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09 Oct 2007

Bad Sci-Fi


A former cow-orker (there’s a reason for that construction…) sent me a link to a Something Awful article, The 22 Most Awful Moments in Science Fiction.

Most of it I agree with. Much as I love Dr. Who, the plastic chair of death is so bad it’s hilarious. In fact, to be really fair, probably half of the list should be taken up with bad Dr. Who moments.

I have always refused to watch Alien 3, for precisely the reasons in the article. As far as I’m concerned, Newt, Hicks and Bishop are still awaiting rescue with Ripley (though Bishop may need a little more rescuing, or some good glue.)

I think it’s very unfair about Babylon 5 (though not so much about the fans, where most of the venom was directed); B5 was an imaginative show that didn’t deserve to have its storyline screwed up by constant cancellation threats, and Crusade held a lot of promise. And the Three Laws are just as valid – in their context as a base for a fictional artificial intelligence, which is not the same as the machines that we’ve named “robots.” They’re not perfect, and even Asimov explored their flaws, but they have a well-deserved place in Science Fiction lore.

But then I never agree with everything about a “worst of” list, and it was funny.

However, it brings a thought to mind…

Much as I think Babylon 5 is one of the greatest series ever to have happened, I’ve finally realized that it’s time to let it go.

With great excitement, a few weeks ago, I bought the latest DVD. This is what I wrote to afore-mentioned cow-orker.

*On the other hand* – if you get chance to see the latest direct-to-DVD Babylon 5 production, “The Lost Tales,” don’t take it. Run away. Don’t let it do to the series what Alien 3 did to Aliens. (Except not for me, because I refuse to watch it.) I won’t offer to loan you the DVD, because that would be mean. The only reason I won’t throw the piece of crap away is that I might otherwise in the future be tempted to rent it to see if it was really as bad as I recall. If it’s in my collection, I don’t need to ever think about watching it again.

The writing was never Babylon 5’s strongest point – which is a strange thing to say, given that its stories were the best around. We forgave George Lucas’s horrible dialog in the original Star Wars, because the story was fun. When the story deteriorated in the three prequels it was much more apparent that the writing was really bad.

Babylon 5 had a vision. It didn’t have the write-by-committee feel of recent Star Trek series, where the stories were awful, and the dialog uninspired (though often superbly acted). Individual episodes were well-planned, and fit well into the main arc. When the series cancellation loomed at season four, the arc was hurried, and felt it – that really shows how well the show had been designed beforehand.

But the dialog was stilted and predictable. Characters were distinctive, but although they behaved differently, their dialog was largely the same. Same clichés and stock phrases. It’s been too long since I last watched it for many to come to mind, but “done, and done” does. If only Sheridan had spoken that way, you could see it as characterization, but several did.

The writer, Joe Straczynski (JMS to us loyal fans) had a brilliant imagination, but perhaps should have had his dialog reworked a little. We forgave him that because of the story.

In the final season, the main arc had been closed off early (because of the cancellation threats), and the side-stories that had been intended to continue within the arc had to be fleshed out independently. That didn’t flow well, and I think most B5 fans would agree that Season Five was the weakest of all. It didn’t help that the new station commander, played by Tracy Scoggins, spoke – in pauses – like – she was – reading from a bad – teleprompter. She was the worst actor the series had had, after Claudia Christian, Ivanova, who had been consistently excellent.

Now, consider Babylon 5 writing, like the fifth season, except take away any story arc, and any interesting individual storylines. Use Bruce Boxleitner, who suited the role but isn’t really that great an actor, and Tracy Scoggins, whose haltingly-artificial mode of speech is worse than ever. Drop the space scenes, because you have no special effects budget, and shoot everything as talking heads, with the story explained in interviews. I.e., throw away anything interesting about B5, and focus solely on its weaknesses.

While you’re at it, take Galen the technomage, but turn his enigmatic behavior around so that he appears as a psychopath rather than a thinker. So that even Peter Woodward’s presence isn’t sufficiently redeeming.

That’s “The Lost Tales.”

Admittedly it doesn’t violate the series in the way Alien 3 does, but it’s uninteresting, predictable, badly-written and badly-acted, which is a sorry epilogue to a great series.

Babylon 5, R.I.P.