The year was 2016. The name of the film was...Babylon 5 (!?)

So twenty years or so ago, there was this TV show called Babylon 5. It was set on a space station a few centuries in the future. Humans and aliens made war and peace on each other. It was groundbreaking TV in so many ways: it told a serialized story as if it were a novel for television, it incorporated CGI into (or replacing) physical sets, it used a little more science than other contemporary television science fiction franchises, the show’s creator was constantly engaging and educating fans on the Internet about what the production of a TV show was like. At times the ongoing story was epic, operatic, with compelling characters that broke under pressure or reached for the stars. It had its demerits, too: its miniscule budget meant that they sometimes had to scrimp on things like good actors. The CGI wasn’t always the greatest and is not getting better with age. But the show told its story, and ended. I really liked it.

The show’s creator, J. Michael Straczynski, or “Joe Straczynski” or “jms”, went into the comics field following the series finale. He eventually broke into writing for the big screen. Probably his biggest success was the first “Thor” movie.

Efforts at B5 spinoffs had mixed results. One TNT series was cancelled before the pilot aired. An increasing number of the original cast members have passed away. Further spinoffs seemed impossible. However, last month, at the San Diego Comic-Con, Joe announced (paraphrased) that since he has retained the film rights to B5, and since his new personal film studio* is rolling in cash, he’s totally going to just go ahead and make a B5 movie.** He’s calling it a reboot, I guess, instead of another sequel or followup to the original series. This news was released before the box office success of Guardians of the Galaxy, but I bet that movie’s success won’t hurt. “Sci-fi films with aliens and spaceships and ray guns are in nowadays,” you can imagine a hypothetical investor thinking, greedily rubbing his hands together.

To me, this news felt exactly like the news about Sierra’s imminent reincarnation. There’s the initial rush of sweet memories, rapidly walled off by layers of trepidation. A nostalgia gobstopper. There are so many reasons why this could fail. A movie’s running time is too short to use B5’s greatest strengths, which were characters evolving while driving a complicated and overarching story. B5 has about the level of mainstream name recognition as SeaQuest. Modern audiences just won’t get the Centauri hairstyle, or the collarless shirts the Earthers wore, or the Zima references. Some of the later spinoffs were painful, and now there’s no more Andreas Katsulas. Maybe jms is just trying to drum up excitement to get this made. But…maybe it will be great?

So, perhaps by 2016, this B5 movie will be facing off against Gary Whitta’s Star Wars movie. Won’t that be an epic battle of the planets?

  • you can just have your own studio? Nice. So far its greatest success is a Netflix series that is still in production. I hope it will still be around when it comes time to make this B5 movie.
    ** I have never heard of this website. This should be a red flag. But the article appears to accurately recap other accounts of that Comic-Con panel and an announcement on jms’ Facebook page.

So, perhaps by 2016, this B5 movie will be facing off against Gary Whitta’s Star Wars movie. Won’t that be an epic battle of the planets?

More like David vs Goliath. And David forgot his slingshot. B5 has no where near the fan base of Star Wars, its not even close. Also a reboot?! That will just alienate part of the existing fan base as well. Also since JMS is basically pimping right now, with his give me money or Ill make it myself thing, if he doesnt get major studio backing can he afford the expense of promotion? I liked B5 and I like JMS’s work but I really dont see this as having much chance at succeeding. I hope he proves me wrong.

I really hope it has singing telepaths!

I actually liked B5 but it took a while to warm up to it. The first season was rough but did get much better.

Warnings signs at the budget size, why not something along the lines of BS:G Razor with a similar budget - testing the waters, building hype.

No great interest from me in a revival. Some of you may not recall what a big fan sensation the series was at the time (due to the lack of SF of any kind on TV) but I never much liked it.

The writing, acting, and production quality of B5 didn’t impress me at all. I liked whatshisname, the Bruce-Willis-like security guy, and the silly over-the-top acting from that flamboyant alien guy was okay (you know which one I mean), but most of the leads and ensemble seemed to me like this was their first-ever acting job. Okay, Chekhov, I mean, Koenig wasn’t bad. But the only reason I watched it at all was because sci-fi.

B5, as a concept, was great. It had that Master of Orion feel to it, with the multiple races striving for control of the galaxy, and the mysterious hand of the ancients controlling everything. Star Wars, as everyone knows, is actually fantasy, rather than SF. Babylon 5 was SF. The alien races were well-developed and had a lot of uniqueness. It was also grimdark before we called it grimdark.

Execution often fell flat, though, and the pace was mostly off. Still, the capital ship battles were fun to watch.

If they’re making new movie, it has to be a reboot. Without the SW popularity, you can’t just pick up 20 years later and keep going from where you left off.

Didn’t they do the special effects (at least in the first few episodes) on a video toaster hooked up to an Amiga? I remember reading something about that in one of the Amiga magazines, and thinking “shit, I could do this at my house!”*

*totally ignoring that I had none of the skills necessary to do the CGI, just the ability to (possibly) get all the hardware.

Sort of. They were done on Lightwave 3D, and they did use an Amiga rendering farm for a few episodes.

Oh, I think it started out as SF. They made a big deal of there being no artificial gravity (at least on Terran ships); they had fighters that sorta moved realistically sometimes… at least in the first season; and I think they may have avoided having “noises in space” stuff for a little while.

But they VERY quickly lost that vibe after the first season or two. The Psi-Corps turned out to be nothing more than mystics, and you had your space-elves, and you had your soul-transfers, and the… ah hell let’s just skip to the end. One word: “Technomages”. You can’t put technomages in your universe and claim to be sci-fi any more.

Eventually, JMS just decided he wanted a D&D party in space and tried to put that “Crusade” show out - the natural culmination of the increasing fantification of B5.

B5’s strength was the (novel at the time) galactic soap opera played out over multiple episodes and seasons, not slam-bang action. So no interest in a movie: it’s a series or nothing.

The Centauri’s hairstyles looked as goofy then as they look now. That was the point: at first glance you assume Londo was a dopy blowhard. Then he stabbed you in the back.

Jerry Doyle. Now has a very big audience radio talk show. Kinda gone very right-wing, as nearly as I can tell, though I can’t say I’ve heard his show–it doesn’t appear to be available in my area.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a B5 movie, and I’d certainly watch it, but given the history of JMS trying to get movies off the ground, I am not going to hold my breath.

Err, no. The entire gimmick with technomages is that their powers are technological, so they fit into a scifi world just fine. The problem with them is that they’re bad scifi. JMS never offered any satisfactory reason why a bunch of technological geniuses felt it necessary to dress up in wizard cloaks, present their gadgetry as “spells”, and basically spend their entire lives LARPing.

Can’t say I’m enthused about a B5 movie, and this is coming from someone who religiously recorded and archived every single episode, bought the merch, and got to chat directly with JMS on GEnie. But as it wore on, it became pretty evident that, in spite of the occasional high points, the best thing about B5 was the idea. When he decided to have Sheridan end a millennia-long war between good and evil by barking “Get the hell out of my galaxy”-- that was my “That’s it, I’m out.” moment. Then came ThirdSpace… and Legend of the Rangers… and Crusade… ugh. No wonder the B5 universe fell out of the public eye.

Yeah, pretty much. B5 worked in significant part because it was a series that dared to actually present a single ongoing narrative, something that was really not part of the television lexicon back then. The worldbuilding was also more coherent and plausible, too, of course, and characters like G’kar and Londo and Bester were amazing, but the planned out serial narrative was what made it special in a way that still mostly holds up today. Because even if serial drama is much more of a thing in today’s television world, I don’t believe any other show has ever done what B5 did - a complete multi-season narrative arc planned from the beginning and finished, too. And I can see why, since B5 barely made it across the finish line and even then had to compress some of what would have been season 5 into season 4 because they were being cancelled and didn’t know TNT would come along and pick them up. Usually you’ll get at best a loose idea of where they’d like to go with the show, but with the actual arcs being composed season by season with no guarantee of renewal.

So I don’t see a movie resurrecting the appeal, especially minus good chunks of the cast. If it happens I expect I’d end up watching it, though.

It was - there were prime time soaps like Dallas in the 70s, and in the 80s and 90s there were tons of serial dramas like Hill Street Blues, LA Law, St Elsewhere etc. etc. It just wasn’t part of the science fiction television lexicon of the time, because of the belief that syndication/reruns was where the money was for genre shows, and that serial drama didn’t work for syndication. So things like Star Trek: TNG stuck to done-in-one episodes.

B5 was also instrumental in popularizing the “used future” aesthetic in television scifi. Prior to B5, spaceships and space stations were pretty much perfectly running and immaculate inside and out unless the plot called for it to be otherwise. But in B5 there was pretty much always some sort of maintenance going on in the background, in addition to the basic grunginess of the station.

Was anyone else on GEnie and CI$ when JMS was talking up the show during development? Miss those days, when you could have group conversations with guys like him and Damon Knight in a small crowd of maybe 200-ish civil people.

Shots from the big party Sierra held to show off the B5 game they were working on at Atlanta E3 in 1997. That’s Jerry Doyle flying a Starfury.

I’d be stunned if a major studio would give JMS a big budget to do a B5 movie.

Yes, there were plenty of shows that had on-going serialization as the writers made up what shit would happen next from episode to episode. Soaps go back decades earlier than that, btw ;) You don’t really believe St. Elsewhere was going to be just a snow-globe from the beginning, do you?

What made B5 different was it had an over-arching plot with significant story beats pre-planned and meant to be told over the course of five seasons. And then it would end. Fini. The final scene of the final episode had already been written before shooting of the pilot began. That was what was unique on American television at the time.

It was a great story even with all the cliches (because that’s what mythic storys are!), especially watching Londo and G’kar’s story arc play out. I think they are the best part of the entire show (top-quality acting happens, too!). The rest of the show often suffered from budget limitations and uncertainty about its future. Storylines had to be changed as actors became unavailable, etc.

I really wouldn’t expect it to happen again or be very good.

Weeeeelllll … JMS certainly said that at the time. (And yep, Denny, I was around on Compuserve when he was doing it.)

But I’m not sure if you showed B5 to the average viewer then or now that they would find the first 3 1/2 seasons of B5 to be more tightly plotted than a random set of LA Law seasons. Whether due to changes in plan, sheer bad luck, or the ways of JMS being inscrutable to mortal men, a lot of B5 suffered from a lack of consistency … the biggest example being the abrupt change of commanders (which was indeed sheer tragic bad luck.)

At the time JMS swore up and down that all these shifts still fit into The Master Plan. But The Master Plan got edited a lot.

JMS certainly wanted B5 to be A Novel For Television. Whether it actually came off that way to those who weren’t getting constant updates on his thought process (like we lucky few in the primitive online world of the day) is a different question.

There was also the problem of him creating a five-year arc, then being given the indication it was going to be cancelled after year 5. So he accelerated the story to wrap things up at the end of Season 4.

And then it got renewed, and he had to come up with material for Season 5…