It's going to be a close call whether to make "Babylon 5" a series or just leave it as this one-shot telefilm. As a stand-alone, "Babylon 5" falls short of the mark, but it's a serviceable first episode and there's definitely potential for a solid, popular series.

It’s going to be a close call whether to make “Babylon 5″ a series or just leave it as this one-shot telefilm. As a stand-alone, “Babylon 5″ falls short of the mark, but it’s a serviceable first episode and there’s definitely potential for a solid, popular series.

Yes, this two-hour vidpic takes what seems like eons to lay in its groundwork and get its story going. Yes, some of the key cast members seem coiffed and directed more as celebrity impersonators than independent actors in autonomous roles. And yes, the sets are too dark and murky.

But there are excellent visual effects, some strong characters and an intriguing story line that could, given time, build a sizable following.

Babylon 5 is a space station that’s kind of a United Nations of the year 2257 . Reps of five major races — Earth humans and four alien types — are on board trying to hammer out a workable peace among themselves.

The writers test the peacemakers’ skills (and the viewers’ credulity) by giving only the humans and possibly one other mysterious race any real sense of how to deal with one’s neighbors rationally.

But then, the show has to find conflict somewhere, and there might not bea whole lot of thrilling stories to be told about five truly peace-loving races trying to make peace.

The biggest item on the needs-polishing list involves star Michael O’Hare and sidekick Jerry Doyle, both of whom could use new looks to avoid comparisons to Richard Gere and Bruce Willis, respectively. Despite whatever cachet these similarities might bring in overseas markets, such comparisons seem, in general, most undesirable.

O’Hare (as determined station commander Sinclair) and Doyle (as Garibaldi, the straight-talking, working-stiff head of security), seem fully capable of handling their roles without any celebrity look-alike packaging.

Also contributing solidly are the cast members who must spend hours a day in makeup to assume alien appearances: Mira Furlan, John Fleck and Andreas Katsulas. Other performers start out a bit ill-at-ease but show promise of easing into their roles if given more time.

The gloomy, depressing interiors could stand to be more brightly lit; the Stewart Copeland music would do well to lose some of its hard-rock excesses; and the otherwise excellent exterior visuals are a bit on the busy side.

But there is potential. It would be a shame if the judgment call goes against “Babylon 5″ and it ends up being a one-shot telefilm.

Babylon 5

(Thurs. (25), 8-10 p.m., KCOP)

Production

Filmed at Santa Clarita Studios by Rattlesnake Prods. in association with Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. Exec producer, Douglas Netter; co-exec producer-writer, J. Michael Straczynski; producer, Robert Latham Brown; co-producer, John Copeland; director, Richard Compton.

Crew

Camera, Billy Dickson; editor, Robert L. Sinise; production design, John Iacovelli; art directors, Deborah Raymond, Dorian Vernacchio; sound, Paul Rodriguez, Harry Cohen; music, Stewart Copeland; visual effects, Ron Thornton; special effects makeup supervisor, John Criswell.

Cast

Cast: Michael O'Hare, Tamlyn Tomita, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Blaire Baron, John Fleck, Paul Hampton, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas, Johnny Sekka, Patricia Tallman, Steven R. Barnett, William Hayes, Linda Hoffman, Robert Jason Jackson, F. William Parker, Marianne Robertson, David Sage, Ed Wasser.
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