Five Alive: ‘The Road Home’ is a love-letter to ‘Babylon 5’ fandom…

'Babylon 5' was a SF series ahead of its time and a new animated film quantum leaps to recapture some of its magic...

John Sheridan is leaving Babylon 5 for the last time, ready to assume his role not as just the commander of a space-station but President of the Interstellar Alliance, the face of a whole movement.  With mixed feelings, he departs Babylon 5 with his wife Delenn and readies himself for an important but perhaps more mundane everyday existence, pushing papers, shaking hands and making speeches.

But during a visit to the opening of a Minbari reactor, Sheridan begins to realise it’s power-system is tied to recent headaches he’s been having and to his horror the tachyon system sends him spiraling backwards and across time. Sheridan now has the job to work out where he’s ending up (his childhood, back on the early days of the Babylon 5 station) and even in some cases in different universes where things aren’t happening quite the way he remembers them.

Struggling to cope with the answers he finds and the questions they raise, Sheridan keeps leaping from time to time, trying to find out what has gone wrong and hoping, each time, that the next will be his Leap… home…



Babylon 5 was undeniably a show ahead of its time. In an era where television, even cable, was still very much the standalone-episode-of-the-week variety – enabling them to be syndicated without being a slave to continuity – J. Michael Straczynski ‘s space-opera was anything but. Yes, there were chapters that could be viewed alone or judged in and of themselves, but much of the five seasons of the show (which ran between 1993 and 1998) dealt with complex themes, long-form story-telling, political events and the real sense that an important saga was being laid out, slowly building to something quite epic. And even then, the show lasted beyond what might have considered its organic pinnacle and stuck around to demonstrate how messy a win could be post-revolution.

Since 1998 there have been several attempts to continue the story in a number of directions but several tv movies and a spin-off show Crusade couldn’t quite manage to recapture some of the original show’s urgency and style. There were always rumours circulating of a revival and, certainly, there’s been a trend in revisiting classic sf shows of late, but the stars never seemed to align. Until now. However, while some productions are meant to kick-start a new wave of fandom, one would probably have to admit that the animated feature, Babylon 5: The Road Home , released this week, is more there as a service to existing fans. Yes, there’s some scene-setting and exposition in the dialogue for newcomers and drive-by audiences, but it’s unlikely that a casual viewer would be as invested or as familiar with the characters as those who remember the original. In no bad way, it’s truer to say it’s a love-letter from its creator J. Michael Straczynski to the franchise and to the fans who made it a cult success – a stone-skipping roadmap through some of the historical aspects of the show and what might have been.

The very act of recreating the air of Babylon 5 walks a difficult and potentially perilous line. Of course, part of that is down to the rolling loss of some of the original cast on a scale not seen by many series in such short a time. With so many of the ensemble having since passed on in just twenty-five years…including the not-remotely-old Mira Furlan (Delenn), Michael O’Hare (Jeffrey Sinclair), Stephen Furst (Vir Cotto), Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin), Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar), and Jeff Conway (Zack Allen), most fans had pragmatically given up on Babylon 5 resurfacing as anything other than an entire structural reboot with new actors.  That many of the surviving cast do return (Bruce Boxleitner as John Sheridan, Claudia Christian as Susan Ivanova, Peter Jurasik as Londo Mollari, Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander, Tracy Scoggins as Elizabeth Lochley  and Bill Mumy as Lennier) helps anchor the production and lets it retain some of the original weight.  Given the unenviable job of stepping in are Paul Guyet (as Sinclair and Zathras), Anthony Hansen (as Garibaldi), Phil Lamarr (as Franklin), Andrew Morgado (as G’Kar) and Rebecca Reidy (as Delenn) but they acquit themselves well enough and existing fans are not likely to bristle at any different interpretation. (It is a shame that we don’t revisit Vir or Zack, but it is an already packed cast).

Visually, the animation style in The Road Home doesn’t have the deliberate cartoony simplicity of, say, Star Trek: Lower Decks but it also doesn’t go for the uber-photo-realistic or CGI route.  Key battle scenes featuring the space-station and the large Shadow vessels are lovingly recreated in what looks as good as rotoscope and in some ways the animation works at its best with those large vistas. Away from their ships, the Shadow spider-like army don’t seem to hold the innate skin-prickling menace of the series variety, feeling more like the Starship Trooper bugs when seen in any number… and the humanoid characters themselves range in artistic success. Boxleitner’s likeness as Sheridan is key and obvious, G’kar and Londo remain familiar, Zathras looks as Zathras always looked, but some of the other personnel are more familiar by their general gait and clothing rather than close facial detail. For instance, Delenn doesn’t quite capture Furlan’s features but certainly has that ethereal grace in her movements, Ivanova (reprised by Christian) has something of that key determined stare in all her incarnations and Garibaldi’s thinning hair-line is there loud and proud. However, out of context it would be difficult to recognise  them all… with, say, Lochley looking quite generic and perhaps even Sinclair looks far thinner than he should.

If you’re desperate to pigeon-hole then the story is very Quantum Leap meets Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but only in the broadest of strokes. Matt Peters (already a dab hand given his helming of various DC Comics-inspired animated projects) directs with a knowing eye and the running time of less than 180 minutes keeps things running along nicely – the extent that you might even wonder what this might have been like as a short, animated season allowing some of the timelines glimpsed more room to expand.

After plenty of wry humour, easter eggs for the faithful and familiar touchstones, the end of The Road Home is a little ambiguous, leaving us not with a now-reunited Sheridan and Delenn and their prime time-line, but in the past they’ve just left, now with a few differences. Whether that’s a nod to a tweaked continuity, a slight course-correction, a hint towards the much-discussed reimagining or just yet another shot across the bows of a multiverse theme (one that, let’s be honest, seems to be plot-development-du-jour across every continuum at the moment) remains to be seen.

But it’s nice to revisit Babylon 5 as a series and a space station once more… and realise that however things may have changed in the years since we left it, we’re still not all alone in the night…

Babylon 5: The Road Home arrives on Blu-Ray, 4K, and video on demand from today, Aug. 15.


'Babylon 5: The Road Home'  (DVD/Streaming review)
'Babylon 5: The Road Home' (DVD/Streaming review)
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