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Babylon 5 - The Gathering/In the Beginning (NTSC)

Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 188 mins . PG . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

This DVD contains two movie length Babylon 5 features. The disc is double sided with a feature on each side of the DVD. The two features are:

In The Beginning

This feature was actually made in 1997, four years after The Gathering but as the story itself covers the period before the building of Babylon 5 and explains the reasons for the development of the Babylon concept, I have listed it first.

It is 2245 and the human race is expanding and establishing itself as a minor space power. It is using its recent victory over an aggressive and violent race known as the Dilgar to help it establish diplomatic and trade relations with other space faring species.

The arrogant and over confidant Earth military despatches a small task force to investigate a race known as the Minbari. They plan to observe this race and make an assessment of their capabilities. Despite warnings that the Minbari are powerful and best left alone, the task force crosses into the outer edges of Minbari space. By chance they encounter a small fleet of Minbari ships. The Minbari approach the humans with their gun ports open, a gesture of respect, but this is mis-interpreted by the commander of the Earth task force who opens fire on them. Caught by surprise, the Minbari fleet is severely damaged and their leader, Dukat, is killed.

The Minbari are incensed by the unprovoked attack and declare war on the Humans. Superior in both technology and numbers they defeat the humans in every engagement as they drive relentlessly towards Earth and victory.

Sounds exciting hey, well watch it and see for yourselves!!

The Gathering

Modelled after the old United Nations, the Babylon project was designed to be a meeting place for space faring species. A place to trade, exchange ideas, educate and to settle differences in a peaceful manner. The first 3 Babylon stations were sabotaged during construction while the fourth mysteriously disappeared shortly before going on-line. Financially unable to support the construction of a fifth station alone the concept looked doomed until it was saved by sponsorship from 4 alien species. Their financial assistance came with a price. Each partner would have a place on an advisory committee to be chaired by the humans.

Now complete and fully functional the human crew of the station are awaiting the arrival of the final ambassador who is due to dock in two days time. This ambassador, Kosh, is a member of the mysterious and powerful race known as the Vorlons. No one has ever seen a Vorlon and any expedition sent to their space never returns.

The Vorlon ship arrives un-announced and two days early catching the command crew off guard. The commander of Babylon 5, Jeffrey Sinclair, rushes to the docking bay to greet the new arrival. Suddenly an alarm sounds, the ambassador has been attacked in some way. He is taken to the medical centre where the chief medical officer determines that the ambassador has been poisoned. As there is no other evidence to help identify the assassin, a telepath (mind reader) is used to scan the mind of Kosh in the hope of extracting information.

She succeeds in entering the mind of the Vorlon and reveals that the only person to greet Kosh was Commander Sinclair. The Vorlons are contacted and demand that Sinclair be sent to the Vorlon home world for trial, the troublesome Narn ambassador G'Kar agrees and forces a vote of the newly formed advisory council. The vote is close but the numbers tally in favour of extradition and the Vorlons despatch ships to pickup Sinclair.

"... unless we turn over the commander they'll open fire on the station. Tell them to get stuffed! Activate defense grid"

The security chief of the station, Michael Garibaldi, smells a rat and begins his own investigation. Can he find the real assassin before Sinclair is sent to an uncertain fate in the hands of the Vorlons?

  Video
Contract

Bloody hell yet another disc released here that has video that is formatted in NTSC rather than PAL. What the hell is going on at the moment?

Please make sure that your equipment is capable of dealing with NTSC before obtaining a copy of this disc.

It was interesting to compare the two features as The Gathering was the pilot for the series made back in 1993 while In The Beginning was produced much later, towards the end of the 4th season, around 1997.

The video transfer for The Gathering is presented full frame and is not 16x9 enhanced while In The Beginning has an aspect ratio of around 1.85:1 (probably 1.78:1) and is 16x9 enhanced. The 16x9 enhanced In The Beginning is the superior of the two transfers with better detail levels and improved sharpness.

While watching both features I was struck by the amount of visible film grain. This led me to the conclusion that both features must have been shot on 16mm film stock. I was later informed (thanks Joseph) that The Gathering was shot using conventional 35mm stock while In The Beginning was shot using Super 35mm stock. This makes the prominence of the grain that much more puzzling. The amount of grain is somewhat variable with some scenes almost grain free and others suffering badly. This problem robs both transfers of sharpness and reduces the overall clarity of the image. It also causes problems in backgrounds where some pixelization is obvious at times.

The colour saturation of both transfers is very good. Colours are strong, clear and clean with no real sign of bleeding. The black level of both is also good but not as deep as some of the more celebrated transfers out there. The overall lighting scheme for both features is on the dark side. At times characters are only partially revealed or hide in darkened parts of the frame. Clearly these are deliberate choices by the directors designed to support the story and taking this into account, I feel that the shadow detail for both is very good.

You will see several examples of our old enemy aliasing but overall I felt that film-to-video artefacts were not a problem. Film artefacts can be seen in both features and vary from small flecks to obvious fibres. Fortunately they are relatively infrequent and I doubt that you will find them distracting.

  Audio
Contract

The audio for both features is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Nothing wrong in the sound department but nothing to get excited about either. Designed for TV with the lowest common denominator in mind, there is little in the way of excitement in the sound design. The surround channels are active throughout both features but the level of some of the ambient sounds is so low that it makes little in the way of a contribution. Once the action starts things do pickup a bit with basic pans from front to back or from side to side. The score is always in the surrounds and its level is raised during periods of action or drama. Your subwoofer does get some work but its contribution is not always that noticeable.

  Extras
Contract

This 'extra' is a single screen that simply lists the main cast and crew. Now normally you'd think, "big deal, bare bones cast and crew information" but with the way the credits race past you at the conclusion of In The Beginning this inclusion becomes a little more useful should you wish to see who the main participants are.

  Overall  
Contract

In my opinion, Babylon 5 was an excellent Sci-Fi television series and so I'm pleased to see it released on DVD. However, the so-so quality of the video is a disappointment and probably relegates this disc to the "fans only" purchasing category.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1029
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      And I quote...
    "The good news is that Babylon 5 is now on DVD and is the best way to enjoy this excellent series. The bad news is that the video transfer is only so-so."
    - Michael Chappell
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Loewe Xenix 5006DD
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 105(s)
    • MPEG Card:
          RealMagic Hollywood Plus
    • TV:
          Grundig MW82-50/8 IDTV 16:9
    • Receiver:
          Denon AVR-2801
    • Speakers:
          Tannoy Mercury M4
    • Centre Speaker:
          Tannoy Mercury MC
    • Surrounds:
          Tannoy Mercury M1
    • Subwoofer:
          Aaron SUB-120
    • Audio Cables:
          Monster Lightspeed 100
    • Video Cables:
          ConCord SCART
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