Legend of the Rangers
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers premiered on the U.S. Sci-Fi Channel on January 19, 2002. In anticipation of a possible series bearing the same name, this two-hour movie was also given the title "To Live and Die in Starlight". It was written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski and directed by veteran Mike Vejar. The show featured an entirely new cast with the exception of Andreas Katsulas, who reprised his role of G'Kar.
I thoroughly enjoyed Legend of the Rangers. I know that many people had unrealistically high expectations for this show. That always happens when one has waited this long for something. I, on the other hand, was a little bit apprehensive. I had heard that this movie featured some villains called the Hand who ate Shadows and Vorlons for breakfast. I was afraid it would turn into something like "Thirdspace" and we would see our Ranger heroes defeat an enemy that hopelessly outnumbered them.
Despite the fact that the Hand was central to the plot, the story didn't evolve the way I feared it would. Instead we were treated to something akin to a World War II submarine drama. This is something that Babylon 5 has never done before, and trying something different always earns an extra point in my book.
I found myself looking at "To Live and Die in Starlight" more as a series pilot than as a standalone movie. Therefore I was able to be more forgiving about issues unique to the movie while paying more attention to things that would affect a series. The characters are obviously the most important aspect that will carry over into a series.
Dylan Neal gave a wonderful performance as Captain David Martel. I was instantly at ease with him. He is strong and likeable, but still has that green quality that this young crew requires. I hope I don't earn too many enemies by saying that I would much rather watch Neal in a Rangers series than watch Gary Cole as Captain Gideon in Crusade.
Alex Zahara was brilliant as Dulann. His portrayal of a meek exterior with an undercurrent of intensity reminded me of Bill Mumy's Lennier on Babylon 5. I can almost hear Dulann saying, "I'm praying right now, but if you disturb me again I shall have to kick your butt." I just wish he had seen more action in the movie.
Sarah Cantrell as played by Myriam Sirois is an interesting character. I'm glad that Captain Martel called her on her bogus "truth". I wonder if she would grow into a point/counterpoint relationship with Dulann in a series. I disliked her outburst in the gunnery pod. More on that later.
I was initially disappointed with Dean Marshall as Malcolm Bridges. The actor was much more soft-spoken than the image I had in my mind before watching the show. However, I must admit that being soft-spoken can be an asset to a covert operations and infiltration specialist. I would need to see more of this character in a series to give him a chance to grow on me.
Jennie Rebecca Hogan as Na'Feel was quite a pleasant surprise. She speaks her mind, and she knows that she has to struggle extra hard for acceptance in the Rangers. I enjoyed the exchange in which she revealed a better-than-expected engine status to Captain Martel. It shows that she can earn that acceptance. On the down side, Straczynski needs to put a little more work into some good Narn curse words for her.
While Warren T. Takeuchi as Kitaro Sasaki had plenty of screen time, it was mostly technical exposition. He had virtually no character development other than being new and eager. This is another character that will need more development in a series before I can form an opinion.
What can I say about Gus Lynch as Tirk the Drazi other than he lifts very heavy things? This guy rules! I loved the origin of his name too. This character was just played for laughs in the movie, but I wonder what the future would have in store for him in a series? Remember that comic relief character in Babylon 5's pilot? What was his name? Londo Mollari?
Enid-Raye Adams played Firell the Minbari healer for what little screen time she had. She's very quiet, but past experience with Straczynski's writing leads me to expect that she would have some surprises for us in a series.
David Storch's Tafeek, the political and first contact officer, had even less to do than Firell. We'll have to wait for a series to give this guy a chance.
Finally we come to Andreas Katsulas as G'Kar. The Narn dignitary is more irreverent than ever. However, this is consistent with "Genius Loci", the short story by Straczynski set during G'Kar's travels with Lyta Alexander. In the short story, G'Kar attempts to reclaim balance in his life by mixing his current philosophical self with the less mature side that he displayed during Babylon 5's first season. Rangers shows us the result.
I have no major complaints with the characters or the story. So, what didn't I like? For one think the pacing was a bit off. Also, I was disappointed with the CGI effects. I'm a little annoyed by the fact that GVFX uses Maya software instead of Lightwave. Still, I'm sure they'll improve if Rangers becomes a series just as Foundation Imaging did on Babylon 5.
I didn't like the gunnery pod. I predict that there will be strong disagreement between fans on this issue. I just don't understand how moving your arms around can be faster than any number of other interface techniques available to the Minbari. I understand that the purpose from a filmmaking point of view was to put more human involvement into the space combat to make it more engaging. Unfortunately, I thought the poor actress just ended up looking silly.
Furthermore, the single lowest point of the movie in my opinion was Sarah Cantrell's temper tantrum in the gunnery pod. Please. That was painful to watch.
The other thing I'm not sure about are the aliens. Minister Kafta said the attacking ships were just toys that the Hand gave to their servants. I was half-expecting to see people of Kafta's species on the ship. Instead we get this guy that looks like a fat Nazgul. Was he from the Hand, or was he from a different servant species? Regardless, his dialog was horrible. There is a reason that the Vorlons speak seldom and the Shadows not at all. It makes them more menacing and mysterious. When an alien says something like, "You have complied with items one through three of our demands. I will now verify your performance on item four before completing our transaction," he sounds more like an IRS auditor than a vanguard of doom from another dimension.
I very much want to see Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers become a series. The cast and characters are great. The storyline is completely open-ended. I hope the Sci-Fi Channel will make a decision quickly, and I hope that the actors are still available.