Babylon 5: Season 5 DVD Review

The Wheel of Fire

The last minute renewal for Babylon 5 was something of a mixed blessing. On one had it meant that the show would continue and J. Michael Straczynski would now be able to complete his much talked about five-year-plan. But since Straczynski had wrapped up almost every single significant plot thread the previous season he was now stumped about what to do next. Sure, he had a lot of great stuff with Londo planned but that didn’t get going until towards the end of the season. So what the hell was he going to do until then?

Babylon 5: Season 4 DVD Review

No Surrender, No Retreat

So much for best laid plans, eh. When he first conceived of Babylon 5 way back when J. Michael Straczynski had a definitive five year plan for the series. By the fourth season that plan was in serious danger of falling apart. The Prime Time Entertainment Network, the series’ home from day one, was not long for this world and as such the future of the series was uncertain. Fearing that his show would be cancelled before he could conclude the story Straczynski went in to emergency damage control and started wrapping up the all major storylines far earlier than he’d initially planned. As a result season four is the most densely packed season of the show’s entire run as barely a single episode is wasted in Straczynski’s mad rush to bring his story to a what seemed at the time to be a premature end.

Babylon 5: Season 3 DVD Review

Point of No Return

In my humble little opinion season three of Babylon 5 is the one of the finest seasons of television in the entire history of the medium. This was the absolute peek of J. Michael Straczynski’s small screen space opera. Admittedly, it’s not 100% perfect. It was at this point that Straczynski started writing ever single episode himself (an impressive achievement to be sure) so inevitable dreck like ‘Grey 17 is Missing’ gets sandwiched in between all the great stuff. And we were pretty much spoilt for choice with great stuff this season. After two years worth of build up this was the season where things were finally starting to pay off.

Babylon 5: Season 2 DVD Review

The Coming of Shadows
It was a year of change in season two of Babylon 5.

After the first season had wrapped up production it was mutually agree by all that Michael O’Hare wasn’t working out as the show’s leading man. O’Hare amicably agreed with creator J. Michael Straczynski to depart from the show (least that’s what they keep telling everyone) and was soon replaced by Bruce Boxleitner as Captain John J. Sheridan. The former Tron fitted in quite well on B5 and after about a few episodes you’d easily be forgiven for thinking he’d been there the whole time.

Babylon 5: Season 1 DVD Review

Signs and Portents
J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 was the last, best hope for a rival sci-fi television franchise to challenge the dominance of Star Trek. It failed. And let’s be glad it did. Last thing we needed was another bloated franchise knocking out a never ending cycle of naff spin-offs. Instead let’s be thankful for what remains to this day as one of the finest sci-fi series ever made. But it did take some time before it got there.

Hamlet DVD Review

Starring: David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies, Peter De Jersey, Mariah Gale, Edward Bennett 

Review: Of all the various tragedies, comedies and histories he produced in his lifetime Hamlet remains my absolute favourite William Shakespeare play. It contains his best narrative, his most fascinating characters and without doubt his finest dialogue, much of which has now become imbedded in the national lexicon. Like many I was unable to acquire tickets to see this RSC production starring David Tennant when it debuted last year in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Fortunately the RSC, realising the mass appeal of Tennant, have team-up with the BBC to adapt the play for television which is now released on DVD.

Director Gregory Doran, also responsible for the stage production, wisely avoids the same trap that befalls many by refusing to simply record the play on the stage as it is performed. This production instead uses a mixture of studio set mixed with some location work. Doran’s Elsinore is a dark, cold and claustrophobic setting, a palace of polished black floors, shattered mirrors and security cameras on every wall. Doran takes full advantage of the camera but doesn’t resort to being flashing by showing off with cheap camera tricks. Instead he uses the camera to tell the story and showcase the performances of his cast. Many of the major soliloquies are delivered directly to the camera and often shot in continuous takes. Doran also utilises basic special effects to make Hamlet’s encounter with his father’s ghost that little more spooky.

As the Dane David Tennant is simply mesmerizing, effortlessly capturing the character’s torment, wit and cunning. There are times when his performance is a little too David Tennant-ish but that’s a minor quibble of a truly phenomenal performance. He’s masterfully supported by Patrick Stewart as Claudius and Penny Downie as Gertrude. But it’s Oliver Ford Davis who steals the whole show as a wonderfully infuriating Polonius.

It’s not a completely flawless production. Despite the passion and conviction of the acting the whole never truly comes alive as it might do on the stage. Some scenes still feel too static and stagy for television. The subplot with Fortinbras is retained but goes nowhere and could’ve been easily excised. The final act feels rushed and unsatisfying (more Bill’s fault than Doran’s). And although many of the cast are flawless Mariah Gale is at times too theatrical as Ophelia especially in ‘get thee to a nunnery’ scene.

Hamlet remains the Bard’s most performed and adapted work. To date Kenneth Branagh’s lavish four-hour epic remains the definitive screen version. This production could’ve never have hoped to match that achievement but still produces an engrossing interpretation with a towering performance by it’s leading man.

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