Review for Babylon 5: The Road Home
2023 is the thirtieth anniversary of Babylon 5, the epic space opera from J. Michael Straczynski. The original series followed a pilot film, and lasted for five years. There was an abortive spin-off series named Crusade, and there were a handful of TV movies and specials alongside and after the series concluded. In my mind, nothing ever matched the series, although Crusade never had the chance to reach its potential. By the time The Lost Tales came out in 2007, budgets were such that they felt like little more than unfulfilled ideas with fan-film money.
Something like Star Trek has been on screen, on and off since the late sixties, with never more than five years between two screen incarnations of the franchise. Yet Babylon 5, with its amazing story universe has been out of sight and out of mind for 15 years at this point. It does beg the question why, and thankfully creator J. Michael Straczynski is active on social media. It turns out that Warner Brothers had the equivalent of Michael Grade as one of the suits, who didn’t even want to consider it. They moved on, and suddenly the possibility of a B5 revival became real. The series found a new binge-friendly life on streaming services, and a re-master that means that Babylon 5 will get a Blu-ray at the end of this year. What’s more, the original story is now continued in the form of this Babylon 5: The Road Home animation, which is also a test to see if there is appetite for more.
Alas, the suits get in the way again. 2023 is the year of Babylon 5, and J. Michael Straczynski has been teasing what might just be a live-action reboot of Babylon 5... And then the writers’ strike, and subsequently the actors’ strike happened, and everything has gone quiet on that front. Also the Crusade spin-off has its rights in question, so it can’t even be referred to in this film. But that’s all a conversation for another time. I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I watched a Blu-ray the same day that I bought it...
Time travel has lasting consequences. Back when he was Captain of Babylon 5, John Sheridan undertook a mission to protect the Babylon 4 station’s destiny in the first Shadow War, and wound up unstuck in time in the process. It was only through great effort that they managed to stabilise him and restore him to the present.
Now that he is the first President of the Interstellar Alliance, he leaves Babylon 5 for the last time to take up his office on Minbar, and do the things that all presidents do, like cutting ribbons and making speeches. Opening a new energy production facility that is significantly more efficient is his first duty, only this generator works on tachyons, faster than light particles that wind up snapping the thin thread holding Sheridan to his time. Not only is he being thrown backwards and forwards through time once more, but now also to alternate realities. If he doesn’t return to where he belongs, it may mean dire consequences for all reality. And worse, he’s being pursued through time...
Babylon 5: The Road Home gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DD 5.1 Surround Spanish, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The film is also available on 4k UHD if you wish. The film takes a page from 3D anime like Knights of Sidonia that use cel-shading to make the characters look 2D, which is a lot more pleasing to the eye and easier on the budget. The image is clear and sharp, and the animation is presented without compression or aliasing issues. The quality of the animation is excellent, capturing the likeness and mannerisms of the familiar characters. Seeing the world of Babylon 5 realised on such a grand scale, particularly the station itself is very effective in animation, in a way the TV series couldn’t manage. The audio is good, the surround immersive and the dialogue clear. The action comes across well, and the music, while it starts off with a familiar Christopher Franke feel to the opening credits, finds its own identity as the film unfolds.
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray style eco-case with bits cut out of the plastic. Thankfully you get an o-card slipcover to help keep dust out. The disc boots to a static menu where you’ll find the following extras.
Audio commentary with Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan), creator J. Michael Straczynski, and supervising producer Rick Morales
Babylon 5 Forever featurette (17:57)
I didn’t know I needed new Babylon 5 this badly in my life. Given how the franchise effectively fizzled out in the 2000s, I had given up hope of seeing anything as good as the original TV series I had fallen in love with. And along comes The Road Home, and it’s not only as good as the best of the TV series, given the way it can finally show the world its characters inhabit, it might actually be better.
Its story is set right at the end of the series main story, at the end of Season 5 when John Sheridan left Babylon 5 to take up his post as president of the Interstellar Alliance on the planet Minbar, after holding the post for one year on the station. As he leaves we get a news reporter narrating his departure, conveniently recapping the important plot points of the series in the process i.e. The Shadow War.
We get some foreshadowing as Sheridan leaves the influence of Epsilon III, the planet Babylon 5 orbits, in the form of a headache and some timey-wimey echoes. But it’s only when he gets close to the Minbari power station that he gets hit by a special effect and is sent careening through time and space.
It’s poignant enough as he revisits events that have occurred in the past, as well as leaping into the future to see familiar faces with grey hair. But then he starts shifting through alternate realities as well, seeing the roads not taken, what might have happened if the Shadow War had turned out differently and so on. The drama really kicks in when it becomes clear that if Sheridan doesn’t stop leaping, reality itself will be under threat. The comedy is guaranteed, when he realises that he’ll have to go to the last person who helped him when he got unstuck in time, Zathras. And then there is the peril when we see that he’s being pursued through his sojourn through space-time.
To be honest, given the story blurb, I had some misgivings about The Road Home before I watched it. The multiverse is in vogue these days. Every franchise seems to be exploring roads not taken, and not everyone is succeeding at it (Marvel have been unable to recapture the heights of the Infinity War in subsequent movies). I wasn’t expecting much from a Babylon 5 multiverse. But Straczynski obviously knows Babylon 5 lore like the back of the hand that wrote it all, and he chooses moments for Sheridan to visit that have such weight and poignancy to them, that you’ll get what they mean to the characters even if you haven’t seen the series. You don’t have to know that Anna Sheridan was on the Icarus when it landed on Z’Ha’dum to realise the import of awakening the Shadows, although it adds more if you are familiar. And seeing the alternate realities where the Shadows prevail is chilling regardless.
The story works however, not just for the narrative candy, but because the characters are so well established, developed and realised, even in animation. The film has for me the perfect ending. It couldn’t have been any other way, and it brought a tear to my eye. The setting of the end of the film is also particularly noteworthy. It ends in an alternate reality, with many of the familiar main characters on Babylon 5, interacting in familiar ways to be sure, but in a reality that has no knowledge of the Shadows. It’s in effect a clean slate, ready for a new story. The strikes might have squelched any news of a potential live action reboot, but the end of this film offers the option of rebooting the story in animation.
The sad thing about Babylon 5 is just how many of the main cast have passed away over the intervening years. It’s one obvious reason why the continuation is in animated form. Hearing Bruce Boxleitner, Peter Jurasik, Claudia Christian, Bill Mumy, Patricia Tallman and Tracy Scoggins in their familiar roles will certainly put a smile on the face, but the actors cast to voice characters like G’Kar, Franklin, Delenn, Garibaldi, Sinclair and Zathras manage to capture the essence of the characters without becoming soundalikes. It’s really effective, and helps draw you in to the story, where it could easily have stood out like a sore thumb.
The Road Home is easily the best Babylon 5 since the TV series went off the air. I might have had a few misgivings as I tore off the cellophane from the case, but I started grinning as soon as the opening credits rolled, and the grin just got wider and wider as the film unfolded. It’s perfect for fans, and it’s great for anyone who wants to know what all this Babylon 5 stuff is about.