Not many shows that get canceled after half a season will get a second life, but studios do know that SF audiences want what they can get. Firefly got a second life with the DVD release and now a feature film. Crusade may not enjoy the same followup, but at least we can get the DVDs.
Side note: I’m thinking of the abandoning the point system for reviews, and perhaps just giving a 0-5 point rating at the end. Its actually kind of hard assigning points to all the points, and so I’ll skip it for this review. I’ll still try to hit on all the points. Let me know what you think – other ideas welcome. Also, I welcome other reviews to be followed up here – more than one opinion is best.
Crusade was a followup to the successful Babylon 5 series and TV movies, where the production turned into an interesting story in itself. TNT, the seeming “white night” that came to the rescue to allow for Babylon 5 to complete its 5-year run, asked J. Michael Straczynski to create a new series in the same universe, and thus Crusade was born. But for some reason TNT didn’t realize that it shouldn’t interfere with JMS, and kept asking for changes – at one point they even halted production to build new sets, give the crew new uniforms, etc. – but then wanted the newer episodes aired first, causing a number of continuity issues. Continued interference from TNT and JMS’ steadfast refusals resulted in TNT terminating production after only 13 episodes.
You’d think that would be that, but the controversy continues to this day with this DVD release. WB asked JMS to do a commentary track – he agreed, under the condition that he be able to tell the story of what happened. They agreed, he did the commentary, and when he picked up the DVD set (yes, he actually had to BUY it), he listened – and they had edited it out. Instead they apparently substituted a segment taped for one of the other specials included in the DVD set for the segment that was removed.
Controversy aside, Crusade picks up where A Call to Arms (the last of the 5 TV movies left off – Earth fended off an attack from the Drakh with the help of the Minbari-Vorlon-Earth hybrid destroyers Excalibur and Victory (with the latter’s destruction), but not before the Drakh were able to release a complex designed plague into Earth’s atmosphere that will kill every human infected within 5 years. Earth is now a quarantine zone, with no one allowed in or out. Earth Force captain Matthew Gideon, returning to Earth in his explorer ship too late to join the fight, is given command of the Excalibur with a single directive – find anything, anywhere, to help cure the plague.
One interesting thing about the main characters of the show, as explained by JMS in one of the “making of” specials included, is that they follow the “archetypes” of a typical role-playing game – the warrior (Matthew Gideon, played by Gary Cole), the wizard (Galen, played by Peter Woodward), the thief (Dureena Nafeel, played by Carrie Dobro), the healer (Dr. Sarah Chambers, played by Marjean Holden), and the scientist (Max Eilerson, played by David Allen Brooks). Also major cast members include telepathic first officer John Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim, now appearing on Lost), and Capt. Elizabeth Lochley (Tracey Scoggins reprising her role from Babylon 5, but she only appears in a few episodes).
The 13 episodes on the DVD set are in their original TNT order. The SCI FI Channel has in the past aired them in an different order, that JMS says may be better in terms of the story – in either case, there will be inconsistencies. If you wish to view in JMS’ recommended order, the order is 9, 11, 10, 2, 12, 3, 13, 5, 4, 6, 7, 1, 8.
Acting is generally good. Probably the best performance is by Peter Woodward as the techno-mage Galen. He can vary from thoughtful to pompous to mysterious within a single scene. I hope he gets to reprise the part in the upcoming Babylon 5: The Memory of Shadows project, but the role of Galen was recently released on the casting sheets so the part could be up in the air. The late Richard Biggs also makes an appearance in the final episode reprising his role of Dr. Stephen Franklin, giving his usual strong performance as a doctor struggling to deal with the possibility of 10 billion deaths including his own if he fails to find a cure, and whether to condemn any others to death by infecting them to learn more about the plague.
Packaging of this set seems to be superior to that of the Babylon 5 releases – its a slip-case and fold-out system like several of the others I’ve reviewed recently, with a more secure holding of the DVDs but without it being impossible to remove the disc. cover art is a nice reflective deep blue with some of the character’s images and the Excalibur, and the folder includes all the episode descriptions.
As far as special features, there are precisely 4 – two making of specials, “The Making of Crusade” featuring comments from JMS and other production staffers plus some of the cast, and “Forging the Excalibur”, about the design of the ship. Both are fairly short. The other two are commentary tracks – one on “Racing the Night” by JMS, and also on “The Well of Forever” by Peter Woodward, Carrie Dobro, director Janet Greek, and writer Fiona Avery. Also, no gag reel like on the B5 releases. Menus are fairly minimal. Video quality is excellent.
Overall, you certainly want to pick this up if you want a complete Babylon 5 collection. Alas, it provides no closure to the myriad of mysteries introduced in the series, and I know of no plans to “complete” it in any form.
If you weren’t a fan of Babylon 5, I doubt you would have interest in this.
Overall, on the scale of 0-5, I’m waffling between a 2 and 3 – the low rating only because of the incompleteness of the story line, not because of the DVDs themselves. Let’s call it a 2.5 for now. As mentioned before, feel free to offer up your own reviews.
Also, if you’d like more background on Galen and the techno-mages in general, read the excellent Passing of the Techno-Mages trilogy by Jeanne Cavelos – see our Babylon 5 Store for ordering links.