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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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The X-Files
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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.

Columbia House has discontinued their X-Files library.

While this must be a disappointment to those who wanted to collect all of the episodes, it does not bother me. I am glad to skip stories about New Jersey Swamp Devils, and collect only the conspiracy, plus a few other special episodes. Chris Carter has done an excellent job of packaging and releasing commercially only the best. There is not one episode I really want from the first three seasons that is not available on store-boughten tape, and at $12.99 for two episodes (discounted at Blockbuster to $9.99), these are a bargain. The fourth season conspiracy episodes will be released in March.

All of which started me thinking about the best way to collect SF on video.

There are three factors to consider: price, quality, and shelf space. Obviously the cheapest way to collect Star Trek, for example, and also the way that takes up the least shelf space, is to tape episodes off the air, carefully blipping out the commercials. Unfortunately, this is not only labor-intensive, the edits are never as good as I want them to be. So, while off-the-air taping is the ideal solution for the economy minded, I find myself replacing carefully taped episodes with store-boughten tapes.

For the serious Star Trek collector, the Columbia House Video Club version has the advantage of having two episodes per tape, while the version offered in stores has only one episode per tape. The single episode tapes actually cost less per episode than the two episode tapes, which are twice as expensive and then you have to add postage. And the single episode tapes are more convenient to watch. Where they lose out is in the amount of shelf space they fill. (And while we are on the subject of shelf space, will all of you please e-mail Columbia House and tell them to use smaller boxes for Star Trek, instead of the tall, fat, badly made boxes they use now. Their boxes for Babylon 5 are better in every respect.)

The only major defect I have found in the Columbia House's Star Trek is that they do not use the original music for "The City on the Edge of Forever" (****). But, then, neither does the version you find in stores. The Sci Fi Channel restored the original music.

The only SF series I get from Columbia House other than the various Treks is Babylon 5, and I recently canceled my subscription to that, because the Babylon 5 tapes that recently went on sale in stores have more attractive cover art and a lower price. Also, the newer tapes have the re-edited pilot, which is much superior to the Columbia House tape of the original pilot. Columbia House also offers tapes of Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and many other genre shows.

The Columbia House Video Club, while expensive, is doing a great service in preserving on high quality tape classics of television that might otherwise be lost forever. I am especially fond of their Perry Mason series, which, unlike the versions shown on TNT every weekday at five minutes past noon, are uncut. Their Have Gun - Will Travel tapes are also a treat. So far they have issued all but one of the Gene Roddenberry episodes, as well as episodes by Harry Julian Fink and Sam Peeples. Watching Have Gun - Will Travel has also solved a Star Trek mystery. Why did Roddenberry buy that awful first season script "The Alternative Factor"? Answer: it was written by his old story editor at Have Gun.

When I reviewed Star Trek: Insurrection (***) in this space, I hesitated a long time over whether it rated three stars or only two. I saw it again, recently, and three stars was definitely the correct call. What I noticed the second time out was the amazing attention to detail, little touches put in just to please the fans, like the Trill on the bridge of the Enterprise, and the flawless special effects. There are a very large number of special effects shots that you don't even notice, because you forget, while you're watching, that the miraculous technology that is taken for granted in the Star Trek universe does not yet exist.

What impressed me most is how much more there is in a Star Trek movie than in almost any other science fiction movie you care to name, in terms of background, characterization, plot, acting, and dialog. Star Trek does not come up to the standards of, say, Shakespeare in Love (****) in any of these departments. But when you compare it to Armageddon (**) or to Event Horizon (*), the love the Star Trek creators have for the genre makes all the difference.

There are really only two things wrong with Star Trek: Insurrection. The first is that the alien planet is too obviously Earth. Even the animals are goats and llamas, except for the boy's pet, which is very well done. Second, the conflict is too hesitant. Until the very end, neither side is willing to go all out to win, which is realistic, but not dramatic.

Tonight, too late to review for this issue, is the second part of a major two-part episode of The X-Files, "Two Fathers"/"One Son". Part One was great. Look for the review of the entire two part story here in March.

Copyright © 1999 by 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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