The Box Office: Crusade (1999) – By Mike Wilson

 Being a big science fiction fan, I often will gobble up any box sets that I can afford. (and being a DINK….Dual Income, No Kids) I can pretty much indulge myself. So yes, I went out of my way to get every single Star Trek episode ever made, even the series I hated (**Voyager**cough cough**). Hell, I even brought the Conan the Adventurer TV series just to fill out my Sword & Sorcery Jones. It’s no great shakes, but I enjoy watching it from time to time.

Naturally I’ll go for anything that I actually DO like, such as Babylon Five. I thought it was a great show and that the B5 Universe made a helluva lot more sense than Star Trek’s. So back in the late 1990’s when I saw that a new spinoff of B5, Crusade, was being made, I was pretty excited. I only watched a few episodes of it, mainly because I wasn’t in the US at the time it aired and I only got to see a couple. I pretty much forgot about it, especially after I learned that it had been cancelled. After all, it seems like every time a new Sci-Fi show comes along it gets canned despite whether or not its any good or is developing a fan base. (Farscape and Firefly are good examples of this).

Unfortunately after seeing the Crusade box set, I kinda have to go on the side of the network shirts that cancelled it. To be blunt, it’s just not that good. J. Michael Straczynski, the honcho behind B5 created a really interesting and well fleshed out Universe in the first show, but it didn’t translate well into spinoffs I think. I can see how, actually…..Babylon Five as a series was one huge story-arc with a definite beginning and ending. Tacking on a spinoff looked to be more of an effort to create a long lasting franchise not to tell an interesting story. There are a few errors in the the way the short lived series progresses, but I won’t go into them because you can read all about that on the Wikipedia page dedicated to it. But I’ll at least tell you why the series is more of a disappointment than a failed show.

First of all, theres the premise….taking a few years after the major story of Babylon Five has ended, Earth is attacked by the alien race called the Drahk. The Drahk, if you aren’t up on B5 lore, were like the henchmen to the big baddies in B5, the Shadows. With the Shadows gone, they basically wanted a little payback on the Earth Alliance. So they poison Earth’s atmosphere with a virus that infects every living thing on the planet. Within five years the virus will kick in and kill everyone. Medical science can’t come up with a cure, but the government thinks that perhaps a cure exists on another planet, perhaps from a long forgotten civilization, buried under ruins and sand. So they give command of the Excalibur, the most advanced starship they have, to Captain Matthew Gideon and charge him to find a cure before the 5 years is up. Oh, and I have to add, the Excalibur has a super-mega-beam-cannon-thingie that it can fire in an impressive display. Normally that wouldn’t be too big of a deal for me to mention, but I did it so I can ask you this, dear reader….

Does that remind you of anything. Earth in danger, a danger with a definite Time limit. A danger caused by an evil alien race? A super starship with a big honkin’ gun? Geez, they should have just named Gideon “Avatar” and animated the whole thing. The plot is too close to that of the Japanese show Star Blazers (as it was known in the US) for me to believe it was a coincidence. (Just like I don’t believe that Disney didn’t know about Kimba the White Lion when they made the Lion King).

Now, that may not be too bad of a thing, but none of the characters were actually interesting enough for me to care either. Captain Gideon is a refreshing change from the usual kind of “wise diplomatic guy” you see in command on most shows revolving around Starships, since he’s kind of an ass-kicker and proud of it. And the Technomage Galen adds a bit of mystery to the ensemble….but that where the interesting characterization ends. The others are pretty flat, and don’t seem fleshed out at all. As a matter of fact, I personally found them too boring to even bother mentioning them anymore. Heck, you can go to the same wikipedia page if you want to know anyway.

Ultimately the thing that brings Crusade down is that not one episode comes to mind as I think of it right now…and keep in mind that I just watched this Box set less than 24 hours ago as of this writing. I can’t even begin to think of any one episode except perhaps the one with edward woodward as a guest star and that’s only because he’s Peter “Galen” Woodward’s father.

So for one I have to say that I can’t recommend this box set to anyone except DINK’s that just have to burn some cash, or fantastically fanatically Babylon Five fans. If you seriously must have a sci-fi fix to watch you might be better off dusting off those old Star trek DVD’s. After all, I’ll bet you can remember the episode where everyone thought Scotty killed the belly dancing chick on that planet or the one where a computer took over the Enterprise and started blasting other ships….but you won’t remember much about Crusade when it’s done.