ADV Films // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // August 23rd, 2001
"The future? He can barely function in the present!" -- Aeryn Sun
First released in North America in 1999, Farscape continues to be one of the most original, fascinating shows on television today. This cliché smashing science fiction series is produced in Australia, and features the talents of an international cast, including several creations from the Jim Henson Company's creature shop. It is a wild ride through unexplored space as seen through the eyes of John Crichton (Ben Browder), an American astronaut who really just wants to find his way home.
ADV Films is releasing Farscape in installments of two episodes each. The two episodes included on Volume 3 for our amusement are as follows:
"Back and Back and Back to the Future" -- Moya's crew witnesses a large vessel in the middle of disintegrating. Zhaan (Virginia Hey -- The Living Daylights) wants to check for survivors; true to form, Rygel wants to depart and "drink to their memories later." D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) is inclined to side with Rygel until a transmission comes in from a shuttle escaping the wreck; the inhabitants are Ilanics, a distant relative and sworn ally of D'Argo's Luxan people. The Ilanic shuttle is brought on board Moya, revealing the elderly scientist Verril (John Clayton) and his assistant, Matala (Lisa Hensley). As Crichton inspects the shuttle, he accidentally comes in contact with some of Verril's top-secret research. He soon begins to have vivid hallucinations revolving around Matala, Verril, D'Argo, and the safety of Moya's crew. The hallucinations prove to be flashes into the future; something aboard the shuttle has caused Crichton to become displaced in time. Can he use his knowledge of the future to prevent catastrophe, or is he just losing his marbles?
"Thank God It's Friday...Again" -- After D'Argo experiences "Luxan hyper-rage" and attacks Crichton, he flees to the nearby planet Sykar. The rest of the crew follow him down to the planet's surface, which seems to be a utopian paradise. The entire population is engaged in a hedonistic celebration of food, drink, music, and...companionship to celebrate the end of a "work cycle." Loudspeaker announcements encourage the people to enjoy themselves fully, for the next day is a "rest day." D'Argo has come under the influence of these people, and appears content to spend the rest of his days working with them, harvesting tanit root, the local crop of choice. Soon Zhaan has come under the spell as well, content to work in the fields by day and party by night in celebration of the "rest day" that never comes. Further complicating matters is a strange biochemical reaction that Rygel is having to the food on Sykar. Aeryn (Claudia Black) finds herself called upon to go beyond her Peacekeeper commando training and assist Pilot (voice of Lani Tupu) in curing Rygel's ailment. As Crichton investigates the mystery of Sykar, he learns the sinister purpose behind the tanit crop, and discovers that an old, familiar enemy is involved.
Once again, ADV Films has produced an excellent package for these two episodes. The additional clarity provided by DVD is breathtaking. Color fidelity is stunning, with the transfer handling all colors of the spectrum with ease, including the problematic reds and blacks. There is one scene in particular that sticks out in my mind, from "Back and Back and Back to the Future." It is a crane shot of Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun, against the blood red of a Peacekeeper emblem on the floor of her training arena. The contrast and color are amazing. Simply put, Farscape looks beautiful on DVD; if anything, Volume 3 looks even better than the first two installments.
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 the revelry scenes in "Thank God It's Friday...Again," where one can hear the music, incidental conversations, and the ever-present loudspeaker admonitions all around. On previous discs the main weakness in the audio presentation has been in the center channel, where dialogue has tended to come across a bit muffled and flat-sounding. It appears that this problem has been licked, because every bit of Volume 3, including the dialogue, sounds great.
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. Both of these episodes provide particularly important growth in D'Argo, portrayed by Australian actor Anthony Simcoe. Up to this point in the series D'Argo had been given little opportunity to do anything beyond the usual "fierce warrior" shtick. Simcoe reveals in the commentary track to "Thank God It's Friday...Again" that he felt boxed in by the character and was seriously considering leaving the show prematurely. However, with the new opportunities provided by these two episodes (and some much-needed modifications to his cumbersome prosthetic makeup) he truly began to enjoy the character and sense the possibilities within him.
"Thank God It's Friday...Again" also provides some interesting character development for Claudia Black's Aeryn, but perhaps is not as successful. While it was clearly important to get Aeryn to grow beyond her strict military background in these early episodes, her "science class" plotline seems a little forced, as does the pep talk she receives from Pilot. The dialogue in some of these scenes feels more like an after school special than an episode of Farscape.
As was the case with previous volumes, the selection of extra content for Farscape: Volume 3 is excellent. As I have alluded to, there are commentary tracks for both episodes. There is also a video profile featuring Virginia Hey, an image gallery also featuring Ms. Hey as Zhaan, and a collection of concept drawings for various episodes. I was a bit disappointed with the profile of Ms. Hey and the image gallery, because they did not include any pictures of her out of her Zhaan makeup, which I would have found interesting. Also included are two Farscape trailers, compiled from some of the more exciting moments of the first eight or ten episodes. For the DVD-ROM enabled, there is also a screensaver and a collection of weblinks.
The Farscape series of DVDs includes a collection of outstanding commentary tracks for each episode, and this disc is no exception. Ben Browder joins director Rowan Woods on the commentary track for "Back and Back and Back to the Future." Browder comes across as very much the rowdy, wisecracking character we see on screen as Crichton, and is always a fun listen. He also is very knowledgeable in almost all aspects of the production of this show; I wouldn't be surprised to see him step behind the camera and direct a few episodes himself later on. Rowan Woods is a very respected Australian film director, and getting him to work on a show like Farscape was quite a coup for the creative forces involved. Their commentary track is an information-packed journey through camera techniques, the pitfalls of acting opposite special effects, and numerous inside jokes from the set, including Browder's now legendary habit of ad-libbing new dialogue.
"Thank God It's Friday...Again" features a commentary track from series creator Rockne O'Bannon and actor Anthony Simcoe. Their commentary is quite interesting as well, although perhaps not as amusing as a Ben Browder commentary. They spend a lot of time talking about the D'Argo character and the changes that this episode makes possible. They also provide a lot of information about the various filmmaking techniques used to create the episode, from set design to green screens and CGI.
Among the small disappointments with Volume 3 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. Also, they appear to have made the switch from the cheap and crappy Protect-O-Disc keep case to the even less desirable Scanavo model.
For the uninitiated, these two episodes might not be the best place to start if you are looking for a taste of Farscape. In particular, "Back and Back and Back to the Future" starts off slowly and stiffly, and some people may lose interest before the episode really gets interesting. Also, while Crichton's future flashes are a nice touch, they can be frustrating. Perhaps nothing in film is a more blatant cheap shot than the "it's only a dream sequence" trick, and Crichton's flashes come dangerously close to that territory.
Also, as I noted earlier, a lot of Aeryn's dialogue in "Thank God It's Friday...Again" didn't ring true for me. There is the after school special exchange with Pilot, and there is a later exchange with Crichton where Aeryn comes across as whiny and underappreciated.
Actually, there was a lot about "Thank God It's Friday...Again" that I didn't like. The whole plot about people being forced to grow a crop for their oppressors even though it harmed and enslaved them seemed like a none-too-subtle reference to the international drug trade. Also, at the ending of "Thank God It's Friday...Again," Crichton and the others get to make a standard Captain Kirk-style stand for truth, justice, and freedom, encouraging the downtrodden to throw off their oppressors; this seemed just a little too forced and clichéd. There is also a major plot element involving Rygel's bodily fluids at the end of this episode; I can't decide if it is juvenile, amusing, or both.
While these are solid episodes, they perhaps aren't the best place to start if you want to experience Farscape. Still, they are entertaining and exciting, and require some level of thought; compared to most of what's on television these days, I'll take Farscape any time. I'd recommend Volume 3 for a rental, but unless you are a Farscape completist you may want to look elsewhere for a purchase.
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 - 2015 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
* "Back and Back and Back to the Future" Commentary with Rowan Woods and Ben Browder
* "Thank God It's Friday...Again" Commentary with Rockne O'Bannon and Anthony Simcoe
* Virginia Hey Video Profile
* Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan Image Gallery
* Farscape Trailers
* Conceptual Drawings
* Sci-Fi Channel