Daily Illuminator

March 12, 2021: The Year Is 2021. The Name Of The Place Is Babylon 5.

If you were watching Babylon 5 back in the 20th century, you'll remember that it was a revolutionary show, starting with what seemed like a slightly unusual science-fiction weekly show that quickly turned into something very, very different -- more like a five-year novel when all was said and done. It's still my favorite, even as other shows have learned from B5, with shows now such as The Expanse and The Mandorion taking their ideas and running with them in very different ways.

However, Babylon 5 itself had a problem. The films were shot at 16:9 from the beginning, always intended for use at full width, but the CGI was shot at 4:3 by the original team to save money and time. When B5 was put up in the longer versions for rewatching, the videos with CGI were . . . well, they looked terrible. A couple of years ago, Amazon Video looked so bad that I shut it down 15 minutes into one of my favorite episodes because I couldn't even watch what was happening. The sets without CGI still looked great -- well, OK -- but it was clear that whatever Babylon 5's writing and acting strengths had been, watching the actual show was a mess.

Recently, I found out that HBO Max is working with a team to downsize the show back to use 4:3 for all the videos, and the show examples I've seen bear this out. CGI shows that were spotty or crummy are now crisp again, the text is totally legible, and the amazing actors shine across the room the way they were always meant to. If you never watched Babylon 5 in the 1990s -- or you did so on a tiny little TV screen like I did back then -- give HBO Max a free week to see if you enjoy these as much as I do. They aren't perfect, but they're SO much better than they were.

(And let me add one very sad note for B5's latest loss in an astounding group of talents from that show, Mira Furlan, who passed away in January. I was extraordinarily lucky to be a guest at one small convention with Mira, and she was wonderful and giving in a way not commonly found in smaller events. My thoughts go out to her family, Goran and Marko.)

-- Andrew Hackard

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