Babylon 5 - The River of Souls (1998)
And yet another Babylon 5 TV Movie. The quality level seems to be headed on a downward spiral, and I hear that the 'Legend of the Rangers' is the worst of them all, so I have that to look forward to as well! 'The River of Souls' concerns one of the hokier elements (right up there with technomages) of B5, the 'Soul Hunters', a seemingly ancient super powered group of arrogant aliens who collect the souls of important people just before their deaths, in order to preserve them for eternity. Some fundamental aspects of this concept irk me, like how come the Soul Hunters are considered mythical if they actually show up once in a while to collect people - surely there would be more recorded incidents? And just how powerful are they, given their ability to raid just about anyone in order to grab souls? And why is it that they don't have answers to even the most basic questions regarding what the point of their mission is? And why don't they ask people for permission before backing them up? In this movie itself, one of the major plot points hinges on a situation that could have easily been avoided if these ignoramuses actually spoke to the 'souls' that they imprisoned. It's all just poorly thought out.
Anyway, the plot concerns an obsessed scientist named Bryson (Ian McShane) who unknowingly breaks in to a Soul Hunter soul storage area and steals a soul 'bauble' that contains the souls of an entire race of people. He then brings it to B5 where he is meeting Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), now the head of Edgars Industries, in order to secure future funding for his work. Unfortunately things go pear shaped and the souls escape from their confinement and start wreaking havoc on the station. Captain Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) has to contend with this and another major problem involving an illegal holo-brothel. A representative of the Soul Hunters (Martin Sheen) soon arrives to reclaim the stolen Soul container.
It's reasonably entertaining stuff, but if feels like a b-grade episode and not something befitting a full blown movie. One gets the feeling Straczynski wanted to explore the concept of Soul Hunters and the idea of eternal life and preservation of individuals, but it all feels sketchy and ultimately makes me wish for a more thoughtful take. I like the execution of the idea even less now than I did before I saw the movie, when I only had that one episode from the first season to think about. There are no real surprises within the plot, everything happens as predictably as clockwork, including the inevitable merger of the two seemingly independent story threads. There's little suspense, action, or excitement to be found, and nothing much in terms of character drama either.
It doesn't help that the strongest players are not featured in this episode, with the only reliable regular being Jerry Doyle, who usually works best as a supporting actor. Scoggins simply isn't appealing as the commander of the station and doesn't really succeed in carrying the show on her own. Celebrity guest star Martin Sheen is absolutely woeful as the Soul Hunter, it could just as easily have been any generic third rate actor in the role. Throw in an unnecessary appearance by Richard Biggs sporting a hilarious accent, and the overall impact that the cast has is, to put it mildly, a tad mixed. The only saving grace is Ian McShane (he of Deadwood fame) as the scientist Bryson, who is by no means great but gives a decent performance that stands above almost everyone else's.
Overall, decent and entertaining, and perhaps necessary viewing for the completist, but a poor representation of everything that is good about Babylon 5. The production values are marginally above par, so at the end of the day it's an overblown TV episode storyline at best. Disappointing.