So I happened to spot a Usenet posting from Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski that caught my interest. I’m sure some folks are screaming about this, but in a way, I feel like JMS almost came to the same conclusion I did. Here’s what he had to say.
B5:TLT was commissioned at a $2 million budget to, yet one more time, “test the waters” for B5. We did what we could with that, and that was that. As we did with Rangers, which also suffered from not having a lot of money because of concerns about “is there really a B5 audience?” Which is, of course, a foolish question from a studio that has never really understood what it has in B5.
Of late, there have been more discussions from WB about doing more DVDs, again at a low cost, or a cable thing, again with minimal investment.
So for the last few months, I’ve been giving this whole subject a lot of quiet thought. And I’ve come to a conclusion.
B5 as a five year story stands beautifully on its own. If anything else is to be continued from that story, it should be something that adds to the legacy of B5, rather than subtracts from it.
As well intentioned as Rangers and TLT were, as enticing as it was to return to those familiar waters, in the end I think they did more to subtract from the legacy than add to it. I don’t regret having made them, because I needed to go through that to get to the point where I am now psychologically, but from where I sit now, I wouldn’t make them again.
So I’ve let everyone up here know that I’m not interested in doing any more low-budget DVDs. I’m not interested in doing any low-budget cable things or small computer games. The only thing I would be interested in doing regarding Babylon 5 from this point on is a full-featured, big-budget feature film.
It’s that or nothing.
And if it’s nothing, I’m totally cool with that because the original story stands on its own just fine. I’m not lobbying for it, I’m not asking fans to write in about it (nor should you) because such campaigns never really have much impact…that’s simply the position I’ve taken up here. Lord knows I don’t lack for other things to do these days. I’m busier on more prestige projects with terrific people and great film-makers than at any other time in my career.
At the end of the day, for me, it’s not just a matter of getting more B5. It’s a matter of getting more *good* B5 that respects what came before it and doesn’t have to compromise visually or in terms of action. The original show deserves better than that, the surviving cast members deserve better than that, and the fans who have supported it over the years definitely deserve better than that. A lot better.
So I’ve drawn that line in the sand, and I’m happy living on whichever side of that line the universe puts me. Just thought you should know, ’cause it’s your show too.
Now, I said above that I’m almost in agreement with him. Here’s where we differ (as if anybody cares where I disagree with a Hugo-winning, A-list writer): I don’t think Babylon 5 needs to be done as a full-budgeted feature film either. I’m okay if there are no further entries in the storyline. (I’m especially okay if there are no further entries along the lines of the “dude on B5 possessed by the devil as seen through the weirdest camera angles this side of the 1960s Batman series” half of The Lost Tales in the storyline, but I digress…) The beauty and part of the very definition of Babylon 5 was precisely that it WAS that sprawling, ongoing storyline. The more successful attempts to branch off from B5 have taken that ball and run with it, either grafting new limbs onto the existing storyline or setting up an entire new sprawling storyline (In The Beginning, A Call To Arms, Crusade). The less successful attempts – a category to which I agree that Legend Of The Rangers and The Lost Tales belonged – tried too hard to stand alone, when it just isn’t the nature of the B5 universe to do one-offs. Admittedly, LOTR tried very hard to set up a new plot strand, but the problem with all that talk of “the Hand” was the same problem that Stargate SG-1 had with the Ori: we just finished that story. With the closure of the original series, B5 had tied off the main thrust of the “ancient enemy from the dark times” storyline, inasmuch as it also told the characters’ stories and sociopolitical themes that JMS wanted to get across. (Similarly, it was a helluva long time before SG-1 managed to differentiate the Ori from the previous “false gods” that the show had spent 8 years battling, and by that time I had all but stopped watching.)
So…sorry, Joe. I don’t think B5 needs a movie. A one-off just doesn’t service the B5 universe the way that a serial format did – in fact, the specimens already available for study would suggest that one-offs do the continuing story more of a disservice. Perhaps B5 should be allowed to retire gracefully into reruns (has anyone noticed that it doesn’t seem to be running…anywhere anymore?) and someday be rediscovered and reinvented the way that the original Star Trek is now. Maybe not to the taste of the fans of the original, but in a form that will be more relevant to their children and grandchildren.
In a similar vein, I saw scifi.com’s Caprica trailer and found myself oddly ambivalent. Oddly, because I love the new Galactica, and I’m eager to see how it ties off those threads that the writers plan to tie off (and, admittedly, to see how it leaves stuff dangling that will have us screaming profanities into the heavens). But Galactica has been a very draining experience as well. I’m intrigued by the idea behind Caprica in principle, but I’m not sure I’m up for another viewing experience that’s as emotionally demanding as Galactica. I could argue that I’m just as emotionally invested in Doctor Who, but the Doctor is still “the other” – not one of us – so no matter how much emotion they graft onto his latest incarnation, I can still hold the Doctor at arm’s length. Even Lost has ventured far enough beyond the deep end that I can maintain some detachment – Lost is a chess game that the writers are basically playing against themselves, and the viewers are just along to see if we can figure out which clever moves they’ll make next. Galactica’s a bit trickier in that respect – it’s close enough to relatable reality that it’s harder to maintain that kind of distance. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way, and I’m also sure I’m not the only person who did not expect that to happen from watching the miniseries and the early season 1 episodes. Galactica worms its way in there and really f#$^s with your head…and your heart too. And I’m not sure I’m up for having something on the idiot box f#$^ with me like that again anytime soon.
I’ll add this as a post-mortem: I still think that, 20 years from now, when critics and historians are looking back at ’90s TV the way that we’ve recently been looking back at the ’70s, Babylon 5 will still have its permanent place in the pantheon. At the very least, it’s been a seminal influence in its own genre, but possibly outside of it as well. I don’t think we’d be getting this version of Galactica now had B5 not parted some of those same waters. If anyone wonders what ’90s genre shows I think will be held up as the most influential, in addition to B5, I think you can probably count on future historians also putting Xena, Buffy and – are you ready for it? – are you sure you’re ready? – Twin Peaks on the other pedestals. There are shows that I like more than these, sure, but going back to new Doctor Who, I don’t think anyone can watch the current iteration of Doctor Who and deny that there’s a profound amount of influence from Buffy (and, I’d argue, B5 as well, though that could also be an influence from the storytelling conventions of comics that filtered down through B5).
So while some folks may be cursing JMS for leaving them dangling after a single direct-to-DVD movie, I’m pleased with his decision. Minus the movie ambitions, it’s very much in line with my own feelings on the B5 “franchise” (such as it is) since the early part of this decade, and I’m relieved that JMS finally came to the same conclusion.