically-accurate portrayal of space exploration that is refreshing and quite convincing- it’s certainly more 2001 than Star Trek, more Alien than Star Wars.

As I still haven’t read any of the books upon which the series is based, I can’t say how faithful it is or have any idea where it’s all headed- ironically though, as I had put off rewatching season one for awhile now, I now have two seasons to watch after this so the threads left hanging won’t be frustrating me quite so much this time around-  indeed with any luck I’ll be starting season two later today.

HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon > First Man

fe2m2It shouldn’t come as any surprise, really. In some respects, any comparison between a high-quality twelve-part mini series and a two hour-plus Hollywood movie is going to be rather unfair, if only because a twelve-hour series is going to have much wider scope to give the Space Program its proper due. In First Man‘s case, it is perhaps doubly unfair because, contrary to some of the marketing, in many ways the Space Program and moon landing are almost incidental to the main focus of that movie.

Having watched, and enjoyed  First Man (albeit with some reservations that I may come to later in another post), I went home and was unable to resist finding out my DVD of HBO’s glorious mini-series from 1998 (has it been so long?). I cued up my favourite episode, the wonderful ‘Spider’ (episode 5) and its subsequent episode ‘Mare Tranquilitatis’ which covers much of what First Man does. What a fantastic two hours it was- First Man paled by comparison, frankly.

The music. The cast. The sheer joy. Mind, it was a sobering experience- a 55″ OLED does no favours for DVD. The show looks quite utterly horrible. Here starts the campaign to get somebody at HBO to remaster the series for a HD release on Blu-ray (and okay the campaign probably ends here too, but I can dream). Some of the model-work holds up (just) but the CGI effects have aged as badly as a Babylon 5 episode, and could do with a fresh rework. It would be a shame to let the rest of the series suffer for this poor image quality and dated effects, because it could likely hold the series back from gaining a new appreciative audience. Strangely overlooked over the years since it first aired (its a series largely lost under the shadow of HBOs bigger hits like The Sopranos, Band of Brothers etc)  I still think it is a remarkable project and a largely definitive account of the Apollo program. Maybe HBO plan to so something with the show next year, as a freshly remastered broadcast to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing would seem a marketing man’s daydream.