ADV Films // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // August 23rd, 2001
The quintessential American abroad, trapped at the wrong end of the universe, confronted with strange and hostile creatures, and with only his sense of humor and his knowledge of pop culture to keep him alive.
When my local cable provider decided to start offering the Sci-Fi Channel a few years ago, I was excited. As a long-time science fiction fan, I made a point to see if there was anything worth watching on this channel.
My efforts were rewarded when I discovered a bizarre little show called Farscape. Set in an untamed universe full of cliché-smashing characters, Farscape follows the (mis)adventures of John Crichton (Ben Browder). Crichton is an American astronaut and scientist who is catapulted into this wild and wooly region of space when an experiment goes terribly wrong. But of course you knew that already, because you have read Judge Kevin Lee's witty and entertaining review of the first Farscape DVD. If you haven't, then, what's the matter with you? Click here and get caught up. Don't worry, we'll wait.
Now that you've done that, let's proceed with our examination of Volume 2 of this fascinating and original show.
Like Paramount's treatment of a certain other sci-fi series we won't name, ADV Films is releasing Farscape in installments of two episodes each. The two episodes included on Volume 2 for our amusement are as follows:
"Exodus From Genesis" -- Moya's crew uses a strange debris cloud to hide from a Peacekeeper commando squad. However, the cloud is actually a swarm of Drak, interstellar insect-like creatures that choose Moya as their new breeding ground. Moya is soon full of two foot long cockroach-like creatures that play havoc with her internal systems and increase her internal temperature dramatically. In an early attempt to differentiate Aeryn's Sebacean species from humans, we learn that Sebaceans cannot tolerate extreme heat, and that Aeryn (Claudia Black) is in danger of going into a heat-induced coma called the "living death," from which there is no escape. It falls to Rygel, D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Crichton, and especially Zhaan (Virginia Hey) to deal with the infestation.
"Throne for a Loss" -- Low on cash and supplies, Moya's crew decide to negotiate with the bloodthirsty Tavleks for a cargo hauling job. They decide to use Rygel's "royal" prestige to influence the negotiations. However, the Tavleks turn the tables on them, deciding instead to kidnap Rygel and hold him for ransom, thinking that he is the wealthy sovereign he claims to be. Making matters worse is that Rygel has stolen a valuable piece of Moya's control circuitry for use as jewelry to impress the Tavleks. Crichton, Aeryn, and D'Argo have no choice but to mount a rescue attempt, using a dangerous weapon captured from the Tavleks. Meanwhile, back on Moya, Zhaan does her best to heal a young, captured Tavlek and counsel him in her ways of peace.
Once again, ADV Films has produced an excellent package for these two episodes. Watching Farscape on DVD is almost a completely different experience from watching it on broadcast television. I could not believe the additional clarity and detail. For example, we are able to see every nuance of Virginia Hey's makeup as the priestess Zhaan. The additional detail we are able to see in exterior and interior shots of Moya is amazing as well. Color fidelity is stunning, with the transfer handling all colors of the spectrum with ease, including the problematic reds and blacks. Simply put, Farscape looks beautiful on DVD, although there is maybe just a bit of softness to the image in places.
The sound available from this DVD is quite good as well, but perhaps not quite as good as the video image. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix makes great use of the surround channels for music and atmospheric effects. This is especially noticeable in "Exodus from Genesis," where one can hear the Drak scuttling about inside Moya's bulkheads all around the viewer. The weakness in the audio presentation is in the center channel. Dialogue is clear and easy enough to understand, but it does come across a bit muffled and flat-sounding. Of course, considering that "Exodus from Genesis" was actually the first episode shot in production, and "Throne for a Loss" was quite early as well, perhaps there are some bugs in the audio production that had not been quite worked out yet.
While I generally refrain from commenting on DVD menu design, the menus for the Farscape discs are very nicely done, with an alien look that suits the technology and background of the series.
As for the episodes themselves, one of the things that sets Farscape apart from other science fiction shows is the constant focus on character interactions. Each episode features an ever-changing grouping of the main characters in pairs or threes. As they interact we learn about the culture and prejudices held by each species. Unlike many shows, these interactions are often tinged with animosity and mistrust; these characters are not the crew of the Starship Enterprise. They often do not get along, and don't much like each other. More than once we see characters perfectly willing to sell out their companions to save their own hide. As any good English teacher will tell you, conflict is essential to a good story, and Farscape provides so many opportunities for conflict that it may never run out of story material. The relationship between Crichton and Aeryn in particular is destined to become a central feature of the show, and provides for a number of tense but also amusing moments. In the commentary track for "Throne for a Loss" Ben Browder and Claudia Black mention that at times it seems like "Moonlighting in Space."
The Farscape universe is filled with all sorts of wondrous technology, but it never becomes the focus of an episode, they way it might in oh, say, any given episode of any Star Trek series airing after about 1994. The producers have put a lot of effort into creating a richly textured environment for these characters, but they know that this texture must ultimately be part of the background. In the commentary track to "Throne for a Loss" Ben Browder comments on this, pointing out that, for example, detailed technobabble explanations are usually kept off-screen. There is the understanding that Aeryn or Zhaan or whoever has explained something in great detail to Crichton, but these explanations are not shown. This is beneficial in two ways: first, it keeps the episode moving. Second, it gives Farscape a level of protection from nitpicking fanboys that other science-fiction shows would do well to adopt for themselves.
The extra content for Farscape: Volume 2 is excellent. As I have alluded to, there are commentary tracks for both episodes. There is also a video profile featuring Claudia Black, an image gallery also featuring the lovely Ms. Black as Aeryn Sun, and a very small collection of concept drawings for "Exodus from Genesis." In the course of watching the show I have become more and more impressed with Ms. Black, and I am glad for this behind-the-scenes look at her and the character she portrays. For the DVD-ROM enabled, there is also a screensaver and a collection of weblinks.
The commentary tracks for the individual episodes provide a lot of interesting information. Brian Henson is particularly good in the commentary track for "Exodus from Genesis." He is full of the "tricks of the trade," including the "rule of one" for saving money on special effects. He is also refreshingly honest when discussing an idea or element that just doesn't work. He is able to give a lot of insight into the intentions of Farscape's creators, allowing us to get a better idea of what they want to accomplish with the show.
Ben Browder and Claudia Black provide the commentary track for "Throne for a Loss," and this is a highly entertaining and interesting track. What becomes immediately clear is the amount of enthusiasm these two actors have for Farscape and their characters. One gets the feeling that they genuinely like the show and enjoy making it. This is in marked contrast to some actors who will minimize or downplay a program or film they have done. Browder and Black do a very good job of telling us what it is like to create Farscape from an actor's point of view as well as conveying some amusing anecdotes from the set. An added bonus in this commentary track is Black's attempt to sing along with the series theme music; if you have heard the music in question, you will understand how funny this is.
Among the small disappointments with Volume 2 is the lack of English (or any other) subtitles on the disc. Volume 1 had them, but ADV Films did not see fit to include them on later volumes in the series, which is unfortunate.
I would also like to vent my frustration with the decision to go with two-episode discs rather than the full-season box sets that Judge Kevin Lee assures me are available in Region 2. At a pretty hefty price tag per disc, it makes building a decent Farscape collection pretty tough on the old pocketbook.
In case you haven't noticed, I am a huge fan of Farscape, which is now in its third season on Sci-Fi. The show continues to amaze and delight, and these early episodes are important if one wants to understand the characters and themes that weave through the show. I recommend the show and the DVDs highly, although if you are lucky you will find a place to rent them rather than buy.
Acquitted, but sentenced to spend time wandering the Uncharted Territories nonetheless.
We stand adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2001 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Exodus from Genesis" Commentary with Brian Henson and Virginia Hey
* "Throne for a Loss" Commentary with Ben Browder and Claudia Black
* Claudia Black Video Profile
* Aeryn Sun Image Gallery
* Conceptual Drawings
* Sci-Fi Channel