‘Babylon 5’ is great, so why does it look so bad?
When the histories of this golden age of television are written, they will likely begin with The Sopranos. But that would be a mistake because the template a lot of modern-day TV copies was instead created by Babylon 5.
A decade before The Wire would be hailed as a “novel for television,” B5 was a hyper-serialized grand story that was conceived as a single five-year epic.
Now that the series has made its way to Amazon Prime, it is ripe for a whole new generation of fans to discover it. Except that, if they do, they may find that the picture quality is highly variable, and some sequences are quite hard to watch.
Now, it’s fair to say that the show is so good that it’s worth persisting with nevertheless. But how it ended up in this state is a tale of folks trying to plan for its future, only to be defeated by executive neglect.
If you’re unfamiliar, Babylon 5 is about the inhabitants of a space station located in neutral territory between five major empires. After a series of brutal and devastating wars, the station was set up to help mediate peace between these powerful players.
The first half of the year could be mistaken for a generic procedural drama but it’s the ultimate “give it time” show, since things quickly begin to cohere into a much greater story.
By the end of its five-year, 110-episode run, the show managed to tell a number of complicated stories, all at once. A show like Westworld can drag a simple piece of exposition out for nearly 20 hours; Babylon 5 would always resolve its plots long before you got bored of them.
If the show had aired on HBO, with a HBO-level budget, it would be talked about in the same hushed tones as Game of Thrones.
How bad does it look?
We should probably begin by outlining how effects-heavy shows like Babylon 5 are made, albeit simplistically. There are three different types of shot that were put together to make an episode. You have live-action scenes, which are just actors talking in a room; composites, which have a mix of live-action and CGI; and pure-CGI scenes. In order to protect your suspension of disbelief, it’s important that you aren’t noticing the transitions between them.