DVD
Babylon 5
The Legend of the Rangers

Starring: Dylan Neal, Alex Zahara, Myriam Sirois and Mackenzie Gray
Warner Home Video
RRP: 17.99
Z1 22353
Certificate: PG
Available 24 October 2005


We are Rangers.
We walk in the dark places no others will enter.
We do not break away from combat.
We stand on the bridge and no one may pass.
We do not retreat whatever the reason.
We live for the one, we die for the one.

A Ranger ship is tailing a vessel from a new race which has been responsible for several raids, when it is in return attacked. With the captain dead and weapons down, the highest ranking officer, David Martell, stands down from the chase. Subsequently, he is accused of breaking the Rangers' most strict rule of never disengaging from a fight. He is on the brink of being dismissed, even though his crew realise he made the decision to save their lives and the ship, and stand with him. The Narn Ambassador G'Kar intervenes in the Mimbari Grey Council session (who originally formed the Rangers). He has been asked to find out more about the new race, and sees this as one possibility. Martell is reinstated but as the captain of an old ship which is considered haunted and bad luck. The Valen is a new Ranger ship transporting several diplomats to a colony world. Martell's first job in the old ship is to escort them, but the new enemy attacks and the Valen is lost after ejecting the diplomats in pods, which the little ship collects. Then a spy is discovered in their midst...

The Legend of the Rangers was intended to be the pilot episode of a spin-off series from the first-rate Babylon 5, originally planned prior to the 13-part Crusade spin-off. In fact, it even carries a typical Straczynski poetical title: To Live and Die in Starlight.

Whilst far from being the best charge from the impressive Babylon 5 canon, it is jam-packed with potential. There's intrigue from the start, not so much from the story but rather the situations - the actual environment the characters are placed in. The decor and technology is purposefully different to that from the five-year arc that was Babylon 5. References are made to events which have gone before, but it's to the writer's credit that no prior knowledge of the programme is necessary. Also, for the old fans there is the comfortable slippers effect to carry you over this transitional period, with the return of Christopher Franke to the music composition (missing for Crusade), and of course the presence of G'kar.

I realise it takes time to accept a new format and particularly new faces; however, in truth it's the actors that let the side down. Not the entire cast, but I would change the majority of the main players. I grew to like Gideon in Crusade; David Martell in Legend is another matter. He seems to be a stereotypical young captain of the 1960s Captain Kirk ilk, with little or no personality whatsoever. Of the nine new crew members of this old dilapidated ship - comprising 4 human, 3 Minbari, 1 Narn and 1 Drazi - I would retain only two. The others are faceless. Weapons and tactical expert Sarah Cantrell, from Mars colony, simply makes herself look foolish when she slides into a weapons station which shows her surrounded by space. Her body flips over and she hurls firepower by physically punching and kicking it out, the ship responding to her movements. On paper this is a sensible science fiction idea, but on film it's so cringeworthy that you actually feel embarrassed for her. When she quickens her movements, anger rising, you just want to laugh.

The two characters which stand out like a shining light are the Minbari Dulan and the Drazi Turk. Since the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars it's no new idea to have a small bucket-of-bolts ship as the central focus. The film Event Horizon gave us the notion of a haunted spacecraft, but that was the ship taking on its own dark sentience, whereas in this instance the previous crew is dead but still present. It's a nice touch to have Dulan being a sensitive and the only person able to see the individual crew members.

The potential for story plots based on this alone are endless. When the new crew introduce themselves to each other in the traditional Ranger manner of revealing their name and something about the inner psyche, the Drazi Turk hesitates before announcing enthusiastically, "Turk... Drazi... I carry very large things..." Turk doesn't pretend to be anything he's not. Slightly slow, but very strong and useful, he's obviously intended as the light relief. Unsurprisingly, G'kar is the best character here, with many of the best lines (the moment when he peeks into the cowl of a Council member is priceless), but he's not meant as a regular.

With only two decent portrayals it might make you think The Legend of the Rangers has nothing going for it. All I would say is look to The Gathering, the feature length Babylon 5 pilot. Between that and the first episode proper much of the style and structure had changed quite drastically, and many from the main cast were replaced. When the Region 1 version of the Babylon 5 TV Movie Box Set was released with the full five films, it came with a super-improved cut of The Gathering, proving just what can be achieved with the nucleus of a good idea.

Enjoy, and imagine the possibilities.

Ty Power

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£14.99 (Moviemail-online.co.uk)

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