Thursday, August 02, 2012

DVD Review: Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

When I talk to people about how much I love J. Michael Stracyzinski, one thing I frequently mention is that I don't know that he knows how to end things.

The perfect case in point is The Lost Tales. I understand completely what he was trying to do, and what limitations he had put on him. But when everybody was excited that he might do more B5 projects, secretly I've always cringed at the thought. "After" isn't always his strongest suite, as evidenced by some of the official epilogue short stories he's written.

Babylon 5 was an amazing thing, and as I've said many times, one of my favorite pieces of television ever. But the thing about B5 is that it's an epic story, meant to be contained to a specific piece of that epic. It's brilliant, interesting, and well told. But there are parts of it that don't always hold up under scrutiny, and the easiest way to create scrutiny is to expand the universe. Ask George Lucas or the Wachowskis, the more you tell about your universe, the more inconsistencies the audience will find.

Babylon 5 is no different, and The Lost Tales is one of the worst offenders. The first half, which focuses on Lochley, is convoluted and confusing. The show was always one that frequently talked about religion and spirituality but never came down on any one side or another. In fact, it frequently found a science-fiction explanation for religious miracles (time travel creates a deity, angels are actually aliens, etc). The show was never scornful of religion, but it never really made a stance that religion was fact just that sometimes faith is important and fanaticism is bad.

Which is why the first story about a demon possession on B5 is just too much. There is no part of this story that works for me, but especially the "twist" of the end which was no twist at all. It doesn't really explore any characters, it doesn't do anything for anybody, and it creates a mythology that was never there before.

The second story, which features President Sheridan and a Centauri prince, is much better and fits with the universe so much more. For one thing, it gives us a glimpse at another Centauri perspective outside of Londo or Vir. We see far reaching consequences to the actions we saw them take in the series, and we see the possibility of far reaching consequences to the actions taken in this episode. The first half ends up affecting nothing. The second half changes everything.

There used to be rumors about a feature film about the Telepath War, and I still would like to see that because I feel like it's the part of the expanded universe that JMS knows best, and set up the most. I wish that he had done that instead of River of Souls, Thirdspace, Crusade, Legend of the Rangers, or The Lost Tales. Because with each extra project, the legacy and the power of Babylon 5 was chipped away a little more. Now it would be extremely difficult to put together the money and the cast to do the story of the Telepath War, and it probably has the most chance of being something that brings the show together and creates an ending that we would all love. If all we'd had after the show was In The Beginning and The Telepath War, it would be hard for any franchise to challenge it's place. But like every other franchise I can think of, epilogue after epilogue took more away than it could have added.

"DVD" Review: Jurassic Park

I can't even tell you how happy I was to find out that my local theater was going to be playing Jurassic Park on the big screen a few weeks ago. I hadn't seen it in theaters since it came out in 1993.

I was very, very in love with this movie when it was first released. Like almost every kid, I went through a dinosaur phase, though it had passed by that age. But that little thrill of being a kid and seeing dinosaurs come to life never really goes away, does it?

The other amazing thing about Jurassic Park is that this is the movie that made me love Stephen Spielberg. You see, before this point, I had loved a lot of his movies and E.T. was still this very important memory to me.

But this was the first time that I was old enough and aware enough that I finally made a connection between all of those movies and realized that one man was really responsible for them. This was my awakening to directing and what it really meant.

Plus, come one, it had a LOT of awesome dinosaurs.

So when I was in middle school and this movie came out, I had the student planner, I had t-shirts, I probably had a lunch box. Trading cards, I went for the whole merchandising thing. I still have some of that stuff.

Like a lot of kids and geeky movie buffs of the time, I was really impressed with the CGI in the film. But over the years, I grew more than a little disenchanted with computer generated imagery. It never felt real like it did then, it didn't blend, it felt like a way to cut corners rather than a way to tell a better story. So after a while, I was much more impressed with the T-Rex than anything else. The puppetry was the real star.

Which is why Jurassic Park still holds up today. There were very few things in the film where it felt particularly dated, mostly the things to do with the computer system (which was never accurate to begin with, ah well). The dinosaurs themselves still looked and felt real. They had presence and somehow they had emotion, even if that emotion was just "raging killing machine wants to eat you." The entire movie hinges on believing that these extinct animals are real and it manages, largely because Spielberg had the presence of mind to mix CGI and practical effects. I wish more filmmakers would do that today, because watching Jurassic Park again really made me feel like we've slid backwards.

There are things that don't hold up as an adult watching the movie. Lex is obnoxious and the entire movie could have been done without her, but Tim is somehow even more interesting. When Ray goes to the shed to reboot the system, it's obvious that it's just a plot point to get him killed, it's not set up well enough, and there's no reason for him to have gone alone. Everyone being gone for the weekend doesn't really make a ton of sense either, when you think about it.

And there's the fact that large chunks of the science in the movie are now completely wrong.

But it's not worth thinking about because the point of the movie is simple: are there dinosaurs? Yes. Do they want to eat people? Yes. Do you care if the people do or don't get eaten? Absolutely. Do you still care almost twenty years later? A resounding yes.

Jurassic Park is, quite frankly, one of the best movies of it's kind. A sci-fi action thriller that will remain a classic until we stop being fascinated with dinosaurs, which is probably never.