Babylon 5: The Coming Of Shadows

Babylon 5: The Coming Of ShadowsOrder this bookStory: This book chronicles the making of the second season of J. Michael Straczynski’s groundbreaking SFTV series Babylon 5, which was also the last season to feature scripts written by anyone other than Straczynski for over two years. Interviews with actors, writers, directors and JMS himself run throughout the book, with a special section on how the show managed to stay on budget and a great deal of focus on the arrival of new leading man Bruce Boxleitner.

Review: One of the things I’ve always been curious about when it comes to Babylon 5 is: when did J. Michael Straczynski receive the divine inspiration (or head trauma) that told him that he needed to write damn near every episode for the rest of the show’s run? And whatever happened to story editor Larry DiTillio, who was Straczynski’s right-hand man in the Captain Power days but disappeared after B5’s second year on the air? Continue reading

Babylon 5: Signs And Portents

Babylon 5: Signs And PortentsOrder this bookStory: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the pilot movie and first season of Babylon 5, with lengthy interviews with cast members, behind-the-scenes crew and series creator J. Michael Straczynski.

Review: This is the first volume of Del Rey’s series of books covering the making of Babylon 5, season by season. It’s a nice little series of brief pieces on the making of each episode, with lots of insight from the actors, JMS, and various directors, though much of this information can be found with a little bit of hunting on the Lurker’s Guide To Babylon 5 web site – and sooner or later, the book’s behind-the-scenes stories will probably wind up there anyway. Continue reading

The Making of Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7

The Making of Terry Nation's Blake's 7Order this bookStory: Noted SF historian (and Doctor Who scholar) Adrian Rigelsford traces the brief but eventful history of the BBC’s other serious SFTV staple, Blake’s 7, from Terry Nation’s original (and somewhat hastily-conceived) pitch for the show through the production of the final episode. Brief episode synopses and cast lists follow a detailed examination of each season’s most momentous production events, and a special section at the end of the book focuses on merchandise and fandom. Features a foreword by series creator Terry Nation, who died two years later.

Review: It’s hard to compare with Sheelagh Wells and Joe Nazarro’s “Blake’s 7: The Inside Story”, but Adrian Rigelsford manages to come up with a nice companion volume to that nearly-definitive book. Wells and Nazarro leaned heavily on interviews with cast and crew, and many an unpublished photograph; in Rigelsford’s case, he had access to the BBC’s archives, loaded with photos, filming and studio filming recording dates, and all sorts of obscure facts that only a fan could love. While most of the photos are those that have been seen many times before, they’re sometimes presented as a spot-color background to the text, and most of the time they don’t cause any legibility problems (most) of the time). Continue reading

Liberation: Unofficial Unauthorised Guide to Blake’s 7

Liberation: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Blake's 7Order this bookStory: The authors guide us through a fairly scholarly episode-by-episode analysis of the BBC science fiction series Blake’s 7 (1978-1981), examining the evolution of scripts, challenges encountered in the production process, and the copious subtext bestowed upon the show’s 52 episodes by the cast. Special attention is given to the show’s relevance to sociopolitical issues contemporary with the original broadcast dates, and re-examining those themes in a more current context.

Review: When I was in my senior year of high school, I had a lovely English/lit teacher who took us through a selection of terribly influential – and, for an American public school, terribly subversive and dark – 20th century literature: “1984”, “Lord Of The Flies”, “Brave New World”, Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”…great stuff. And yet, God love her, she almost blew the whole thing by overanalyzing everything. I’m not saying that no author has ever referenced the Holy Trinity by invoking the number three in literature, but I’d argue that nobody bothered to deliberately reference that as often as my teacher talked about it. Continue reading

Blake’s 7: The Programme Guide

Blake's 7: The Programme GuideOrder this bookStory: Tony Attwood provides a concise, episode-by-episode breakdown of the BBC’s most underrated (and underbudgeted) science fiction series, Blake’s 7 (1978-1981). In addition to the customary cast listings and plot synopses, there are also brief interviews with cast members Paul Darrow, Michael Keating and Peter Tuddenham, script editor Chris Boucher and producer Vere Lorrimer. The late Terry Nation, creator of the series, also wrote the book’s original 1982 foreword about the genesis of his ideas.

Review: Still the only BBC-endorsed official guide to Blake’s 7, The Programme Guide is handy not only for its chronicle of the show’s 52 produced episodes, but its very brief interviews with the show’s cast and crew. Continue reading

Blake’s 7: The Inside Story

Blake's 7: The Inside StoryOrder this bookStory: Blake’s 7 has always been shrouded in mystery, and as with Star Trek, we no longer have access to the creator’s mind to find out what he was thinking – so the authors tracked down all of the actors, many of the directors, and many of the other creative personnel responsible for the show’s memorable stories and occasionally less than memorable special effects. Co-author Sheelagh Wells was Blake’s 7’s makeup designer for the second, third and fourth years of its four-year run, and also spent much of her off-screen time before and after the series with star Gareth (Blake) Thomas, so she has many personal insights to the show’s history.

Review: This long-overdue look behind the scenes of my favorite science fiction series was a must-buy item for me, and though the import price was a bit steep, it was a very worthwhile purchase. Continue reading

Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor Handbook

Doctor Who: The Fifth Doctor HandbookBuy this book in StoreStory: Using both new and archival interview material and their own analysis, author David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker analyze the three-year reign of Peter Davison as TV’s fifth Doctor Who, a time of upheaval for the show’s schedule, its traditions, and its behind-the-scenes crew.

Review: This volume of the Handbook was one of the last to be released in that series, and maybe it’s easy to see why. The books on the first, second and sixth Doctors dished some interesting dirt about the show’s production team and offstage drama, but by comparison, Peter Davison’s time on the show – as popular as it was – was nearly uneventful by comparison. Some would say the same of Davison’s portrayal, but interestingly enough, the man himself addresses that in interviews here, pointing out that everyone involved with the series was so nervous about how to follow up on Tom Baker’s reign, the decision was taken from the top down to write and portray the Doctor in an almost non-committal, non-character-specific way. That decision alone, and certainly not any lack of acting muscle on Davison’s part (who had already won over the public during his stint on All Creatures Great And Small by this time), is to blame for this era of the show, and its leading man, being labeled by many in hindsight as “bland.” Continue reading

The Making of Star Wars

The Making of Star WarsOrder this bookStory: Using archived interviews, documents, and photographs, J. W. Rinzler recounts the development and production of Star Wars in the mid-1970s.

Review: It takes a certain amount of skill and a certain amount of luck to retell a story that’s been told many times before and make it compelling. J. W. Rinzler has both working for him in The Making of Star Wars. Charles Lippincott, a Lucasfilm marketing executive, started conducting interviews in 1975 for a possible book on the making of the movie, but he never finished and those interviews wound up buried in Lucasfilm’s archives. Through those interviews, Lucas’s original film drafts, contract letters, and other photographs and documents, Rinzler was able rebuild the narrative of the film’s development and recapture the perspective of many of the principal cast and crew during the time period where very few people really understood what George Lucas wanted to achieve with Star Wars and no one had the faintest clue of how the movie would be received. Continue reading

The Art of Star Wars: Episode III

The Art of Revenge of the SithOrder this bookStory: The work of the various art teams is showcased along with brief descriptions of how the designs fit into the evolution of Revenge of the Sith.

Review: J.W. Rinzler explains that this book should be considered as a companion to The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; like that book, it is organized chronologically. This sets it apart from the other five Art of Star Wars books, which were organized either topically or around the framework of the screenplay. I appreciated the change; there is less text taking away space from the art, and what text is there helps place the images into the context of the making-of-the-movie story. Continue reading

The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Making of Revenge of the SithOrder this bookStory: This chronological recounting of the filmmaking process begins with pre-production art and design work in April 2002 and runs through October 2004, as editing and effects work continues leading up to writer-director George Lucas and composer John Williams meeting to spot the film.

Review: The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is a great book with one gaping flaw: it’s incomplete. In order to be available as part of the early-April marketing/product blitz for Sith, the book had to be wrapped up long before the movie was. So the book doesn’t end so much as it runs out, leaving the reader to wonder how the movie was actually finished. There is a free electronic book/PDF file that adds a final chapter, mostly focused on the score, the last pick-up shots, and dialogue looping. While it does provide some additional closure as veterans of the saga like Anthony Daniels do their last bits of work, even that ends with a few hundred shots of the movie left to complete. And even if the e-book did finish the job, I can’t help but think that there’s very little good reason to publish a book about the making of a movie before the movie is done being made. Continue reading