Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales (2007)

And if the rest are like this they can stay lost. Thank you, I’ll be here all week; don’t forget to tip your waitress. Even offstage, I can’t help but think that Straczynski had all these years to prepare and this is the best he has to offer? There’s a short exorcism tale so embarrassingly clumsy that few people would have thought it worth releasing and then a longer moral-choice story that while it works overall is definitely slim.

Let’s start with the exorcism and certainly that subject sounds odd for B5. I remember hearing a story that Straczynski was annoyed by the supernatural elements in Neil Gaiman’s script but can’t find any verification so let’s just leave that as an unsubstantiated and possibly wrong rumor. In any case, Straczynski seems to have gone that route himself and “seems” because you can always posit the demon as some kind of utterly natural alien though there’s not the slightest hint of that in the episode.

Which may or may not matter considering how embarrassing this segment is. The entire opening is pretty much nothing but two characters spouting exposition at each other, nothing dramatic about it and a voice over or text crawl could have served the same purpose just as ineptly but much lower on the annoyance factor. Actually, there’s a brief scene just before the exposition-a-rama showing an unknown man falling down in what appears to be a warehouse area. A bit is shot through some kind of circular object, perhaps with the idea of adding some visual interest though it’s so completely unmotivated that’s really just distracting. Maybe he was trying to indicate the character is trapped but I sincerely hope not. (Straczynski is the credited director though the IMDB also lists Sara Barnes.)

So the point is that Catholicism (or Christianity in general?) has been declining since humans reached the stars and found no angels, not even Vorlons. The priest goes on (and on) about this while Lochley lays out her problem. (Tracy Scoggins is as wooden an actor as you can find.) Seems the guy from the first short scene is possibly possessed by a demonic entity and when he’s finished his crumpets could Mr. Priest please have a look-see? Admittedly there’s a bit of spark to the priest-possessee dialogues though overall they don’t amount to much. In the end it’s tossed away by having Lochley jump up from a sleepless night having realized the “secret” and then she then gets to deliver a cringe-worthy monologue at full volume. The entire segment has no subtlety, no depth, no brains, no nothin’.

The second and longer segment revolves around whether Sheridan will save Earth from a disastrous attack by assassinating the prince who will grow up to lead said attack. This story is much better, partly because the cast is stronger but also even though the conflict is quite schematic at least it has some substance. The impact is reduced by having some out-of-the-blue disaster that relies on Sheridan believing that a vision he has is actually of the future and not some hallucination or illusion (a line of dialogue even addresses this, though in a somewhat improbable “I know what’s real” tone). And then the prince volunteers personal info to Sheridan that it’s hard to imagine anybody in such a cut-throat court doing. Even worse is a scene with a news reporter that shows Sheridan playing a mean practical joke but actually comes across as misogynist. Was this intended to display another side to Sheridan or did Straczynski actually think this might be funny? (The misogyny seems completely unintentional though still hard to deny.)

In the end the second segment relies on Sheridan thinking of an unexpected alternate solution which is perfectly fine even if it mostly sidesteps the moral dilemma. The unfortunate capper, though, is a bit where Sheridan accuses the technomage of perhaps manipulating him to do the this alternate solution which the technomage had wanted all along. This doesn’t even really make much sense and you’d have to really stretch the earlier scenes to make that fit. But then that possibility is never resolved anyway so it feels completely tacked on.