ADV Films // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // August 23rd, 2001
This is my world, John. Don't interfere.
When I first discovered Farscape on the Sci-Fi channel a few years ago, I was immediately hooked. The combination of bizarre aliens and a lone human lost in a strange, strange universe captured my imagination immediately. My friends have since become quite annoyed with my almost missionary zeal for the show.
ADV Films is releasing Farscape in installments of two episodes each. The two episodes included on Volume 4 for our amusement are as follows:
"PK Tech Girl" -- Moya's crew stumbles upon the derelict remains of the Zelbinion, a storied Peacekeeper battleship that has been lost for a century. The discovery brings back terrible memories for Rygel; he was imprisoned and tortured on the Zelbinion when he was first deposed over 130 cycles ago. Aeryn (Claudia Black) is adamant that they explore the vessel; there may be salvageable weapons or equipment aboard. Also, she wants to see this relic of her Peacekeeper heritage firsthand. Crichton (Ben Browder), Aeryn, and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) venture on board the massive vessel, but find nothing to salvage. Instead, they find Gilina Renaez (Alyssa-Jane Cook), a Peacekeeper technician and the only survivor of a repair and salvage team from Captain Crais's command carrier. The rest of the team has been killed by the Sheyang, a race of interstellar pirates and scavengers. When the Sheyang return, it falls to Gilina, Crichton, and D'Argo to improvise defenses. Aeryn is tormented by the close brush with her beloved Peacekeeper past and jealous of the budding romance between Crichton and Gilina.
"That Old Black Magic" -- While exploring a market bazaar on a commerce planet, Crichton's mind and spirit are ripped from his body and kidnapped by Maldis, an evil being with sorcerer-like powers. Maldis feeds on pain, suffering, and death, and forces Crichton to fight for his life against his nemesis Captain Crais (Lani Tupu). Only Zhaan (Virginia Hey) has the power to defeat Maldis and save Crichton, but in order to do so she must revive a dark part of herself she had thought dead and gone.
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. Whether it is the dark and dreary world inside the derelict Zelbinion in "PK Tech Girl" or the magical fantasy setting of Maldis's domain in "That Old Black Magic," these episodes look great from start to finish. The contrast and color are amazing. Simply put, Farscape looks beautiful on DVD, and Volume 4 is no exception.
The sound available from this DVD is quite good as well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix makes great use of the surround channels for music and atmospheric effects. This is especially noticeable in the scenes aboard the Zelbinion in "PK Tech Girl," where one can hear the creaks and groans of the derelict vessel all around, punctuated by fire from Aeryn's pulse rifle as she battles the vicious, fire-spitting Sheyangs. 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 4, 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.
One of the amazing things about Farscape is the consistently high caliber of guest talent the producers are able to attract. Alyssa-Jane Cook's appearance in Episode 7, "PK Tech Girl," is a good example. As I understand it Ms. Cook is quite well known in Australia, although regrettably less so here in North America. She is almost painfully beautiful, bearing some resemblance to Olivia D'Abo of "The Wonder Years." This is not to diminish her abilities as an actor; on the contrary, her performance as Gilina is very good, and allows us as the audience to see exactly why Crichton falls for her so quickly. She also has some very good scenes where the tables are turned and she is in a position to give Aeryn orders, which is an important twist for both characters.
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 and development. Of the two episodes included in Volume 4, "PK Tech Girl" is probably the strongest in this department. We sense the pain that Aeryn feels as she is reminded of the Peacekeeper life to which she can never return. We see surprising depth in the character of Rygel, as he relives his experiences of capture and torture at the hands of the Zelbinion's sadistic captain. The budding, tentative relationship between Crichton and Gilina reveals a lot about both of these characters, and Aeryn's wounded reaction when she discovers their attraction adds a new layer to her relationship with Crichton.
This episode also takes us deeper into the dark side of Farscape. Early on, the producers and writers of the show made a point to demonstrate that despite the Henson Company's involvement, Farscape is not a kiddie show. The darkness comes mostly from Rygel's backstory, and his ultimate revenge against the memory of his oppressor is fairly graphic.
"That Old Black Magic" is perhaps less successful in terms of character development for the whole cast, but does give us an interesting focus on Zhaan and the secret past she conceals. Virginia Hey's work in this episode is particularly impressive, as she shows the internal struggle in the character. The episode also gives some important insight into the mind of Captain Crais, and as such is an important part of the Farscape canon.
"Farscape, Volume 4" contains a nice selection of extra content, although not as much as was featured on previous DVD's in the series. There is a lengthy video profile featuring Anthony Simcoe, an image gallery also featuring Mr. Simcoe as D'Argo, and a collection of concept designs showing the evolution of D'Argo's look and prosthetics. The video profile is notable in that it shows Simcoe out of makeup, which is a pretty shocking revelation. Also included are trailers for other ADV Films releases. ADV Films is best known as a distributor of anime, and these trailers cover four anime offerings available on DVD. For the DVD-ROM enabled, there is also a collection of weblinks.
Among the small disappointments with Volume 4 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.
Compared with previous volumes in the series, the selection of extra content for "Farscape: Volume 4" is disappointing. I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a commentary track for every single episode released, but their absence on this disc after the great commentaries on the first three volumes is a real let-down. A commentary track would have been especially nice for "PK Tech Girl," since it is an episode that incorporates a lot of important character growth and backstory for almost all of the major characters.
The weaker of the two episodes on the disc is probably "That Old Black Magic," which really doesn't break much ground apart from the interesting revelations about Zhaan and Captain Crais. It is still an enjoyable episode, but is perhaps a little too close to those old Star Trek episodes where Kirk and Spock would be forced to fight each other to satisfy the whims of some higher being with a taste for gladiatorial combat.
On the other hand, even though "PK Tech Girl" is one of my favorite early episodes, it is not without its problems. The main problem here is the Sheyang pirates. They are dolled up in some sort of intergalactic frog suits that look like they came straight from the set of Hell Comes to Frogtown. These poorly-articulated frog suits leave the actors inside with little choice but to overact and gesticulate.
Even with their minor flaws, this is a pair of very solid early Farscape episodes. The lack of commentary tracks is disappointing, but you can't always get what you want. I recommend Farscape: Volume 4 to anyone who is a fan of the show, or just looking for some innovative, exciting sci-fi adventure.
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 - 2013 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
* Anthony Simcoe Video Profile
* General Ka D'Argo Image Gallery
* Conceptual Designs
* ADV Previews
* Sci-Fi Channel