fantasy: the Babylon 5 universe

Aliens among us: The Babylon 5 universe

The series that changed TV science Fiction: its long-term story arc concept broke the bumbling-about-in-a-starship-having-random-adventures mold that went back to Lost in Space and beyond but which was set in stone by Star Trek. But, as with Farscape, quality and high-production values alone were not a guarantee of survival: as the story-arc progressed it became harder for new viewers to get onboard. Also the momentum of the plot was lost towards the end (perhaps a result cramming two series of arc into one series) but even the makers of Star Trek had to take note and both Deep Space 9 and Voyager were flexibly arced.

The makeups were originally designed by John Vulich and Optic Nerve Studios; Everett Burrell was the makeup effects creator (seasons 1 & 2); Jeff Farley was the special makeup effects supervisor (season 5 & the TV movies); Mike Measimer was shop supervisor and also an on-set makeup artist. They explicitly set out to lift the bar for Sci-Fi TV shows: ‘not just a forehead’. They largely succeeded – setting a standard which only Farscape beat in the 1990s. The Narn makeup was particularly ground-breaking proving it was possible to put leading characters in neck-up prosthetics within the time and budget constraints of a TV series – although there were problems in finding actresses prepared to wear it.

After the first series though fewer and fewer aliens from the minor races were seen. I suspect budgetary restraints played as big a part as a tightening focus on the story arc: not introducing new aliens I understand but whatever happened to all those other ambassadors? Nevertheless J Michael Straczynski plausibly explained this as intentional:

We’d like to get away from the alien-of-the-week story… and concentrate on the aliens we already have. If you just keep on throwing new aliens into the mix, soon it loses all impact. We decided to try a whole bunch of aliens over season one, and pick the ones that worked, which we would then work to refine and integrate more fully into the storyline.

I can’t mention J Michael Straczynski without commenting how refreshing it was to come across a TV show that enthusiastically engaged in a dialogue with its fan-base.