Review: ‘Babylon 5’

New syndie sci-fi series whose pilot played last February hits the syndie trail with Warner Bros. distributing and lots of hoopla. Trekkies will strain to like it because of the concept, though the first episode bows in with too much hardware and only hints of personal interrelationships. But there are intriguing potentials.

New syndie sci-fi series whose pilot played last February hits the syndie trail with Warner Bros. distributing and lots of hoopla. Trekkies will strain to like it because of the concept, though the first episode bows in with too much hardware and only hints of personal interrelationships. But there are intriguing potentials.

Writer/creator J. Michael Straczynski and future scripters Harlan Ellison, Dorothy Fontana and David Gerrold, who wrote for the original “Star Trek” series , spotlight life in year 2258 aboard Babylon 5, enormous space station that houses its staff, space wanderers and, principally, earthlings and five ambassadors from alien space worlds. Purpose is to maintain universal peace under the Earth Alliance headed by fighter pilot Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare), who reluctantly runs the show. Ambitious Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) is second in command, with Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) heading security and telepathic Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) along to size up problems.

Right now, a huge, Centauri agricultural colony looking like a Christmas tree ornament is under attack. Centauri ambassador Londo Molaria (Peter Jurasik), decked out in an 18th-century earth outfit, is protesting to Sinclair that the Narn regime is responsible. Reptilian-looking Narn ambassador G’Kar denies it, so Sinclair has to settle the dispute. More, raiders are attacking a supply ship loaded with civilians, and, tough to believe, mission head Sinclair himself leaves his gargantuan duties to lead the intercepting space ships.

Under Richard Compton’s direction the space adventures ricochet from impressive to silly. Creator Straczynski’s characters are definitive enough, but their dialogue is often thin stuff. Their competition, Ron Thornton’s visual effects and Ultimate Effects’ special effects, are striking. John Iacovelli’s production design suffices, as do Ann Bruice’s costumes; in either case, it’s a slice of Buck Rogers.

O’Hare’s Sinclair is stiff but promising, while Andreas Katsulas’ G’Kar, helped by snakelike, spotted makeup, gives the more commanding perf. Most intriguing alien: the elusive, praying mantis-like Vorlon ambassador, a creative triumph in that he resembles no humans.

Youthful viewers may buy the low Ruskie comic act between Londo and his aide, but it isn’t funny. Doyle’s Garibaldi acts human enough. Mira Furlan’s delicately featured Minbari rep Delenn is firmly in place.

Camera work by John C. Flinn III is satisfactory, and Lisa M. Citron’s editing ably paces the program. Tech credits are generally solid.

Just why white earthlings are in charge of the solar system isn’t clear; it’s not smart to cross the Vorlons. But the plot’s serviceable, and if the vision’s not startlingly new, it’s workable enough to depict 2258 A.D. for 1994’s age 18- 39 watchers.

Babylon 5

L.A.: KCOP, Wed. Jan. 26, 8 p.m.; N.Y.: WWOR, Wed. Jan. 26, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in North Hollywood by Babylon Prods. Inc. Exec producers, Douglas Netter, J. Michael Straczynski; producer, John Copeland; co-producer/director, Richard Compton; writer/creator, Straczynski; director, John Copeland.

Crew

Camera, John C. Flinn III; editor, Lisa M. Citron; visual effects designer, Ron Thornton; art directors, Dorian Vernacchio, Deborah Raymond; production designer , John Iacovelli; costume designer, Ann Bruice; sound, Patrick Mitchell; music, Christopher Franke. 60 MIN.

With

Cast: Michael O'Hare, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Richard Biggs, Andrea Thompson, Andreas Katsulas, Peter Jurasik, Stephen Furst, Bill Mumy, Caitlin Brown, Paul Hampton, Peter Trencher, Jeff Austin, Arowight Chamberlain, Maggie Egan, Mark Hendrickson, Douglas E. McCoy, Marianne Robertson.
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