ADV Films // 1999 // 350 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // January 12th, 2005
Whaddya know -- frelling ADV has stopped milking Farscape fans dry. It's about frelling time!
In this humble reviewer's opinion, Farscape is the best science fiction series ever made. In every aspect of television production, from storytelling to set design, Farscape is superior to its competition. (I will admit that the classic anthology shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits should take the all-time Best Writing crown...but Farscape isn't that far behind them in the rankings.) Not only was the show superior, it was consistently superior; the show's quality never slacked off during its four seasons.
Unfortunately, the history of Farscape on DVD has not been a consumer-friendly one. ADV, the niche-market distributor that holds the DVD rights to the show, seems fixated on a $10-per-episode price point for its series releases (see, e.g., Andromeda); hence the early Farscape "collections" contained two episodes, plus extras, at a $19.99 retail price tag.
Eventually, ADV brought the price down a bit, releasing a boxed Farscape -- The Complete Season One collection at the discounted, but still whopping, X-Files-like list price of $150. (A complete set of the season one "collections" would have cost around $200.)
But here we are in 2005, and out of the goodness of their hearts (or, more likely, thanks to market pressure), ADV has once again reduced the price of Farscape acquisition with its "Starburst Editions" for the first season. Farscape -- Season One, Collection One (Starburst Edition) contains no less than seven episodes of the show, plus most of the extras included on the equivalent discs in the boxed set, plus a couple of interesting new text-based extras, plus a very recent (and very thorough) interview with show co-creator Brian Henson -- all for the highly competitive list price of $24.98. At last, the unwashed huddled masses of sci-fi fans have an affordable means to start down the Farscape path, and many more people will come to understand why Farscape fans are so devotedly loyal to the show.
John Crichton (Ben Browder) is a U.S. scientist/astronaut currently working on alternative methods of propulsion. He's also the son of the world-famous and highly-decorated astronaut Jack Crichton (Kent McCord, Adam-12), and has long wanted to make his own name in the world. He thinks he'll be able to do so via the Farscape project, which seeks to use a "slingshot" method of propulsion to achieve greater speeds in space.
Crichton embarks on a Space Shuttle mission, wherein he will pilot a small module (named Farscape 1, of course) that will test his theories in Earth orbit. But in the middle of the test Crichton's craft inadvertently triggers the formation of a wormhole in space, which promptly sucks Crichton and his little module halfway across the galaxy.
He pops back into regular space in the middle of some kind of battle. His module is clipped by a small fighter, which then crashes into an asteroid. Partially disabled, his craft is captured by a huge, whale-like space vessel crewed by a handful of rather unfriendly aliens. After a quick injection of "translator microbes," which enable him to understand their languages, Crichton discovers just how unfriendly they are...
It turns out that he's aboard a ship named Moya, who isn't just a spacecraft. She's a Leviathan; an actual living creature who also is a functional mechanical device. (A "biomechanoid," if you want to get technical.) Up until that day she had been used (involuntarily) as a prisoner transport ship for a group known as the Peacekeepers. But the inmates are now running the asylum -- they've seized Moya from their captors and are attempting to flee from the Peacekeeper fleet.
After a bit of hassle, Moya escapes from the Peacekeepers, and things settle down a bit. And that's when the crew starts to rough Crichton up. It turns out that the Peacekeepers are predominantly from a race called the Sebacians, who just happen to look exactly like humans. (There are many differences, though, as we learn in the future.) So naturally, the crew thinks Crichton is a Peacekeeper spy of some sort. After all, he looks just like the other Peacekeeper they captured, a female pilot named Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black, Pitch Black). Eventually, Crichton is able to convince them that he has absolutely no clue what the hell they're talking about, and that he's no Peacekeeper.
Although they're still suspicious of him, Crichton eventually gets a bit of information about his new crewmates. P'au Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey, The Road Warrior, The Living Daylights) is a blue Delvian priestess who had been convicted of murdering her mentor. She's the most reasonable and balanced of the bunch. Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a Luxan, is a battle-tested warrior, but a youngster who's still prone to fits of petulance and pouting. Dominar Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy), a deposed Hynerian royal, is a scheming, arrogant, and greedy little jerk. He's cooperating with everyone only because it's currently in his best interests to do so. Finally, there's Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu), who is...well, the pilot. He's a symbiote -- his species has evolved to the point where they can be physically integrated with Leviathan ships.
The thrill of the escape is short-lived, however -- the Moya gang discover that the ship Crichton clipped upon his entry into this part of the universe contained the younger brother of a Peacekeeper commander, Crais (Lani Tupu), who now has a serious bee in his bonnet. Crais has sworn to hunt down and kill Crichton no matter where he goes. The crew is forced to take Moya into the Uncharted Territories (theoretically outside the Peacekeeper sphere of influence) in an attempt to elude Crais. But Crais doesn't give up so easily...
From this basic setup (which is essentially the pilot episode), Farscape launches its hapless protagonist Crichton into a non-stop series of dangerous, alien, and sometimes slightly wacky experiences. The charm of the series is this: Crichton is, really, just a guy like any of us. He's doing exactly what we'd all be doing -- wandering around saying "what the *^)#@ is going on here?" Browder is terrific in the role (and, so I'm told, quite easy on the ladies' eyes), confident and charming and just a bit nuts. The Rygel puppet (Rygel and Pilot are extremely sophisticated animatronic puppets, by the way) is astoundingly expressive. To be honest, everyone is good in Farscape. The show, which was made in Australia, also attracted many talented Australian film and television stars to guest roles, further enhancing the quality of the acting. Effects are good, set design is appropriately varied and alien, and the music is quirkily appropriate. There's nothing to dislike here.
Like many other contemporary science fiction shows, Farscape has adopted a three-tiered system of storytelling: there's the plot of the individual episode, of course; there are season-long story arcs that weave through multiple episodes but ultimately resolve themselves (to an extent) by the cliffhanger; and then there are long-term arcs that span across seasons. Of course, that's only apparent in hindsight; none of that is obvious in these seven episodes -- but you have to start somewhere.
As mentioned, this set contains seven episodes on two double-sided discs. The specific episodes included are:
* "I, E.T."
* "Exodus from Genesis"
* "Throne for a Loss"
* "Back and Back and Back to the Future"
* "Thank God It's Friday...Again"
* "PK Tech Girl"
The specific details of these episodes are covered in our original reviews of the first few "collections"; I refer you to those pieces for further reading (see links in the sidebar). Virtually all of the extra features that were included with those collections -- the commentary tracks, concept sketch galleries, the "Making of a Space Opera" featurette, and so forth -- are still here, too. (What's missing? Some of the cast bios -- but they're sure to appear on future volumes. Additionally, a new "Alien Encounters" section covers most of what was in those bios anyhow -- see below.)
What's new? Well, three things. First, there's a long (a bit over half an hour) interview with Brian Henson entitled "In The Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson." The interview is extremely recent, unlike the carryover extras (which were recorded/assembled as the show's third season was finishing production). It's also quite far-ranging -- although it focuses on the show's origin and creation, Henson also discusses issues from later seasons as well. (To its credit, ADV includes a "buffer" screen immediately before Henson discusses things that would be considered spoilers for Season Four, so that viewers can decide whether they want to continue. A very nice touch.) The interview is very informative; it's markedly better than the "Space Opera" featurette.
Two other new extras are text-based. One is a "Cool Farscape Facts" feature -- a slideshow-like presentation that gives you a good number of Pop-up Video-like trivia factoids about the shows featured on that disc. The other text feature is "The Farscape Chronicles"; these are short excerpts from the book Farscape: The Illustrated Companion by Paul Simpson that are specific to the featured episodes. There isn't a lot here, but what is there should be interesting for die-hard fans.
There's some footage of early makeup tests included -- it's almost like a living production sketch gallery. Fans should be amused to see some alternative makeup options that were considered for Zhaan. Until Virginia Hey volunteered to shave her hair, the makeup folk were going to use a prosthetic, which didn't look good at all. Complete newcomers to the show will be baffled by the makeup tests of a greyish young woman who doesn't appear anywhere else on the discs. Well folks, that's Chiana (Gigi Edgley), who didn't become a regular until the last third of this first season. It's somewhat puzzling that ADV chose to include this material here, instead of later on when Chiana makes her first appearance in the show.
Finally, there's a new "Alien Encounters" section on each disc. This contains brief biographies of significant characters introduced in the episodes on that disc (main characters, too), with links to scenes in which they appear. It's a clever feature, and well-implemented...but who will ever have an immediate need to jump to the scene where the Drak Queen appears?
Picture and sound quality have always been high on these Farscape releases, and this Starburst Edition maintains that tradition -- I didn't notice any significant differences. This is still one of the crispest-looking shows on DVD.
If you already own the original Farscape first season discs, there is virtually no reason for you to buy this collection. The text-based trivia and commentary extras absolutely don't justify an additional $25 expenditure. The interview with Brian Henson is interesting, but not essential. Save your money for the forthcoming Peacekeeper Wars miniseries set.
At its new price point, Farscape -- Season One, Collection One (Starburst Edition) is a perfect introductory disc for newcomers to Farscape. All the bells and whistles from the past sets are here, and there's a couple of new trinkets to keep you occupied as well. The show itself is still the best thing sci-fi television has produced. If you like science fiction, and you haven't given Farscape a bit of your viewing time yet, you now have absolutely no excuses left to avoid it. Get cracking, poncho!
The show wasn't being charged with anything. But ADV, after several long years of exploiting the Farscape fanbase, is granted parole, because this judge feels that they've seen the error of their ways. Oh wait...I forgot about Andromeda. Never mind -- back in the clink for you.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Ryan; 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 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Documentary: "Making of a Space Opera"
* In The Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson
* From The Archives: Early Makeup Tests
* Video Profiles: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
* Full Length Audio Commentaries for Six Episodes
* Cool Farscape Facts
* The Farscape Chronicles by Paul Simpson
* Alien Encounters
* Image Galleries: Conceptual Art, Crichton, Aeryn
* Farscape Trailers
* Official Site
* Review: Season One, Collection One
* Review: Season One, Collection Two
* Review: Season One, Collection Three
* Review: Season One, Collection Four