Babylon 5, the groundbreaking sci-fi series from creator J. Michael Straczynski, finally had its official remaster released to HBO Max on Tuesday, to little fanfare. A few sites here and there reported on the release, and Straczynski himself didn’t say anything really concrete about it until Thursday. I say “official” remaster because there was a concerted fan effort from the show’s tiny if dedicated fanbase to remaster the show and distribute it privately. This effort was documented on r/babylon5, and you can easily find it through a Google search, but I won’t be linking here due to piracy reasons.

The show on HBO Max really looks incredible: the original film negatives were scanned in 4K, then put back into HD, with the SD CGI sequences, of which there are many, upgraded to HD. It’s only available in 4:3, the format in which it was originally aired from 1993-1999. I’m a huge fan of the show—I even wrote a guide to the series—and to see it restored to its former glory, indeed, a glory I hadn’t seen since I was a child watching its original airing, is incredible. The HBO Max release came on the heels of the tragic news that Mira Furlan, who played Ambassador Delenn so gloriously on the series, had died at the age of 65 on January 20th, 2021.

The fan effort to restore Babylon 5 has been followed by fan efforts to restore its shadow series in many ways: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While Star Trek: The Next Generation received a remastering due to their Blu-Ray release, a DS9 remaster by CBS Digital is still a dream. While the What We Left Behind documentary was able to restore some parts of the series for use in the film itself, that effort was not expected to restore the full series. Fans have been working on remasters of not just DS9, but also Star Trek: Voyager, which was produced at the same time and under similar circumstances.

Due to low sales of the TNG Blu-Rays, CBS canceled the DS9 and Voyager remasters. But now that Warner Media/HBO Max has re-released and remastered Babylon 5, could similar remasters be coming for ViacomCBS’s new streaming service, Paramount+, a rebrand of CBS All Access due to debut sometime in March? Perhaps. With CBS’s new commitment to the continuation of the Star Trek franchise, with Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks all renewed for more seasons, and even more Trek series in the pipeline, it’s possible that the second era of Trek could finally get its visual due.

I’m what used to be a rare bird—a fan of both Babylon 5 and DS9—and I’d be overjoyed to see the latter get the treatment the former long deserved. They’re both titans of the space opera TV genre, not easily imitated or surpassed, and they easily have earned recognition and reevaluation as the streaming wars further ramp up. HBO Max has played their card. Your move, Paramount+.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’d like to add that the pilot movie isn’t remastered for some reason. I bet a lot of people on HBO Max never realize the series is HD remastered because they never get through the SD pilot. I know because I was almost one of them until I saw your article. Took a peek at the next episode and it looks great, night & day. I’m gonna give the series another shot thanks to your piece. I hope this news will inspire Paramount+ to finally remaster DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise.

  2. @Mick:

    Regarding why the B5 series pilot is unremastered, it turns out that the original camera-negatives were damaged over the years due to rats and water-seepage into the Warner Bros. vaults, although some deleted scenes did end up surviving (probably in interpositive-form), and were able to be used in the expanded 1998 TNT Special Edition of the film (which is the version released on the DVDs and all subsequent streaming-services).

    JMS discusses “The Gathering”‘s film-negative situation here:

    http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/countries/us/guide/000.html

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