Contents: Overview - Backplot - Questions - Analysis - Notes - JMS
The Vorlon ambassador is nearly killed by an assassin shortly after arriving at the station, and Commander Sinclair is the prime suspect. Tamlyn Tomita as Lt. Cmdr. Laurel Takashima(*). Blaire Baron as Carolyn Sykes(*). Johnny Sekka as Dr. Benjamin Kyle(*). Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander(*). John Fleck as Del Varner. Paul Hampton as the Senator.
(*) These characters were originally planned as recurring characters throughout the series, but were replaced for various reasons.
P5 Rating: 6.00 Production number: 0 (Pilot) Original air date: Feb 22, 1993 Written by J. Michael Straczynski Directed by Richard Compton
Note: There are two versions of "The Gathering," the original one as initially aired in 1993 and a reedited special edition first aired in 1998. Items that only apply to one version are so marked.
Available on DVD December 4, 2001.
The problem is that, unlike a motion picture, where you produce a cut on film, which you then trim down, we're editing on computerized image files. We don't get around to finally cutting the film until we've made our final edits. So no complete version ever existed on film. The most that could be done is get those 25 minutes and *build* a new version with that footage...which would require additional scoring, editing, and other stuff.
But there are reasons for everything....
As for the Third Age, it's -- oh, darn, look at the time, have to go....
The other point on this is that if you look closely, there are back areas accessible to residents, which can in particular be seen in the insectoid/antennae'd character's quarters. The idea was that it would be sort of a front porch, where for lack of much else to do, you'd sit out on the porch, watching the passing parade.
But the reaction was less than favorable, we had to keep explaining that this proceeds from an alien POV, and so our alien quarters are more like human quarters now, minus the alternate atmosphere stuff. I'm still not quite sure what to think of this.
The fighters didn't have to worry about any of this. They came shooting through the gate and barely slowed at all, speeding over to B5 and taking up position.
There have now been several situations in which we've been accused of "mistakes" that have, instead, simply been things done scientifically accurately. I have to say (and this isn't directed at you, just more of a general statement), we're not going to hand everyone everything on a silver platter, serving up pablum...the nature of a *science fiction* series is that you should THINK about things. The acceleration/deceleration thing is one example; some thought about why this would be would have led to the answer.
And, as evidenced by other messages here, others have taken the time to look at it from that perspective. Which I think is great.
Now we have to re-establish a few things since there's been a gap in time...but the poison incident will be raised in "The Parliament of Dreams" script to start with, and move on from there.
There are civilian branches and military branches, as with today, in which the civilian branch oversees the military, but in very formalized ways.
Yes, I probably could've stopped to explain this...but I figured it was readily apparent, and there was already enough exposition in the pilot to stun a horse.
Hello...did you see the same movie that I wrote? The assassin was not there to kill Sinclair. He was there to kill Kosh. He tried to kill Kosh. He tried to stay AWAY from Sinclair, did everything in his power to avoid Sinclair, ran from Sinclair, and only finally encountered Sinclair when Sinclair came after HIM. Then it was nominal self-defense.
Had the "hole in the mind" reference never been made, it would have been clear -- at least clear to every other carbon-based lifeform who saw the movie -- that the assassin 1) came to try and kill Kosh, 2) in the hope of disrupting the purpose of Babylon 5, with the added benefit of 3) if he failed in his mission, setting up Sinclair to take the rap for his actions. At the very end, rather than be captured and interrogated, the Minbari assassin killed himself with an implanted bomb. His comment to Sinclair at that moment was more of an "Up yours" comment, designed to shatter Sinclair with the knowledge that he knew something Sinclair didn't.
You keep saying he was there to kill Sinclair. He wasn't. He didn't. He didn't try. It makes it hard to have this conversation with you if your comments don't touch reality at any two contiguous points.
It was, of course, the latter.
Now...stop and think about this for a moment.
The Observation Dome has equipment to detect approaching ships. The spider transport approaches without being noticed. The surface of the station would likely have sensors to detect something attaching itself to the hull. Somehow these were over-ridden. The only time that anyone notices, up in the Dome, is later, when Laurel isn't there, interestingly enough. Someone deliberately programmed the transport tube to delay Sinclair. The assassin would have to know this in advance.
We saw Londo with the assassin. We also saw Garibaldi, Lyta, Dr. Kyle and -- later -- Sinclair with the assassin, each relating to him in different ways. Who was the one person we never saw with the assassin, whose reactions might have told us something? Who was the one put in charge of the station when Sinclair was pulled out of circulation?
We had some...interesting things in mind for this character. Now that another character has come in, some things will be modified, but other elements will come in to replace them.
(This, again, is a thread that would've come clear had we kept that character; nobody was supposed to figure it out going in, but rather put it together over time.)
Think hard about the pilot for a moment. Whose job is it in the observation dome to monitor incoming ships...but apparently let the spider transport slip through unnoticed? The station's skin should have (and likely did) detect something clamping onto it...but apparently someone over-rode that for the spider transport. Someone had to PRE-arrange access via the computer for the assassin, since it easily palms its way into Varner's quarters. (And what is the name of the person the access computer recognizes?) Someone had to arrange for the transport tube to be delayed, and then *erase* that information from the computer system. Someone who knew *exactly* when the Vorlon ship would be docking. We see, at various times, the following people interacting with the assassin, in different capacities: Garibaldi, Lyta, G'Kar, Londo, Dr. Kyle, and of course, much later, Sinclair. Who did we never see in direct contact with the assassin? Who was put in charge of the station after Sinclair was removed?
Do you notice a pattern developing? Do certain things here point to a certain individual...who may, or may not, have been acting on her own volition?
And yes, this is something we planned to explore, though it wasn't on a *direct* line to the arc of our story. It definitely impinged upon it, of course. This has been modified due to the change in the character of the Lieutenant Commander, and this now won't go where it was going to go...but we still have some very interesting plans for our secondary character, not at all along the Takashima lines (which is why this isn't a spoiler), but certainly intriguing on their own terms.
Again, this ties into a specific story line that has been modified with a) the departure of Laurel, and b) the length of time since the pilot aired. Who was the homeless man really? It's no longer an issue, but it was related, yes.
But only in a very small way.
No, it would not. Because there is nothing in common with them other than that they are both SF. You can compare TNG to DS9 to TOS, because they're in the same universe.
Would it be fair to compare Cagney and Lacey with NYPD Blue? After all, they're both cop shows. But in fact, they're not the same kind of cop show; they share the same genre, but there ends the overlap. The two shows are distinct, separate entities, just as Harlan Ellison's work is distinct from Bill Gibson's work, even though both incorporate elements of SF.
The ST pilot existed in its own universe, and was primarily an action show. The B5 pilot exists in its own universe, and primarily sets the stage for a political mystery/intrigue series. It wasn't meant to serve the same functions as the ST pilot.
It seems to me that many SF fans continue to compare everything to ST because that's their primary frame of reference, and they continue to apply it whether it's relevant or not. My suggestion...get another frame of reference.
The difference isn't *technology*, it's *context*. Once again, B5 is in many ways a *political* story. Consequently it's necessary to explain who the players are in some detail, something that ST didn't have to worry about. If you're reading a political thriller about the U.S. and the (now defunct) USSR, it helps a lot to know who's who.
Also, when ST started, there wasn't really a clear agenda, a place that they were going, story-wise. B5 is a novel for TV. And that puts on some pressures and problems other shows don't have. Others may not see it that way, but it isn't their call. It's my call, and I stand behind it, even while seeing some of the flaws in the pilot.
All of which again points up the...well, *pointlessness* of trying to compare the two shows. Compare MASH to ALL IN THE FAMILY. They're both comedies. The similarity ends there. Everything doesn't have to be comparable or dissectable (to coin a term) in reference to ST.
People keep comparing the B5 pilot to either the DS9 pilot or the TNG pilot, often favorably, sometimes less so, but the reality is that the B5 pilot had to suffer under a burden shared by neither of those two other shows: establishing a whole new universe, especially given that the B5 story is more of a political/action piece in which you really have to understand where everyone's coming from. By the time they got around to making the TNG pilot, just about everyone knew what a Klingon was, what the Federation was, what phasers and teleporters were...this was all established cultural coin. When Jay Leno would make jokes about Klingons on the Carson show (which it still was back then), he didn't have to explain it to anyone. There's 25 years of shared history informing the story. Same in DS9. Thus in neither pilot was that much really or substantially *new* introduced, they didn't have to create the universe from scratch.
But that was exactly what was necessary for B5; the relationship between the five various governments is important to understanding the characters, and the show...as is the recent Earth/Minbari war, which isn't just backstory, it's something that will grow to play an increasingly important role in the series as time passes. So there had to be time spent establishing each of those relationships, the political backstory, the minor players. AND we had to tell a fairly complex story within that framework.
After you allocate the history of the B5 universe, for the establishment of the plot, for the establishment of who our various players are in relation to one another, you've got -- at MOST -- 3 minutes left per character out of a 92 minute movie. You can't establish a lot of character in 3 minutes.
Which is what strikes me as unfair in this conversation. You're trying to compare 25-30 years of ST in its various incarnations, with its delivery of characterization over A WEEKLY SERIES to a single introductory TV movie of 92 minutes.
Plus, the pilot was never meant to be a stand-alone; it was meant to get all the pieces moving, introduce us, and follow up the very next week with *character-oriented stories*. That was always the plan. Had I known that it would be aired by itself, with a long delay until the series, I would have totally restructured it to make it more of a character story, and held off on the heavy background stuff until later. And in addition to THAT, I again point to the 25 minutes of good character stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor because we were over, some of which has been shown to people at conventions. Some of them also felt as you do. They saw the extra footage. And their reaction: "Oh, so THAT'S who that is!" And their opinions of the characters did a fast turnaround.
So what I'm saying here, fundamentally, is this: let's compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges. You can't compare B5 to either TNG's or DS9's pilots, because they operated in pre-existing universes. You can't compare the level of character you get in a series to a TV movie, because one is 92 minutes long, the other is 22 hours long times the number of seasons run.
If you want to compare things, and that's certainly your right, may I suggest a moratorium on this entire discussion until the series comes on the air? That will allow you to compare series to series, which seems just a tad fairer to me. Any seconds?
In my view, we've now done that, we've laid the foundation, and now we can sit back and tell stories...*character* based stories. That's what I'm best at, and that's what the writers I've chosen to use on the series are best at.
The "rest" you ask for is there..in the series. But I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Check out the show. Maybe you'll like it. And maybe you won't. That's showbiz. You don' like it, you don' gotta watch. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The miracle of the B5 pilot is that it got done at *all*, given the odds against us, given a team working together for the first time, without the benefit of an established universe, and actors who had never worked together before who had zero chance for rehearsal. I'm not apologizing for the pilot; it had flaws, but I'm very proud of a lot that's in there.
Do the math. You have a little over 90 minutes. You have to introduce 9 major characters in the course of that story. That gives you ten minutes of attention for any one character. Now you've also got to tell the backstory. You've got to establish who the various players are. You've got to put the present-tense story into motion, with beginning, middle and end. And now you're left with maybe 3-4 minutes of "quality time" with any one character. If we only had 2 or 3 characters, then it's a very different story...but that isn't the universe we have to work in.
Now that the series is going ahead, we can spend an entire *episode* dealing primarily with one character. And do the same for others. We have the time. And that's what's important.
One last observation: you repeat the notion that it's all a "reaction" to TNG. The treatment and screenply were complete and making the rounds in Hollywood in Spring 1987. The basic material was written in 1986, at a point in some cases when TNG hadn't even *aired* yet. So it could hardly have been written as a reaction to something that hadn't been seen yet, could it?
Sorry. I have no desire to study TNG. I'm telling a different sort of story, in a different universe. What TNG does right or wrong is more or less irrelevant to that universe. That's like saying that (just to pick two names at random) Orson Scott Card should study Poul Anderson as a roadmap in his own novels. This is utter nonsense.
A while ago, I got an email from someone who didn't like the pilot (and it may have been on internet, btw) mainly because of the communication devices. He said, and I'm paraphrasing from memory, that every time someone used the wrist-links, it broke the illusion for him, since we all KNOW that by then the REALITY is that we'll be using the chest communicators that TNG uses, and I should be sure to include that in future episodes as a capitulation to that reality.
Sorry...TNG is a roadmap for TNG. Not B5.
The BABYLON 5 pilot was $3.5 million.
With $23 million, we could make 1.3 SEASONS of B5. And have a bit of money left over for a wrap party.
I'm at the head of the line to point out flaws in the pilot. Flaws that we've dealt with. But a) it still holds up, and b) you are trying to make your opinion into *fact*. It ain't. An awful lot of people liked the pilot a lot. To them, it was good. Maybe to you, it wasn't, but that's only true for you. That you may think persimmon yoghurt is the best flavor ever created doesn't make it true for everybody else. Just a moment for perspective here....
Since we're up against Jurassic Park, I think I pretty much know where THAT award is going...but it is a tremendous honor and everyone involved with the show is very pleased by it.
While we are only small mammals....granted we're mammals with guns and an attitude, of course....
I think you will find indications of what we've talked about for the series present in the pilot. Which is why it bears watching more than once; you'll pick up more information and more of a sense of the world the more closely you inspect it. (We tried to come up with a pilot that actually BENEFITS from close inspection, rather than falling apart if you look at it too closely.)
We're still negotiating that out, but in hopes of this going, we've begun redigitizing the footage so we can get into the main scenes we want to work on.
Prior to exec producing B5, I had never edited a show before, never had final cut before...had never even been IN an editing room for more than 5 minutes before. So here I am, given the director's cut...and I know it's real slow, but I haven't done this before, so I don't trust my instincts. I let it go with very minimal changes.
And I've been kicking myself ever since. I should've followed my instincts, but instead I deferred to the director's cut.
It's a mistake I have never made since.
Even so, that first cut just gnaws at me...I *know* I can make it better, stronger, even if only a bit in a few places, that would help salve my soul over this thing.
One additional change: because of the desire on PTEN's part to have as many commercial breaks as possible, the 6-act script was jerry-rigged and broken down into 9 acts. One side-effect of this is that 9 acts wears on you, and wears you out, more than the standard 6. You start to get a feeling of being led up to things too often, and there isn't time to dwell on the acts you're in. I was finally able, with this re-edit, to move scenes back around again to what I originally wanted in a 6-act structure (you'll see a number of scenes juxtaposed from their original order).
Anyway...the TNT Special Edition is much improved over the original.
The first thing I did was to sit down with the editor assigned to the re-edit, Suzie, and go through the original script for the pilot. My first words to her were, "Put everyhing in that ain't there." To that end, she redigitized all of the footage from missing scenes, and had available all of the available footage of the other scenes for digitizing as we went.
Note that I said all the *available* footage. The folks at WB who held custody of the film (we don't keep that stuff, we're not allowed to by contract, they store film, negative, prints, all that stuff) put the negative canisters into storage...and at one point in the intervening 4 years, there had been water damage, and on another occasion, apparently rats had gotten in there and chewed some of the original negatives (and in most cases there weren't positive struck of those takes).
Take your reaction to the foregoing, put it in front of the Hubble telescope, and you will have mine.
However, we lucked out...where there were some takes that are gone, we were able to find enough others (masters instead of a two-shot, or a close-up instead of an over-shoulder) and B-camera footage that we were able to build solid versions of those scenes. We didn't always have as many choices as we're used to but there was more than enough for our needs.
Suzi then dumped all of the newly edited additional scenes into the existing pilot, and that gave us the new running time (we added about 14 minutes). So at that point, John and I went in and worked to slice down the previously existing scenes, doing what we do with B5: tightening every loose screw and nut as much as we could. One or two incidental, unimportant scenes in the original pilot went out, because they added nothing and shouldn't have been there in the first place (a total of about 3 minutes). The remaining 11 minutes we made up in just tightening scenes, which were *so* lax and slow that it's amazing at times.
In some cases, we substituted one take for another in the pre-existing pilot when we had a better reaction, or played scenes closer for more intimacy. (One of the problems with the pilot is that it kept the audience far from the action, and the actors far from each other, something we changed in our shooting style for the series...here we tried to change it when we could and when we had the coverage.)
Tiny example: when Kosh falls down upon arriving at B5, that sequence ends with a big honking wide downshot of a nearly empty docking bay, with Kosh far from us, and Sinclair looking down (away from us) when he says "Damn." Then we go from that to a wide shot of the medlab. Same framing. So I had Suzie look for a take where we panned up from a close on Kosh, to a close on Sinclair for that line, so it's more immediate, more personal, and the jump to the next scene doesn't feel like the one before.
See, directors like to stay wide in their cuts, so you can see their nifty camera angles, see the set, the lighting...but after you've established where we are, most people want to see the *characters*, not the walls or how the camera moves. That was what we tried to fix where we could.
We couldn't totally re-edit the pilot, because we hadn't been given the money for something that intensive (the main expense is in opening up all the audio stems in the sound mix). But all the stuff I wanted back in, is now in, and the scenes I wanted to fix, I fixed.
I also got the thing back to its original format. All TV movies are 6 acts. Because PTEN wanted more commercial breaks, I had to re-jig the structure of the thing into 9 acts, which meant moving some scenes into places where they weren't as effective, and frankly after 9 acts you just get tired of watching. Here I was able to move scenes around and get back to the original 6 act structure that was intended for the thing, and that alone makes a huge difference in how the film feels.
One of the biggest changes is the one least immediately apparent. After we finished the original pilot, some folks at WB felt that Laurel was too...strong. They will rarely put it in terms quite as blatant as that, but that was the message...she was "unlikeable, unsympathetic, harsh." Meaning some of the guys felt she was too strong, let's cut to the chase, okay?
They wanted her to loop her lines, soften their (her) delivery. I fought this tooth and nail. I fought this until finally I was pulled aside and it was communicated to me that B5 was, after all, still an unknown property, could be a big failure, and if we ever wanted to see this thing on the air, we'd accommodate this note (which was, I have to admit on balance, one of the few they had). The advice was, in essence, "Pick your battles."
So, reluctantly, I let it get looped by Tamlyn.
But now, when the re-edit was commissioned, and with the person at the studio who insisted on this now no longer AT the studio, I told Suzie, "Screw it, put back her original production track and trash the loops." Instantly, Laurel's energy level comes up, the performance is better...it just *feels* more natural now.
So basically, we did a lot...some of it may not be immediately apparent (improving a sound here, altering coverage, adding additional sound layers, redoing a composite shot of the garden), but over the duration of watching it, it's just *better*. It's still a *tad* slower around the middle than I would've liked, but that's a WP (writer problem), nothing that can be fixed in an edit. It's just exposition-dense there, and nothing of a sort that can be cut.
Yeah, that was an experiment I wanted to try. When we did the audio spotting (me sitting with the sound folks, Chris, others), I explained what I wanted done with that scene, and they kinda got it but were a little dubious as to whether or not this could or would work. When we came to the day of the audio mix, it was kind of a jumble...so I worked with the music and the voices to basically fill in the gaps between Sinclair's words. Then I backed up and chose the ones that most related to what he had just said, or was about to just say. It took about half an hour to get that 30 second piece down pat.
One of the least visible things I do is mess with the music and how the music lays out on the track. I'm often at the front of the mixing room, working with the mixers, bringing up one instrument (percussion, for instance), bringing down the horns for one piece, up in another. In "In the Beginning," for instance, there was percussion all through the Battle of the Line itself...and we had big EFX of guns and explosions going off, and the two muddied together. So I went with the explosions for the first of it, then replaced some of the gunfire/explosions with percussion, then ducked down the SFX altogether and just let the music take it. You kind of have to be a conductor in these instances.