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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Flash Gordon (*) by Peter Hume, based on the comic strip created by Alex Raymond
Flash Gordon The new SciFi series makes some changes in the old legend. It gives Flash a first name, Steven, a mother who looks at most ten years older than he is, and easily twenty years younger than his scientist father. Dale, not Flash, went to Yale. Flash is a marathon runner, and he is really good, because when he finishes running the marathon he isn't even breathing hard. His best friend is a black man, but the script never bothers to establish what his name is! I wonder if, in the script, he's listed as "Flash's black friend."

His mother says things to Flash like "I never understood your father's work. All those numbers!" and "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. I lost your father to The Project, I won't lose you."

Flash plays detective. He can guess a person's weight by the depth of their footprints -- without even feeling the ground to see if it is hard or soft. Discovering a person's name, he can search the internet to find out where their RV is parked. There is an unexpected explosion, which naturally occasions cool, detached dialogue. "After you," says Dale. Nobody suggests, "Run away!" A mad scientist ("Don't touch me. I don't like it when people touch me.") who has kept a secret for thirteen years, and who doesn't trust reporters like Dale, but after two seconds of persuasion blabs the entire back story. In a -- you should pardon the expression -- flashback, Flash's father, after creating a totally unknown energy field in the lab, reaches out and touches it! The mad scientist, who must be Dr. Zarkov though he is never named, then explains that in the Big Bang, the universe was created in ten one-hundredths of a second. In other words, a scientist with a Ph.D. can't reduce fractions. Clearly, the pre-show publicity, which bragged that people who watch Flash Gordon won't need to think, was very apt.

Ming the Merciless has been changed to a Caucasian, presumably to avoid offending Orientals, though nobody minds offending Hispanics with a comic Mexican. "I have ween the lottery. God bless Ameerica!" I'm not Oriental myself, but I don't think I'd appreciate it if, say, they changed Hannibal Lector's race to Oriental to avoid offending Caucasians.

Well, a certain amount of fun can be had laughing at a stupid TV show, but actually watching said stupid TV show is a chore.

If you are interested in Flash Gordon, may I suggest a magazine I edit, Comics Revue, which you can order at www.io.com/~norwoodr and which publishes good Flash Gordon stories, written by Harry Harrison, author of The Stainless Steel Rat. I'm also editing a book, Flash Gordon Star Over Atlantis, which will be out before Christmas.

Babylon 5 "The Lost Tales Voices in the Dark" (***) by J. Michael Straczinski
Babylon 5 The direct to DVD Babylon 5 is enjoyable -- the second story more than the first. The budget constraints are obvious in almost every scene. Each story is about 35 minutes long, instead of 45 minutes. There are only three of the actors from the original series: Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins, and Peter Woodward. I think I caught a glimpse of Bill Mumy, but with the Mimbari makeup, I can't be sure. There are only three or four minutes of special effects -- the rest of the time the story is advanced by talking heads -- but the special effects we do see are top notch. The original music was evidently too expensive, but the music they use is certainly very good. J. Michael Straczinski had to direct as well as write, and he is a rather stagy director.

Given these constraints, Straczinski naturally focuses on a moral dilemma in each story, rather than on action adventure. Since he is thoughtful, intelligent, and well read, the stories held my interest.

The first story is about a crewman apparently possessed by the devil. It is essentially a three character drama, in which Colonel Elizabeth Lochley, a Priest, and a Devil debate whether the church is justified in using demonic possession to increase the number of people who believe in God.

The second story is a variation on the old chestnut -- suppose you could murder a Hitler when he was still an innocent child. Would you do it?

I hope that this DVD is enough of a success that there will be more, with larger budgets.

Copyright © 2007 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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