The room was whipped into a frenzy on Friday at the Comic-Con International in San Diego when J. Michael Straczynski and crew offered extended scenes of the new Direct-to-DVD film Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, sock puppet B5 theater, rumors of alien cross-dressing, and free glowing pendants.
Actors Bruce Boxleitner (President John Sheridan), Tracy Scoggins (Captain Elizabeth Lochley), and Peter Woodward (Galen), as well as executive producer Douglas Netter and producer Samm Barnes, were harassing each other, Straczynski, and the packed audience with their own tales of "The Lost Tales."
Glowing B5 pendants were handed out to the audience. After that, the first order of business was a series of three related clips. The clips themselves were controversial to Straczynski, which started the panel off with a bang as a loud inter-panel dispute as to when each particular clip should be played, and whether they should be interspersed between commentary or played all at once. Straczynski clearly had a plan, while moderator Joe Nazzaro had another, and each had their own reasons as the audience was soon to see.
Eventually the clips were played, and the broad outlines of the plot for "The Lost Tales" were revealed. President Sheridan, 10 years after the B5 show and in a prophetic dream, is shown an image of a devastated ruined city.
"The black dust hides stars and moon and clouds, hope and pity," Galen, the mysterious seer says, appearing to Sheridan. "Here, I will fix it. As the saying goes, let there be light."
The scene changes to the normal view of a futuristic New York City.
"As what was," says Galen, "A thousand vast war machines each of them armed with terrible arms of destruction ... each of them never seen before ... until right now!"
Sheridan was shown a vision of what will be: the utter destruction of Earth by gigantic beams of fire and light.
But, like the panel, the clip was not entirely serious.
"I'm wiser, older, and I am tired of you guys crawling inside my head and showing me this sort of crap," Sheridan snarls. "What the hell is wrong with you people? Don't you have any hobbies?"
"There are ways to prevent this," Galen explains. "There is hope, though it is as best a slim hope."
"Yeah, well, I've never known hope when it wasn't on a diet," Sheridan snaps back.
And so the clip, like the panel, devolved into snarkiness mixed with seriousness, as the ultimate goal of killing Prince Regent Dius Vintari to prevent this catastrophe is proposed.
And so ended the first two of three introductory clips, to further disputes between Nazzaro and Straczynski, with Nazzaro trying to talk about sock puppets, while Straczynski insisting that Nazzaro is spoiling the clip and needs to play it first. Nazzaro eventually won, as he knew what Straczynski did not: That there was a plan, and the audience was involved in a secret practical joke on Straczynski which needed to come before the next clip.
Nazzaro explained that the budget for these DVD movies had been cut nearly in half from what one would expect for such projects, and that sock puppets had been considered for the cast instead of the actual actors. Asked who thought that was a good idea, the audience responded with a show of hands ... hands holding up their own sock puppets in the front section for Straczynski to see.
"Are you people out of your minds?" Straczynski said, in a half-laugh, half-grimace.
The third clip, a joke, was finally played, and a real sock-puppet theater was shown. A Londo sock puppet in purple, Sheridan in silver with necklace, Galen with black leather cloak and an "x" over each eye, and Lochley with hair and command badges which each shown as sock puppets to an seemingly serious crew and executive staff.
"Puppets are the wave of the future on Babylon 5," they agreed. A full scene was then acted out on screen, using the exact same dialogue from the first clip, with views of a stern-looking behind the scenes crew as they directed puppets to clang dry erase markers on each other to deep booming music.
"Show of hands on the panel, how many people think that is the future of Babylon 5?" Nazzaro asked. All members of the panel held up their hands, each bearing their own sock puppet, as Straczynski grinned.
Nazzaro then engaged in a question and answer session with the cast and Straczynski.
"How did the Lost Tales come about? How difficult was it to sort of sell this concept of a self-contained project?"
Straczynski responded Warner made 15 gazillion dollars on Babylon 5 DVDs.
"It's hard to do a feature film, so [fans get] this, set 10 years after the end of Babylon 5, covering a 72 hour period."
Nazzaro involved the cast as well.
"Bruce Boxleitner, how long ago did you know about this?"
"A month or so before," Boxleitner replied. "As soon as this became a reality, I immediately wanted to do it. I really enjoyed this character."
"I said yes, I want to do it," Scoggins said. "I love breathing life into Lochley. I can't wait to get back in space."
Scoggins then bragged her uniform got taken in an inch.
"That's because I'd been wearing it!" Woodward quipped, beginning an almost constant refrain of ribbing between Scoggins and Woodward on the panel.
Nazzaro asked about the rumor that Straczynski had told Woodward some significant secrets about his character when asking him to do this show.
"As soon as I heard, I rushed around to the old people's home to see Bruce," Woodward said. "So I rushed around to Hooters and there was Tracy, looking fantastic in that costume ..."
"It was easy to find Peter because he has to report his address every time he moves," Scoggins shot back, to resounding audience laughter.
"I actually did find out all the secrets of my character," Woodward said, with mock seriousness, "Which I am going to tell you now."
And he collapsed in a fit of choking and frothing at the mouth as if struck dead on stage.
Amidst the joking around, Scoggins got serious for a moment when she explained that she had been in a real life car accident in Santa Monica, and Woodward had happened to drive by and spot her and helped her out. Not to let the serious tone bring him down however, Woodward responded that he happened to be nearby because he was, of course, stalking Scoggins. Then someone on the panel jokingly suggested perhaps it was Lindsay Lohan who ran Scoggins off the road, which got lots of hisses and laughter from everyone.
Nazarro asked Straczynski what made him decide to go back into the director's chair again.
"I am asked that question a lot, mostly on the set," JMS replied. "I don't want to be a director, it's not my best calling, I am a writer. I make other directors look good on this show."
On the subject of how difficult was it to act against a green screen all the time, Straczynski said the cast knows green screen, because they were one of the first to use it on a consistent basis on the show.
"I have to disagree a bit," Scoggins said. "In my tiny corner was a like a little doll house with slippery chairs. I walk out and there is this cavernous green screen and I turn to Joe and asked 'where is the door?'"
"With green screen, when you are 360 degree green screen, the cameras stay where they are, and we move," Woodward said. "Now that may not seem like a problem, but I get used to that visual image ... my background keeps changing. Until you get used to it, it can be very difficult."
Nazarro brought up the issue of the change to Direct-to-DVD.
"When sales figures start coming in, the Lost Tales is quite a big deal ... for the home video market. So you are basically creating a brand new business plan for this franchise."
"It had to be conceived in a way that it could follow on B5 and at the same time reach the money restrictions," Netter said. "And that is one of the reasons that Joe did direct, because there wasn't any way to show others how to do this at that money for the first time. So it was a bit different, and on a fast track to get it done. ... So it could very well be a sign of the future."
Straczynski reminded the audience of his larger plans for the franchise, saying he had 200 years planned out for the show, 100 years in either direction.
Barnes, in between Boxleitner and Scoggins joking around, answered on how it was to fit in with this existing cast.
"It was just like being absorbed into a family ... but they brought with them five years of love, and I think you will see that next Tuesday on DVD."
"What I just saw right now," Boxleitner said of the DVD, "It exceeds my expectations. The new CGI is just so beautiful."
And there was one near-bombshell: JMS was asked if he would consider another series instead of these direct-to-DVDs.
"Yes, I had hoped to announce something at this convention, but it didn't happen," JMS said. "Keep your keys on the [message] boards."
Asked if the B5 scripts would appear, Straczynski confirmed they would.