Sunday, April 08, 2007

Babylon 5: River of Souls

General consesus seems to be that these TV movies aren't particualrly good, and I think that's actually made my viewing experience a lot more satisfying. If I'd just heard that River of Souls was a movie set after the end of the series, I'd be expecting something that would address the major issues, forward the characters' lives and tell me something new about the world. But, based on the buzz, I wasn't expecting much of anything, and like with Thirdspace, I wound up pleasantly surprised by this film. It's not one of the best things in the series by any means, but it's a fun story, with a lot of nice character bits. For me, this movie box is basically a segue out of the series, giving me some final moments with the characters to close out the experience of watching the series.

That said, the opening of this movie had me expectng the worse. The lame dialogue and Indiana Jones knockoff character weren't intriuging at all. Outside of my attachment to the series, there's not that much strong stuff in this film, and the opening scene just dragged with lameness. I'm sure Ian McShane is great on Deadwood, but his scenes were the weak link in this film, it wasn't until we got to the station that things got rolling.

Most of this film centers on Captain Lochley and I have to say, contrary to typical fan opinion, I think she's a superior character to Ivanova. Ivanova was really harsh, and only occasionally would moments of humanity shine through. Her speech in 'Rising Star' was one of the highlights of the series, but other than that, I can't think of many great moments with her. I'm guessing that the Byron arc was meant to develop her in the way that Garibaldi's season four brainwashing did for him, but as it was, she was just sort of there, never the center of my interest. Lochley seemed a bit more human, less abrasive. On the journey from Laurel in The Gathering to Ivanova to Lochley we can see the evolution of the same character type, moving from a near robotic inhumanity to a strength mixed with emotional vulnerability.

I think a large part of what makes her stand out in this film is that she's the undisputed leader, not subject to Sheridan. He was such a strong personality that he overshadowed her during season five. Here, she gets to command the station and do her own thing. Even though Garibaldi is back, he doesn't take control of things, and is just part of the team. I could definitely see why people would be frustrated to spend so much time with her, but I think it generally worked.

Because we've already seen 'War Without End' and 'Sleeping in Light,' it's not as big a thrill to see past the end of the series on this show as it would be on others. We can piece together most of the characters' lives post 2262, but it's still nice to check in with them again. It was great to see some new stuff for Garibaldi and Zack, and even Corwin, who once again fails when gving a gift to his commanding officer. This isn't quite as bad as the awkward time with the roses, but the bat doesn't work so well. The bat gag is pretty funny, but I don't know that it's quite as funny as JMS thinks it is. The design of the bat doesn't work so well either, if it's meant to be a love bat, shouldn't it look a little warmer?

The big guest star on this episode, a person I was surprised to see doing the show is...Robbie from Six Feet Under. No, actually it's Martin Sheen. During his initial entrance, I was thinking this must have been the nadir of his acting career, wearing the goofy makeup, speaking with an odd cadence, desperately hoping that he gets cast in this pilot called 'The West Wing.' But, as the film goes on, he gets into character and pulls things off fairly well. It's certainly no Apocalypse Now, but he puts in a good performance, and engages with the reality of the universe better than a lot of other guest starts.

Of the two plots, the Soul Hunter stuff was less interesting to me than the idea of the holo-brothel, but I do like the way JMS used the two as parallel narratives, both dealing with the concept of identity and memory vs. soul. The holo-brothel ties in nicely with 'Deconstruction of Falling Stars,' where we see the crews' image co-opted for use by a fascist government. The holo-brothel brought back some of the seediness of the pilot, and having Lochley as a part of it was an obvious, but satisfying gag. The best moment here was when Robbie says she's more popular with women.

'Soul Hunter' was probably my least favorite episode of the entire series, despite the ties in to future series mythology. But, I think this episode did a better job of dealing with the same concepts. I particularly liked Lochley's out of body experience, and the idea that this race was actually evolving, not dying. This ties in with the Vorlons, and is a precursor of humanity's future. It also works nicely with Morrison's concepts, the idea that evolution means a move beyond the physical, towards a pure energy state. I'm glad to see a work of fiction exploring this idea. There's a lot of rich themes here, all centerng around the question of what is the essential self, is it the physical form or is there something other?

Still, the basic plot is pretty goofy, and it was more the peripheral things that engaged me than the central narrative. As a continuation of the Babylon 5 saga, it's not much, but as an added bonus, it's nice. I'd like to see Lost Tales do something bigger and more meaningful than this, but if it doesn't, I wouldn't mind catching up with our characters and just going on another adventure.

1 comment: said...

Quite helpful piece of writing, thanks so much for this post.