Shock and surprise for sci-fi fans today as Warner Bros announced that they will soon be starting production on a brand new ‘Babylon 5’ TV series, under the direction and creative control of Zack Snyder (‘Man of Steel’, ‘300’, ‘The Justice League’) and starring Mark Wahlberg and Melissa McCarthy, to be released in Fall next year.
Also confirmed to be on board with the project so far are Damon Lindelof, who will be leading the writing team, J.J. Abrams as Executive Producer, and Aubrey Plaza playing an as-yet unnamed character.
At a Warner Bros-hosted press conference, showrunner Zack Snyder confirmed his excitement to be working on this new series, which he confirmed will be a reboot of the cult-classic sci-fi show which first aired in 1994.
Zack Snyder: “This is such a great project to be involved in. This will be my first television project, my first series, and I’m really looking forward to it. I love anything to do with space, and science fiction, and I can’t wait to get started filming on what’s going to be a fantastic, mind-blowing show.”
Questioned about what plans had already been made for the new, rebooted Babylon 5 series, Snyder revealed a few interesting details.
Snyder: “We really want to capture what made the original Babylon 5 so special, and so loved by fans, so Damon [Lindelof] and I, we sat down and really tried to distill the core themes. Obviously, war is a huge one, this big military conflict, so we want to bring those big, iconic space battles to life, with modern day special effects and CGI.”
On the exact nature of the reboot, and what sort of themes might emerge, Damon Lindelof had some insight.
Damon Lindelof: “Obviously we want to stay loyal to the original show, and all the incredible drama and tension that it was so well known for. A lot of the original show focused heavily on political intrigue and that sort of thing, but we think the fans really want a more action-packed, emotionally intense story, with more direct conflict between the characters.”
One of the biggest surprises was the casting of Mark Wahlberg (‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Pain & Gain’, ‘Transformers 5’) as the show’s lead, replacing Bruce Boxleitner as Commander John Sheridan. Snyder was enthusiastic about this casting choice.
Snyder: “This is a big, big stamp of approval for the show, getting such a massive star like Mark involved. Like me, Mark is new to TV drama, but he’s the kind of big-screen actor who will bring a really cinematic feel to everything. […] John Sheridan is a great character, and Bruce [Boxleitner] did a fantastic performance, and we think Mark has the right kind of frenetic, macho energy to live up to that great legacy.”
This will be Wahlberg’s first role in a TV drama series after a lengthy and very successful career in movies. Best known for serious, hard-hitting action roles, his casting as Sheridan gives a strong hint at the direction the new series will go in. Leaked images of costume tests also give us an idea of the aesthetic of the new show, and the cleaner, more modern view of the future it will be presenting.
The other confirmed casting choice is Melissa McCarthy (‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Gilmore Girls’, ‘Saturday Night Live’), who was confirmed to be playing not one, but two of the characters from the original series.
Snyder: “We had real difficulty deciding on what direction to take some of the characters in, like Londo, and G’Kar. These were two really funny, really light-hearted comic relief characters and we didn’t just want to re-tread the same ground. We already had McCarthy on board to play Londo. Then – and this was suggested by Warner Bros – then there was this great idea of why not get her playing G’Kar as well?
“The friendship between these two aliens is such an integral part of the story, why not have them played by the same person? There’s really no better way to build that kind of comedic, buddy-cop chemistry between two characters than if they’re played by the same person. And Melissa, she’s so talented, so so talented, she’s going to make these two roles really stand out, she’s an absolute star.”
The Babylon 5 reboot will mark McCarthy’s first major return to serialised TV since ‘Mike & Molly’. Early concept art for her Londo make-up was leaked at the press conference, to give an idea of some of the aesthetic changes that we’ll see in the 2019 series, along with a pre-production rendering of the CGI makeover that G’Kar and the other Narn will receive.
Snyder: “Of course, once we had Londo and G’Kar cast, then we had to think about the other classic pairing from the old show, Vir and Lennier. And then the guys at Warner Bros had another completely out-of-the-box idea: if you already have Melissa playing Londo and G’Kar, why not have her also playing the other odd couple, Vir and Lennier?”
Lindelof: “Right, right. So then Zack and I, we just looked at each other, and, yeah, it made perfect sense. Melissa is just so wonderful in any role she plays, and we figured, it can’t hurt to have more opportunities to feature such an amazing talent on the show.”
Other roles are yet to be confirmed. No mention was made of who was on board to play the likes of Delenn, Garibaldi, Doctor Franklin, or Ivanova. The only other cast member mentioned by name to be confirmed is Aubrey Plaza, although Snyder was cagey on her role, suggesting only that she is likely to be involved with Commander Sheridan.
Snyder: “We’re thrilled to have Aubrey on board. She’s already a TV veteran, and we have some really interesting stuff planned for her character. I can’t give too much away right now, but she’s going to have a big part to play in all this. Her and Mark [Wahlberg] have a fantastic, intense chemistry together, and the relationship between the two of them is going to be a highlight of the series.”
Whilst details on the story are still being kept strictly behind closed doors, at least until production begins, fans are obviously eager to hear what’s in store for the revamped Babylon 5 and its diverse cast of characters. The invited press leaned heavily on Damon Lindelof to lift the veil a little on what he had in store from a narrative perspective.
Lindelof: “Look, I can’t get into too much right now… Zack, are you… Will you stop me if I go too far…? Okay, alright, I’ll be careful.
“There’s so much mythology that the original series built up, but we really want to use this as an opportunity to tread new ground with this universe. Right at the forefront of the original story was this big, epic war between the Vorlons and the Shadows, and it had these really clearly delineated lines between good and evil. Y’know, angels on one side, demons on the other, really classic ‘war in heaven’ stuff, where we all knew who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.
“We want to break that down a bit, muddy the waters. Modern-day audiences demand a mystery, y’know, secrets, hidden identities and so on, so we’re going to explore that path a little more, move away from the Lord of the Rings-style ‘good and evil’ and really break down those borders, y’know?
“So, the story’s going to start with Commander Sheridan, as I think it should, and he’s… am I okay to talk about this? Alright, so he’s commanding Babylon 5. Now, originally, Babylon 5 was a station, this weird kind of hodge-podge living space to keep peace or whatever. But modern audiences really want things more defined, so we’ve redesigned Babylon 5 to be this awesome new ship, a big battleship, that they use to enforce peace and protect humanity.”
Lindelof: “So this big ship, it’s really badass, and what we’re trying to do is shift the focus away from all of that big mythology stuff and get into the real grittiness of this universe. So Sheridan, he’s not the Sheridan we’re used to, he’s this inquisitor-style character, and he’s using the Babylon 5 to track down these evil rebels, terrorists, basically, breaking away from government rule.
“So that’s the theme we really want to play with, the idea that anyone could be one of these terrorists, even on board his ship, and he never knows who might turn on him. We’re drawing a lot of inspiration from, like, how we feel today, y’know, where there’s terrorists everywhere, and how does the government, like, how does the military, like Sheridan, protect people from them, from those terrorists, what kind of moral compromises do they need to make?
“So we’ve still got some of those great alien characters, like Mondo and Jekkar, but we’re keeping them more as sidekicks, really, as the comic relief they always used to be, kind of just in the background, and the real drama, that’s all going to be human-based. Like, it’s an allegory, metaphorical, y’know? We think fans are going to love it.”
[Zack Snyder nods in agreement]
It seems as though everything’s been thought out well ahead of time, and it looks like there’s a clear direction for the series to go down. But for now, it will presumably be a waiting game until more details are released closer to the first air date.
There wasn’t much more information shared at the press conference, but rumours are already circulating in industry circles about some aspects of the show. Danny Elfman is on record to be in discussion with Warner Bros for a television soundtrack, and many are assuming that he will be composing for the rebooted B5.
And whilst most of the main characters from the old show are yet to be cast, there are already suggestions that the role of the sinister Bester, previously played by Star Trek’s Walter Koenig, may be offered to Snyder-collab Ben Affleck in what would be his first major TV role.
Production is to start soon on the new series with the pilot episode, ‘Do You Bleed?’, set to begin filming early in the new year. All sorts of news may come out between now and then, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Neither J. Michael Straczynski nor any of the original Babylon 5 crew or cast were available for comment at the time of writing.