ADV Films // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // August 23rd, 2001
But you say that you want to go back to this place, Earth, a place that you tell me has so much disease and suffering.
Well, you guys don't have chocolate.
Take a lost and clueless American astronaut, a fierce alien warrior, a two-foot tall toad with royal blood and an attitude, a bald blue pacifist priestess, and a highly trained female soldier, none of whom particularly like each other. Trap them all on an immense, living ship, and have them chased across an uncharted part of the universe by a military commander obsessed with revenge. Give them lots of opportunities to fight with each other, and learn to live with each other's unique characteristics.
No, it's not The Real World: Tatooine, it's Farscape, the endlessly inventive and entertaining science fiction program produced in Australia and shown in North America by the Sci-Fi Channel.
ADV Films is releasing Farscape in installments of two episodes each. The two episodes included on Volume 5 for our entertainment are as follows:
"DNA Mad Scientist" -- A maverick scientist offers Zhaan (Virginia Hey), D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), and Rygel (voice of Jonathan Hardy) directions to their respective homeworlds in exchange for DNA samples. The problem is, he doesn't want samples from them, he wants a sample from Pilot (voice of Lani Tupu) -- a large sample at that. Soon the shipmates are scheming against each other in a web of shifting alliances, each one tying to ensure that they be the first one brought home. For Crichton (Ben Browder) and Aeryn (Claudia Black), there is no promise of home, and they face the possibility of being left alone on Moya. Aeryn finds this especially unsettling, since she knows that Crichton still intends to find his way home to Earth eventually, which would leave her completely alone. Aeryn agrees to give a sample of her DNA to the scientist in order to find her a suitable homeworld; however, she gets more than she bargained for and begins a bizarre transformation.
"They've Got a Secret" -- While attempting to rid Moya of any remaining Peacekeeper technology, D'Argo triggers an explosion that sends him out into the vacuum of space and releases a strange substance throughout Moya's systems. The environmental controls shut down and Pilot is rendered unconscious, leaving the rest of the crew to correct the problem before they all die from lack of oxygen. Making matters worse, the explosion has put D'Argo into a strange delirium where he relives the painful events that brought him to be a prisoner on board Moya to begin with. As Crichton and the others race to correct the problem with Moya, they learn important and shocking secrets about their companion D'Argo and the living ship that is their home.
While these episodes look great, far better than they ever would on broadcast television, it seems to me that the picture quality is not quite as good as it was on the first four installments in the series. Color fidelity remains very good but seems to be just slightly muted. Also, the image seems to be just slightly soft throughout much of these two episodes, and there seems to be a lot more grain or video noise in otherwise solid surfaces. It's not terribly noticeable, and it could just be my eyes playing tricks on me after watching 10-plus hours of Farscape straight. In any case, Farscape still looks great on DVD, and Volume 5 is only slightly below the standards of the previous volumes.
On the other hand, the audio mix for Volume 5 meets or exceeds the impressive audio environments of the other Farscape DVD's. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix makes great use of the surround channels for music and atmospheric effects. This is perhaps best illustrated in "DNA Mad Scientist," as Aeryn sinks into a delirium as a result of Namtar's tampering. The viewer is enveloped in the distorted, alien sounds she hears around her.
The menus for the Farscape discs are very nicely done, with an alien look that suits the technology and background of the series. However, they are animated and feature the series theme music repeated over and over again. After watching a few of the discs the sound and animation can be more annoying than impressive.
In my reviews of the previous installments in this series, I have repeatedly emphasized that Farscape is very much a character-driven show. These two episodes are particularly strong in terms of character interactions and development. In "DNA Mad Scientist" we see Rygel, D'Argo and Zhaan at their most mercenary, self-serving worst. We have grown to expect this of Rygel, and suspect it of D'Argo, but it comes as a bit of a shock to see kind, selfless Zhaan willing to sacrifice her shipmates for her own passage home. We also learn a bit more about Aeryn, as we see her afraid for the first time. First she is afraid of being alone, of being without a "unit" for the first time in her life. Later, we see her in real terror as Namtar's metamorphosis takes hold and changes her very being.
Farscape is a show that violates many of the unwritten rules of series television. Many shows prefer to play it safe, never making any permanent changes in their universe and avoiding ongoing, long-term storylines. "They've Got a Secret" is notable for its revelations about D'Argo's past, certainly, but it is also important for its revelations about Moya, which will play a huge role in the rest of Season 1 and for the rest of the series to date. What we learn about D'Argo's past will also come back to revisit Moya's crew again, certainly. It is one of the hallmarks of Farscape that no detail, no matter how insignificant, can be completely ignored, because people and story elements have a way of reappearing when you least expect them.
By this time in the series, the creative forces behind Farscape were also probing deeper into the darker, more adult nature of the show. This comes to the fore in "DNA Mad Scientist," with some images that are clearly not for kids, as well as the general ruthlessness of the characters. We are constantly reminded that these characters are not always nice people, and they get into some very sticky situations. "DNA Mad Scientist" is also notable for its expanded use of the Farscape vocabulary of alien swear words, which may sound a bit silly at first but help to give the show a certain edge and attitude while remaining acceptable for broadcast in prime time. Specifically, I believe that this episode marks the first use of the word "frell," which has emerged as a handy substitute in many situations for the trusty old F-bomb. (Go ahead and laugh if you want -- if you watch enough Farscape, I guarantee you will let "frell" slip out at least once in a while.)
"Farscape, Volume 5" contains a nice selection of extra content, although not as much as was featured on previous DVDs in the series. There is a lengthy video profile featuring Rygel and the puppeteers who operate him. This was quite interesting, and incorporated a lot of behind-the-scenes footage to show how Rygel is made to appear so lifelike. There is also an image gallery with a collection of shots of Rygel, and a collection of concept designs showing the evolution and construction of this amazing, complex puppet. 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 5 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, the DVD comes packaged in the cheap and crappy Scanavo keep case.
As I noted in my review of Volume 4, the quantity of extra content dropped off significantly after the first three DVDs. 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 letdown.
While these episodes are quite good in terms of what they bring to the characters, the way this information was revealed left a lot to be desired. You don't have to be a DNA expert or an obsessive nitpicker to find the events in "DNA Mad Scientist" a little too implausible, even for a show as far-out as this one is. Also, the story device of D'Argo hallucinating about his past in "They've Got a Secret" seemed a little cheesy, but the ultimate result was dramatic enough that I'll let it pass.
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 5 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 - 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
* Rygel XVI Video Profile
* Rygel XVI Image Gallery
* Conceptual Designs
* ADV Previews
* Sci-Fi Channel