What is the appeal of Babylon 5?

Okay, first and foremost – this is not a troll for B5 fans, and I hope it doesn’t come out like that…

But seriously, what is up with B5’s continuing popularity? The show looks horrible to my eyes. The CGI is shiny, fake, and often completely goofy looking. I can quite honestly say I’ve seen better looking computer games. And the explosions! God, what a horrible mess of computerized orange-yellow.

And then there’s the live action – okay, not bad, but I cannot believe that these flesh and blood actors are getting into the shiny, fake, goofy-looking space-ships. BAM! There goes any suspension of disbelief within 5 minutes of watching the show.

I’ve seen at least one episode from each season, and to my eyes, the effects never got better over time. I can only watch the show to laugh at the goofy space battles.

Without at least half-decent effects, there’s no way I could put up with the show long enough to get into the plot.

Oddly enough, if it were CGI people getting into CGI spaceships, I’d probably like it.

So, do you B5 fans honestly find the FX convincing?

You have to remember that B5 was produced in the mid-90s. The CGI, for the time, was revolutionary. But yes, it’s dated.

Anyway, the appeal of the series is that it has a remarkably well-done story. If you get into it, it’s for the drama, not the purty space ships.

The thing that I really enjoy about B5 is that their is a long consistant and well pre-planned story line. This means that things charactes said to each other in Season 2 are resolved in season 5, an action in season3 has a reaction in season 4. Though each eppisode has a start and finish, they are also well integrated and interlocked with other episodes.
As for the space ships, I havn’t seen a realistic looking spaceship in sci-fi since Kubrics 2001. At least the space ships in Babylon 5 act as if they are not in a gravatational well all the time, their are three perfectly good symetrical dimensions to move in, and they use them all.
As for goofy looking, I guess that is partly to do with the fact that all the major races have their own styling conventions. The utilitarian block&scafolding earth forces star ships are a refreshing change to sleek stylish spaceships that look like they were designed to travel underwater not through a vacuum.

There are space ships?

Seriously, not everyone is into the technical aspects of television shows. I’m a big fan of Star Trek (most series), Star Wars, and Babylon 5, but I doubt I could correctly identify the ships from each of these shows if you put them in a lineup. Star Trek could pretty much leave in lines like “add technobabble here” and I’d be fine. Similarly, all they need to do is put up a title card that says “spaceship battle” and I’d get the general idea.

I’m there 100% for the characters and the stories. Babylon 5 had complex, wonderfully drawn characters, and its storylines were unmatched by any other sci fi series. In fact, I’d argue that B5’s creator did such a good job of creating a believable alternate universe through his plots and characters (human and alien), that any deficiencies in production quality became irrelevant.


Babylon 5 actually has a lot going for it.

[li] It had a pretty good story.[/li][li] The CGI was actually pretty good for the time though you could tell they were CGI. [/li][li] Human beings in B5 behaved like human beings. Far more believable then other utopian sci-fi programs.[/li][li] Most of the technology seemed believable. There were no tractor beams, matter transporters, or faster then light travel. [/li][li] They actually had economical/political systems. [/li][li] They acknowledged that human religions still existed.[/li][li] The series wasn’t afraid of change. The characters in season 4 were very different then they were in season 1.[/li][/ul]

All in all I consider B5 to be the best sci-fi series on American televison since the original Star Trek.


I tried watching an episode once and had to turn it off due to the horrible CGI too. I also flinch when watching older episodes of Star Trek due to how badly some of it’s aged.

By the way, MGibson, if you like B5 for the reasons you gave, can you explain why it’s “the best sci-fi show since Star Trek” considering everything you cited B5 for can’t be said of TOS sans humans acting like humans? (the stories being good is subjective.)

Anyone who critiques an older TV show or movie because the effects aren’t as good as they are today is a moron; effects have to be judged in the context of their time (and even bad effects work if the story is good enough). And obsessing over the quality of the effects is the first sign of the clueless. It’s sad when you use that to judge any science fiction – it’s like judging a book by the color ink of the color.

B5 was about story. It’s great strength was that the first four years were conceived as a single story, something no other show ever does (Buffy’s “Big Bad” concept is the closest, though that’s one story a year). What made it fascinating was discovering how certain off-hand lines of dialog that seem meaningless ended up being very important later on. Watching it the first time around, you were able to speculate about what it meant (I’m proud that I guessed fairly early on what Kosh would look like outside his suit). On reruns, you’d discover lines that further foreshadowed events. (Kosh’s first word when seeing Sinclair, for instance.)

The characters were fascinating, and changed considerably over the series. G’Kar, for instance, started out a buffoon and evolved into a truly holy man. Molari had even greater changes. And that is the essense of any good fiction.

B5 was by far the best SF show on TV. It was science fiction for grown-ups, not for children who are awed by bright shiny objects.

Actions had consequences. Long reaching consequences.

People did bad things for bad reasons.

It may come as a shock but I don’t have to like Star Trek for the same reasons I like Babylon 5. They are two distinct programs and I can judge each of them according to their own merits. A Random Geek asked why Babylon 5 was still popular and I gave him a list of the reasons why I thought it was so.

As for being subjective, so what? Any opinion given here is going to be subjective since the OP is a matter of taste not fact. You think the CGI looks so fake that you cannot watch the program. I don’t think the CGI is so bad that it hampers my enjoyment of the program. Of course I can still watch old episodes of Star Trek despite the effects being so dated.

Oh, A Random Geek, to answer another question from your OP. No, I do not find the special effects in B5 to be “convincing.” They are obviously fake but that doesn’t get into the way of telling the story and I think it still looks pretty cool.


By the way, although the space battles and whatnot don’t always look great on B5, they have to be given credit for almost always getting the physics right. Starfighters were launched from the station by rotational inertia (and their trajectories were rendered correctly) and they had thrusters to move and rotate in all three dimensions, which space ships on other science fiction shows almost never have. When they accelerated, the pilots had to deal with the g-forces, and the artists consulted with actual military people to plan how a realistic space battle would go, using actual military tactics instead of the “line up face to face and shoot at each other” maneuver often used on Star Trek.

But I love Star Trek too. Except for Voyager. That one sucked.

B5’s appeal is based on the fact that:

  1. It was one of the first shows to have a continuing story arc with a definite beginning, middle and end.
  2. It was and continues to be one of the most intelligent SF shows ever made.
  3. The plotting and storyline were excellent.
  4. The science was more realistic than any other SF TV show before.

Whaddya want for nothin’?

Back then, an episode of Babylon 5 cost about half as much to produce as an episode of DS9 ($800K compared to $1.6M), so I guess you get what you pay for. I’m glad they didn’t blow all the money on CGI and saved some for the writing instead.

You listed off a set of criteria that, according to you, makes B5 the best show since the original Star Trek. By doing that, you made an implicit comparison between the two. There was no need to spew vitriol at me for asking your opinion based on the implications in your post.

I added the parenthetical statement about subjectiveness so that you wouldn’t think I was treating my opinion of TOS as fact. Instead, you seem to have taken it as an excuse to attack me.

What does my subjective opinion on B5’s CGI have to do with your statements that it had: characters that behaved believably; plausible technology; a dynamic plotline; and human religion, politics, and economics, all of which are objective anyway?

They spaced a teddy bear

nuff said, lol



I haven’t spewed any vitriol your way. If you feel my post was snarky then keep in mind that I’m just responding to what I saw in your post. Perhaps at this point we should just both agree that neither one of us really wanted to be snarky and leave it at that.


Fair enough then.