In part one of CINESCAPE's BABYLON 5: THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS coverage, readers were introduced to the concept and characters for the made-for-TV movie. This installment explores the film's special effects, its long-term plans and the effects of those plans on both the cast and fans.
As previously mentioned, the ratings success of the original BABYLON 5 when rerun on the Sci Fi Channel prompted the cabler to ponder the rebirth of the series. However, when approached with an offer to return to the universe he created, executive producer J. Michael Straczynski opted to go a different route.
"The Rangers, as a concept, were introduced during year three of BABYLON 5 and ended up being very popular with the fans because it's not just an ordinary military organization," says Straczynski. "It's the alien military to which humans belong. It's also a group of warrior priests, so it has almost a religious aspect to it. That combination of the spiritual with the ancient traditions of the alien culture with a military organization caught fire with fans quite a bit. So when Sci Fi Channel said, 'What do you want to do?' I said, 'There's this one area; we've opened it up; the fans love it. I'd like to explore it again. Let's expand that and show the inner workings of the organization.'"
Focusing primarily on the new challenges facing the Rangers in a post-Shadow War galaxy, the two-hour BABYLON 5: THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS telefilm also serves as a potential pilot for a Sci Fi Channel ongoing series.
"In terms of overall stories, I made the BABYLON 5 universe," says Straczynski. "I went a thousand years in detail before and after the original story. There is a whole mass of history for the BABYLON 5 universe that I can just drop into whenever I want to make stories. I figure I needed to know that even if we never used it and now, all of a sudden, we're going to use some of it."
As such, the show will most likely follow a similar format to that established by its predecessor if the concept is picked up as an ongoing series.
"Each season will be one year of storytelling time," says Straczynski. "I haven't worked out the whole plan yet because I'm still waiting on the final word that we can go ahead. But once that does come, I'll sit down and break it all out, go back to my original notes from the series, see where they were at various points and then begin breaking it out."
Another similarity a new LEGEND OF THE RANGERS series would share with the original B5 is its unique use of CG effects. Take, for example, the starship Liandra's one-of-a-kind gunnery pod.
"When the ship is under attack, [actress Myriam Sirois] drops into a gunnery pod, which is a three-dimensional holographic representation of space, and actually becomes the ship," says Straczynski. "Instead of the usual, 'There's a ship, fire!' and pushing a button, she points in the virtual environment and death follows. Where she points, the ship fires."
Ironically, Sirois spends an inordinate amount of time in the pod over the course of the film's two hours. As such, she quickly mastered the now standard practice of aerial wirework.
"Basically, I went up there right before the shoot started and got suited up," explains Sirois, who portrays weapons specialist Sarah Cantrell. "I went up in the harness and felt pretty comfortable right from the get-go, so I knew I could handle it. I just thought that the end result would be that much better if it were me performing the action and not some stunt double. So I was really happy and proud that I was able to do that."
If the telefilm is a success and the Sci Fi Channel orders an ongoing series, the cast may be in for a rather lengthy endeavor. After all, the original B5 series was designed as five-year story arc.
"I thought about that a lot actually," says Sirois. "Of course you want to just drop everything and go for it, but five years is a long time. You basically have to give up a lot, but I think we're all ready to. We were all really excited from the get-go because we felt this was a really special show. Joe's brilliant and I think there's enough in his wonderful imagination and creative mind to do a really good show for five years."
If the series were to last that long, its cast of up-and-comers will be thrust into instant stardom amidst a core group of fans that many considered a unique breed.
"We had a screening of GALAXY QUEST in my hotel room when we were doing this and we said, 'This is our lives people,'" jokes series lead Dylan Neal. "I've had a little taste of it before when I did a soap opera, but sci-fi seems to be a whole different thing. But I'm really glad there are these fans that are so supportive of the show because where else do you get that? Particularly when you're in network television it's always such a crapshoot doing a new show. I've had a number of series get canceled and hopefully with something like this, there are enough fans to give it some legs. And I'm really appreciative of that."
Of course, Straczynski has his own selfish reason for wanting the series to succeed and last about five years. Something to do with bringing closure to a certain CRUSADE of his...
"[Former B5 spin-off series] CRUSADE took place five years after the events of BABYLON 5," says Straczynski. "[THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS] is two and a half years after the events of BABYLON 5. So in theory, if one season equals one year, then in about two and a half years we're going to run into the events of CRUSADE."
And when questioned as to whether he would bring closure to the former TNT series within the setting of B5: THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS, the creator merely replies, "Yes. Absolutely. It's a sneaky way of handling it, but it's nice."