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After being punished for retreat from combat, Ranger David Martel is given command of the Liandra, a haunted 20-year old Minbari fighting ship. He's escorting ambassadors to a secret archaeological site, the oldest city on record and a clue to a dangerous ancient race. Written by
Searching for a worthy B5 successor? Better keep looking...
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers is the second ill-fated attempt to launch a spin-off to the critically acclaimed space saga Babylon 5. However, not only does this telemovie, intended to launch the series, fall short of the precedent set by the epic Babylon 5, it comes off looking worse than Crusade, the original attempt at a B5 spin-off, widely criticised by fans for the network's handling of the show's artistic and storytelling side. Here, it seems that the makers of Legend of the Rangers have managed to screw up all on their own, and the result is a movie that is lacklustre at best and dreadfully appalling at worst.
Legend of the Rangers is set some time after the conclusion of Babylon 5. It deals with a group of Rangers: scouts and warriors drawn from the ranks of member worlds of the broad-reaching Interstellar Alliance. Originally an institution exclusively handled by the Minbari race, it has also been accepting humans (occurring in the Babylon 5 series) and more recently others. The main character is David Martel, a young Ranger struck from ship captain candidacy and facing disciplinary action for breaking one of the Ranger's guiding rules: never break from combat. The fact that he fled only because his ship no longer had weapons capabilities, his captain was dead and he had no chance of winning does not phase his Minbari disciplinarians. He is demoted and a rival Minbari Ranger assumes the post he was to take aboard the newly commissioned Valen, the most advanced ship in the Ranger arsenal. Backed up by his crew and Citizen G'Kar (an oddly un-engaging Andreas Katsulas), he is given command of an old, supposedly haunted patrol boat and sent off as an escort to the Valen on a secret security mission transporting diplomats to a conference.
And that's when things go crazily wrong. The Valen is destroyed by a mysterious new alien race, the diplomats are forced aboard the tiny patrol ship and Martel and his crew have to fight the aliens, find a traitor in their midst and deal with the troubled ghosts of the last crew. Martel solves many of these problems quite simply: all the solutions involve sticking heaps of explosives inside an escape pod and blowing the enemy up when they go to retrieve it. This happens twice in the course of the movie. So much for superior alien intelligence.
Nothing comes off quite right in Legend of the Rangers. The best elements seem mediocre and the worst are laughable. The acting is average, with only Martel and his Minbari 2IC Dulann coming off as likeable characters. The rest come across as narrow stereotypes: quiet Minbari healer, stupid Drazi loader, feisty Narn engineer and, who could forget, the aggressive red-headed weapons officer. In fact, its her role that creates one of the stupidest sequences in the whole movie: her in the 'weapons pod' which suspends her in a holographic representation of her surroundings in which she randomly spins in mid air firing the ships guns by punching and kicking the air causing plasma bursts to erupt from her clenched fists. This is only made more ridiculous by remembering that Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski always prided himself on having realistic technology. Is this the worst idea in a highly billed sci-fi show to date? In short: if it isn't, I deeply fear anything worse than it.
The enemies, an ancient alien order known as `The Hand' don't come off at all either. We are told they are billions of years old, and only their servants show themselves in this movie. Despite their superiority though, their technologically superior ships (which tear the Valen to pieces in seconds) have a really hard time taking out a damaged patrol vessel and its escape pod slinging captain. Their leader, glimpsed in transmissions is hardly menacing: he simply wears a horned hood and speaks in a vaguely legalistic sense. On the whole, these aliens feel like a mix of the Shadows and the Thirdspace aliens from Babylon 5, both of which relied on the exact same premise of ancient evil. The difference: the originals were better.
Even the presence of the charismatic Andreas Katsulas cant save this movie, and for the most part, he looks like he doesn't want to try. No explanation is offered for G'Kar's presence, and he feels like he's only there to bridge the original series and the spin-off and make them feel like a cohesive whole.
In the end, only the visual effects stand out as above-average, and even then we feel uneasy with them. Depictions of Minbar in this movie differ wildly from any place on the planet ever seen before, and while the space scenes are impressive, they're not above anything seen in the B5 telemovies or Crusade.
In the end, Legend of the Rangers comes off as a barely credible mess that lacks the intelligence and characterisation of its predecessor. Its not that character motives are unclear, its that they're too clear, each person so wrapped up in a traditional stereotype they are unlikely to break it. Those B5 fans still looking for a successor after the demise of Crusade will have to keep looking: they wont find it here.
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