Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

When Hobbits and Vorlons collide

“[I]t’s about as perfect a movie as I’ve ever seen. It was everything I hoped it would be, and just what I always saw in my mind’s eye as I read the books.”

The quote above refers, of course, to The Fellowship of the Ring, a movie that is a real rarity: a phenomenally successful blockbuster that actually deserves every penny it is earning. And then some.

The quote is from a man who knows his fantasy—as well as his science fiction. He is J. Michael Straczynski, who has acknowledged his debt to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work in his own prodigious output, which includes novels, television series, and even the current scripting of The Amazing Spider-Man comic book. His crowning achievement, as I have noted previously in this space, is the science fiction TV series Babylon 5. People familiar with both The Lord of the Rings and Babylon 5 will have noted some literary quoting in the latter, e.g. the common theme of armies of light and darkness, the alliance of various races to fight a dark, shadowy foe, and even an organization of swashbuckling do-gooders called the Rangers.

In case you are thinking, “Hey, where does this guy get off ripping off Tolkien like that?” rest assured that Straczynski’s work is original and unique. Babylon 5 pays tribute to Tolkien in its own way, but it cannot be called derivative. Just as Middle-earth reflected Tolkien’s personality and imagination, so does the universe of B5 reflect Straczynski’s, and it is a very different place from Middle-earth. But there is another interesting coincidence in the timing of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie vis-à-vis Babylon 5. This month the first new dramatized story in the B5 universe in far too long sees the light of day, premiering on January 19. In the US, the Sci-Fi Channel will be showing a two-hour made-for-TV movie called (take a breath) Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers—To Live and Die in Starlight. The real coincidence is that Lord of the Rings and Legend of the Rangers have the same exact initials: LoTR, a fact that is causing all kinds of confusion on B5-related newsgroups and chat sites, which of course thrive on abbreviations and initials. To further confuse the two things, a number of cinemas in the US are actually showing trailers for The Legend of the Rangers (unusual for a TV movie) before The Lord of the Rings.

There is more good news for B5 die-hards. This very week the Sci-Fi Channel has also begun showing the B5 spin-off series Crusade. This eagerly anticipated series got short shrift by the suits in Atlanta running Turner Network Television (apparently because a challenging, adult-level sci-fi series didn’t fit in very well with TNT’s otherwise wrestling and mindless action-dominated program fare), and the name Crusade disappeared from TNT even faster than it did from Bush Administration briefings after 9/11. The series vanished promptly after each of its all-too-few episodes were shown exactly once, frustrating those who were naïve enough to think that they could catch the series in reruns. But just as the Sci-Fi Channel rescued the Babylon 5 series from TNT oblivion, it is now doing the same for Crusade. The questions now are: 1) is there any chance that new episodes of Crusade can be produced to finish its originally planned five-season run, and 2) will The Legend of the Rangers be picked up as a series? Between the Lord of the Rings movie and developments on the B5 front, right now is definitely a good time be a sci-fi/fantasy fan.

And speaking of the Lord of the Rings movie—which I always seem to be doing these days—I just can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed seeing Peter Jackson’s film version of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was so good that it literally brought tears to my eyes—several times. Adding to the enjoyment was the fact that I saw it on my birthday, accompanied (for only the second time since our munchkin was born more than 18 months ago) by The Missus herself. Unfortunately, I thought I might have to throttle her before the film was over. You see, for more than a year our television viewing has been dominated by programs aimed at very tiny children, and this does something to your mind. Not unlike the way the One Ring affected Bilbo Baggins.

So imagine how I felt during the early scenes when I was glorying in the beautiful Shire that Jackson had created and how perfect it all was and how it was just as I seen it in my imagination all the times I read Tolkien’s books. And how the Hobbits looked just like I thought they would look and the illusion of their small size when compared to men was so seamless. And how their Hobbit hole homes were so quaint and right. And then The Missus had to go and lean over and whisper in my ear the one word that could turn this wonderful fantasy vision into a nightmare. She said, “Teletubbies!”

-S.L., 3 January 2002

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