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"Who Are You?" and "What Do You Want?": The BABYLON 5 / STAR TREK Comparison T


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#1 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 06 2002 - 05:39 PM

Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Comparison and Contrast Thread


I had originally planned this for last spring, but there was just no time to prepare it then and, as you will see, this a bit demanding of time and thought. Although I was going to wait till sometime closer to the Babylon 5 DVD release date, the recent flair-up of interest in the software threads over the prospects of the DVD availability of DS9 and Babylon 5 and the clash over them has prompted me to go ahead and start this thread now, as I think there is presently enough interest and enough (hopefully thoughtful) respondents to make it work.

Anyway, . . .

I've read about antagonism between fans of the Babylon 5 and Star Trek "franchises"---gee, I hate that word---at these sf fan conventions in the 90s and have always found it hard to believe that real sf fans would waste their time arguing with each other over which is "better". Better to be thankful that finally we can have both on television.

In thinking about and analyzing ST and B5, it occurred to me that it would be interesting (and fun) to hear other fans' thoughts on the comparison of these two outerspace science-fiction action/adventure shows. So I engage and invite members of the audience to feed back their thoughts, informed by reasoned arguments, on various aspects of these shows: what differentiates them, what they have in common. Any aspect whatsoever, large or small---no need to be "generic" here---, of the two "franchises" that are comparable may be compared and contrasted here, whether it be storyline, or story background (otherwise known as "mythology"), production aspects (FX, acting, directing) vel sim.

In addition to any general comments you might make in comparing these two shows ("franchises"), you might wish to give a more detailled explication of some specific aspects that the two share in common.

I have taken the trouble to prepare a sample list of suggested topics for exposition and discussion (sometimes with a comment from me that may (or may not) be used as a point of departure):
    [*]Mission statement: B5: "Who are you?" "What do you want?" "Whom do you serve?" (franchise framed in terms of mystery) :: ST: "To go boldly where no man---no one---has ever gone before." (franchise framed in terms of bold discovery/adventure)[*] mysticism (e.g., in Babylon 5, Minbari preoccupation with their "souls"; the "Universe" as pervading ambient conscious : in Star Trek, e.g., Vulcans and their katras)[*]the role of telepaths[*]John Sheridan : Benjamin Sisko (uncanny parallel, or something rotten in Denmark?)[*]aliens vs. humans[*]Minbari : Klingon comparison (ritualistic, honor-bound warrior races)[*]group identity in future Earth society (race and ethnicity)[*]philosophy/sensibilities/world (cosmic) view: Is B5 really as lugubrious as some have charged? (Think "Third Age of mankind" here.)[*]Earth Force : Star Fleet (officer/crew relations; organizational aspects, etc.)[*]uniforms: extra-tight and "stylish" or "real military"? (The message(s) conveyed to audiences?)[*]time-travel blues (e.g., as depicted in "Babylon Squared" vs. most of ST)[*]music (Christoph Franke / Evan Chen : TOS original theme (by Alexander Courage) & score, Ron Jones/Dennis McCarthy/Jay Chattaway et al.; "canned-heroic" music from TNG on)[*]alien cities in B5 and in Trek[*]comparative human sociology:
    status: economic class, poverty and its concomitants such as crime (acknowledged in B5, ignored or outright denied in ST)
    ---crime and punishment (e.g., the death penalty)[*]acting: e.g., Claudia Christian ----> Ivanova after the death of Marcus : Nana Visitor ----> Kira after the death of Vedik Bareil[*]humor[*]Centauri : Romulans (power-hungry schemers working behind the scenes)[*]"A plague upon both your houses!": recurrent mischief-makers Alfred Bester : "Q"[*]anachronistic references/anachronistic dialog: ("As the humans say, . . .")[*]Earth Alliance (----> Interstellar Alliance) : Federation[*]warrior women: Susan Ivanova : Kira Nerys[*]special effects (e.g., CGI vs. model work)[*]comparative technology (e.g., weapons ("Phasers on 'stun'!"); comparative ship design, vel sim.[*]Shadow War : Dominion War

Please join in on any of the topics above or suggest and explicate your own topic. Let's just try to avoid comparing apples to oranges.

Guidelines:


Participation in presenting a detailled comparison
presupposes decent familiarity with each "franchise" and should be limited to those with such knowledge. If you aren't familiar with Babylon 5 (Babylon 5 itself, and perhaps its tv movies, or its spin-offs Crusade, Legend of the Rangers), please limit yourself to ancillary comments, that is, to commenting on or augmenting the detailled comparisons made here by others, which, of course, any poster is free and welcome to do.
[Test: If you quit watching Babylon 5 midway during its first season or weren't able to view this program or a large number of ST episodes, especially those of DS9 (which is the most likely parallel to it), because of odd scheduling by indifferent or hostile local stations---something many of us have faced at given times for each of these programs---then you probably shouldn't be doing an analysis here.]

Note: You may certainly take one side or the other that you prefer of a contrastive presentation and give a reasoned argument for it. But you are not being asked to choose sides between these two "franchises".

Ground rule:

Let's not make this a Star Trek- or (more likely, given the disparity in the size of their respective fandoms) a Babylon 5-bashing thread. No gratuitous Voyager- (or Enterprise-)bashing is allowed either. We've had (many) separate threads for that. All such statements here should be backed by specifics and set in a comparative context with the corresponding aspect of programming, philosophy, presentation, etc. on Babylon 5. Comparison! Comparison is the name of the game here.

All analyses should be specific enough to compare some similar aspect of the two "franchises".

Unuseful are generic statements such as:

[quote] [quote]
Uh-uh! Not here. Not here! We need names, data, explication. Fair enough?

Finally, some "spoilers" are inevitable in a thread like this. Hopefully they will be tagged properly, but nobody can guarantee anything and everything potentially revelatory can't be tagged without making the thread overly cumbrous to read. (I've seen this happen in mystery tv threads. Not here!) For you who haven't seen major portions of Babylon 5 or, one of the Star Trek programs, most likely DS9, I don't know what to advise, except that maybe you skip this thread for now and come back to it later.

Let 'er rip, boys and girls!
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#2 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 06 2002 - 07:42 PM


"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#3 of 70 OFFLINE   JJR512

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Posted September 06 2002 - 08:20 PM

[quote] I've read about antagonism between fans of the Babylon 5 and Star Trek "franchises"---gee, I hate that word---at these sf fan conventions in the 90s and have always found it hard to believe that real sf fans would waste their time arguing with each other over which is "better". Better to be thankful that finally we can have both on television. [quote] Here's an even better word to hate in this quote: "anatagonism". I've been to many a sci-fi convention, including some where there were guests from both Babylon 5 and Star Trek. I never saw any of this "antagonism" that you mentioned. I didn't see any real antagonism in the other thread, either; just some friendly debate and banter.
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#4 of 70 OFFLINE   BrianW

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Posted September 07 2002 - 11:36 AM

Wow, Rex, that was great reading. I'll add only that I believe ST is a vehicle for conveying an idea, while B5 is a vehicle for telling a story. Both are great, but I must confess that I love a good story, and I found B5 much more compelling. When I get more time, I'll stop by and compare the physics of both franchises.
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#5 of 70 OFFLINE   CaptDS9E

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Posted September 07 2002 - 10:21 PM

Its not Really usuallY B5 vs Trek . Its more like B5 vs DS9. I was a fan of DS9 first as i didnt watch B5. But i did a few years ago on Sci-Fi and i love it. Excellent series. People can compare it all they want. There are some similarities but thats about it. Both shows go off on there own ways and i love them both capt

#6 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 08 2002 - 10:06 AM

JustinR wrote:

[quote] [quote]
I put no great claim by it myself, but I have read about it in several independent places in the media. If they exaggerated, so be it.
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#7 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 08 2002 - 10:22 AM

Joey Nazzari wrote:

[quote] [quote]


I don't know what it is "usually", just what it is---or may be---here. Given the above provided list of suggested topics for comparative analysis, anyone interested in serious commentary-analysis can find plenty from outside of DS9 in the Trek universe to talk about. (A technology comparison, or a sociological comparison of human society as depicted in universes of the respective "franchises", for example.) This isn't supposed to be just about "plots" or storylines.

B5 also has some other stories, namely, those of Crusade and Legend of the Rangers, that may be exploited for comparative analysis. If you want to make a serious contribution here, you can.

Lastly, this isn't about "hating" one "franchise" and "loving" the other. I like them both quite well. Doesn't that come through?
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#8 of 70 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted September 08 2002 - 10:49 AM

I'm unsure if I'm prepared to go to the lengths that Rex has ( nice posts! ) but here are some initial thoughts. First, I'm not really prepared to discuss DS9 as I only intermittently watched the show. During the initial seasons, the exploration theme of Trek ( coming from TOS and TNG, and being a big fan of both series ) wasn't served well by having the crew confined to a space station. Thematically, the space station concept didn't fit into what had come before in Trek; at least for me. I realize that this was addressed, but I only sporadically watched the show; so I'm uncertain of the plot threads on this series. ( I'm not knocking it, I simply never got into that series. Perhaps it will be worth revisiting when the DVDs start streeting? ) From the larger standpoint of the The Trek universe compared to the the B5 universe; the Trek universe ( at least on TOS and TNG ) felt much more idealistic ( reflecting Roddenberry's philosophy, I suppose. ) For me, the B5 universe has always felt more realistic, comparatively speaking, due to its emphasis on political power, deceit, manipulation, and focus on character motivation. No doubt the series reflects my own cynical view that human nature changes very, very slowly and that while society will be radically different due to technological changes in 400 years, the basic human motivations and instincts will be quite similar to contemporary practices. - Walter.
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#9 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 08 2002 - 05:58 PM

Walter Kittel wrote:

[quote] [quote]


I don't blame you. Really, two reasonable-sized paragraphs (with concrete examples) will probably do for an analysis. What will then happen is that I and/or others will respond and the topic will get "fleshed out" during the give-and-take.

It's just the egotist in me that made me write all that I have. I also figured I needed to give people something to play off of.

Another topic will follow within two days (I hope).
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#10 of 70 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted September 08 2002 - 06:26 PM

One other ( perhaps off tangent ) thought that I weighed after my first post was how FX technology and the design decisions of the respective productions impacted the shows and their depictions of alien races. DS9 was still very much into the use of physical models, whereas B5 used CGI from it's inception ( with some exceptions ) to depict the ships and physical environments of the respective show's universes. DS9 perhaps due to its reliance on physical models stuck to the humanoid alien approach, whereas B5 used a variety of physical, animatronic, and CG based aliens. B5 did use humanoid aliens for almost all of the alien species that required much interaction, no doubt for production reasons. But where it did deviate was in its use of CG to depict supplementary characters that helped drive the story arc, particularly with the Shadows, and to a lesser degree with other aliens such as the Old Ones. I can't help but feel that this contributed to a more 'alien' feel for some of the alien species, although the show's philosophy towards aliens and their relation to mankind was a larger contributing factor. - Walter.
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#11 of 70 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted September 09 2002 - 06:59 AM

While Babylon 5 is my unabashed favorite TV show ever of all time, I'm also a hardcore Trekkie, so I like to chat about both. Posted Image

One quick thing: since Babylon 5 was only one show, I don't think it's accurate to refer to it as a "franchise." Crusade was only 13 episodes and Rangers was only one movie. Star Trek, on the other hand, is 5 series and 10 theatrical releases.

[quote] B5 did use humanoid aliens for almost all of the alien species that required much interaction, no doubt for production reasons.
[quote]
Besides cost, another reason to stick with human-type aliens is dramatic: they need to convey how the aliens feel and for us to relate to them, especially if they're major characters. Peter Jurassik's phenomenal portrayal of Londo would not be nearly as effective if we were looking at paint and rubber instead of his face.

B5 trivia: In the second season episode where there's a plague that wipes out an entire species, the original plan was for it to be the Drazi. They felt that, because of the heavy makeup, people wouldn't be able to empathise with their emotions well enough to feel the tragedy of the plague, so they used another race instead. In time, they got better with the Drazi and we see more of them later.

The one big exception to this was Andreas Katsulas as G'Kar. He managed to become a fan favorite (me included) and a truly heroic character with lots of emotion.

#12 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 09 2002 - 08:52 AM

"SPOILER" warning! Mike Broadman wrote:
Quote:
I don't think Warner Bros. would---or does---agree with you.
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#13 of 70 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted September 10 2002 - 03:10 AM

Quote:
Star Trek: Telepathy in the Trek universe is generally looked at as something wondrous and beautiful, often as an advanced step in evolution. One telepathic race we encounter in Trek often is the Betazeds (sp?). Note that the major Betazed character, Troi, is not telepathic but merely empathic. The issue of privacy regarding reading people's thoughts is dealt with in Trek but as a minor side issue. A couple of minor characters had expressed dismay at Troi being "in their heads." However, the crew she works with and most people she encounters don't seem to mind. More importantly, her fully telepathic mother cavorts about the galaxy and even serves as a diplomat- and no one cares. In fact, they present it as something... cute. In one episode, there is a master negotiator who is revealed to be partially empathic but keeps it secret. This is the heaviest that Trek went into the ethics of telepathy (and it wasn't even really telepathy). The accepted ethical position taken up by the good guys is that mind-reading abilities is OK if the other person knows about it. Troi's issue with the negotiator was that his opponents were not aware of his power. Of course, this then begs the question of ethics when Troi uses it when they encounter strange new life forms. I felt the episode did an admirable job with it given the flimsy treatment it got before it. That is, it did well when it had little to work with. Babylon 5: Telepathy plays a much bigger role here. One major difference with Trek is that telepaths featured on B5 are mostly human, wereas on Trek they are mostly alien. This allows B5 to explore the question: what would happen if telepaths were suddenly discovered to live among us? Their answer is not a happy one. Riots, lynchings, and the instant creation of an oppressed but dangerous underclass. The solution of the Psi Corps would create problems of its own. The general human acceptance in B5 to telepaths is much harsher than on Trek: we don't want no one in our brains, period. This is even expressed by a major and well-liked character, Garibaldi, who flat out said that he doesn't trust them- and this was before a few of them screwed with his brain. Issues resembling racism and prejudice are involved- people of different inherint characteristics doesn't make them "better," etc. However, it is even more complicated then something like race since a telepath literally can do things that others can't (as opposed to, say, being black). An objective non-prejudiced person would have no reason to distrust black people simply because they are black, but it would be reasonable to distrust a telepath. In B5, telepaths are not allowed to gamble. To us, that seems perfectly reasonable. If we say a woman should not be allowed to gamble, that is oppression. The issue becomes- how do we protect the privacy of non-telepaths while still maintaining human rights for telepaths. The truly fascinating thing about it is that, for humans, no solution is provided. By the time the show ends, Lyta has become more and more militant in her pro-telepath cause, Psi-Corps is still powerful, and there are plenty of rogue telepaths running around. Supposedly, JMS wants to make a feature film that would involve a major conflict between the two groups. This is why it isn't covered in any of the other canon works in the B5 universe. Also of note is the fact the Minbari don't seem to have a problem with telepaths.

#14 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 11 2002 - 07:52 AM

Mike Broadman wrote:
Quote:
Nothing makes me even less miss having a B5 theatrical than this news. I still haven't gotten over the "singing telepaths". Thank you for your earnest participation here.
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#15 of 70 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted September 11 2002 - 08:29 AM

Rex, I'm almost positive that the Shadows had nothing to do with the death of Dukhat or the ensuing war. It was purely a result of arrogance and carelessness by both parties. Of course, one of the results of this war had a lot to do with the Shadows later on (or before... er, stupid time loops).

[quote] Ah, yes, but the situation prevalent by the time of Crusade is different, isn't it? [quote]

Ah, well, if you've ever needed yet another reason to lament the loss of Crusade, here is one for you. Remember there was one episode where a former Psi-Corps guy was drilling Matheson intensively. Some element of the Psi-Corps is still around. Also, Bester himself would have appeared later on as a fugitive but still up to no good.

Note also that one Crusade episode also had that shady guy who worked for Nightwatch in B5 (Welles, or something like that), now working for the government (same actor who played Neroon, btw). He even made a sly comment about knowing how to survive. Also, while the Shadows are gone, Crusade would have involved a whole major plot thing about how the Earth government was using left over Shadow technology.

My ineffeciently made point is that a lot of things that were supposed to be "gone" after B5 are still around in some way. The after-effects of something are a continuous theme in the B5 universe. Who knows what place Psi-Corps would have in all this, even if they were no longer referred to by that name? Sadly, we will never know. Posted Image

#16 of 70 OFFLINE   Rex Bachmann

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Posted September 11 2002 - 04:57 PM

Mike Broadman wrote:
Quote:
John Vickery in "Appearances and Other Deceits" (the one with the fey uniform-designer), who also played the hostile Cardassian Gul Rusot in episodes "The Changing Face of Evil", "When It Rains ...", and "Tacking Into the Wind" in DS9's final season. I totally agree with you on the more realistic social-dynamic approach taken in Babylon 5. I think one reason so many fans are rabid to get the DS9 videos is that it is the one Trek program that has striven for dramatic realism (in its later, Piller-less years, that is) and has, for the most part, attained it. The other new-era Trek programs are too wrapped up in showcasing and upholding ideology.
"Delenda est . . . . "

 


#17 of 70 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted September 12 2002 - 04:10 AM

[quote] The other new-era Trek programs are too wrapped up in showcasing and upholding ideology. [quote]

Agreed, but here's the thing: watching the supplemental material on the TNG series, they constantly talk about Roddenberry's idealistic vision of the future. One can argue that DS9's abandonment of this ideology and focus on character and story are not really Trek. Frankly, I don't care, because the show was good. I feel that Trek's idealism is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness- it is the impetus and driving force of the whole franchise, but it also conflicts with basic human nature. Now, without Roddenberry guiding the realisation of his vision, it's all on a train-wreck of a bastardisation of the whole point of the thing.

#18 of 70 OFFLINE   Paul P

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Posted September 12 2002 - 08:58 AM

Wow, interesting discussion. As for the Borg, and I say this having only really watched the original and next generation, so no voyager, DS9 -- was that they didn't seem able to reproduce. As for their origins, I thought up a great circular storyline for a new movie, which would explore their origins through a holodeck virtual representation of the borg collective consciousness, which the crew would fight to get through, and eventually find that the borg originally began as part human part machine, as the new organism formed at the end of star trek:TMP. Remember kirk saying "did we just see the beginning of a new race?" Now I thought it could be worked into a great sequel to First Contact, with an ongoing war with the borg, and the klingon race intervening to fight along the way. bygones. As for B5: I loved Marcus, for many reasons including his humility. On the other hand, Byron annoyed the hell out of me. Something neglected in this discussion is B5 as a socio-political commentary, on everything from racism to political structures(night watch/Ministry of Peace ~ SS/Nazis). I found it compelling because it was a human story, the story of sentient struggles of real beings, with grandly planned out character arcs and story arcs. Given they had to do some tweaking to keep it going, but it still came out as an impressive product. Another layer is the representation of the religions, which I believe is formed in the different alien races : Humans--christians(mainly), Narns--muslims, Centauri--Romans, Minbari--Zen Buddhist/ Hindu. A friend of mine and I once categorized each of the sci fi series into reasonable disciplines. Next Generation--psychology, DS9-politics, Voyager-philosophy, B5-religion. Fitting, but since I've only watched half of those, I can't speak to its definite accuracy.
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#19 of 70 OFFLINE   Michael TLV

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Posted September 13 2002 - 01:30 AM

Greetings Excellent discussion here on the subject. For the record, I enjoyed both DS9 and B5, but my DS9 enjoyment increased once the series started down the path of the Dominion conflict after season two. The maquis stuff just bored me for the longest time. Both series are highly regarded in my mind, with the slight edge going to the B5 side and mainly for the use of gray characters. There were very few characters that we could categorically call good or evil. All the things that occurred were presented with enough information to legitimately support either side. The duality of all the characters ... and add to that, how all the characters had certain personality flaws/weaknesses. (Everyone was messed up in the head in one way or another.) I just found them more human than what I saw in DS9. Trek characters were a little too perfect and I could never associate with that. G'kar ... bad to good Londo ... good to bad to good Vorlons ... good to bad Shadows ... bad to middle of the road Minbari ... bad to good to ? Bester ... was he really bad? or was he good? Edgars ... good to bad to?? Depends how you look at it ... Lyta ... good to bad to ? Talia ... good to bad ... etc ... There was always a sense of surprise where the characters were concerned. Because JMS had established a universe where anything was possible ... one could never be quite sure where each character stood in each crisis ... and as a result, you could never be completely sure how certain events would turn out. Regards
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#20 of 70 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted September 13 2002 - 02:11 AM

[quote] Something neglected in this discussion is B5 as a socio-political commentary, on everything from racism to political structures(night watch/Ministry of Peace ~ SS/Nazis). [quote]

Yep. Star Trek dealt with these issues, but usually in the form of the Message: racism is bad, there should be peace, etc. The stories served as fables. In B5, it was more complex and "grey," which made it feel more realistic and more engagin.

Interesting thing about B5 characters: JMS said that the idea of G'Kar and Delenn is that he is a warrior who becomes a priest, and she is a priest who becomes a warrior.




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