ADV Films // 1999 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jeff Andreasen (Retired) // June 22nd, 2005
He just wants to go home!
His name is John Crichton, an astronaut. A radiation wave hit, and he was shot through a wormhole and lost in some distant part of the universe aboard a ship, a living ship! Full of strange alien life forms. He needs help! Please! Is there anybody out there who can hear him? He's being hunted by an insane military commander, and he's doing everything he can. He's just looking for a way home. (Cue weird theme music.)
Produced in Australia and featuring heavy doses of Oz in its cast and crew, Farscape was financed by Hallmark and The Jim Henson Company after Fox took a pass. Certain the show would catch on if given a chance and fortunate when fate stepped in and delivered a venue -- the SciFi Channel -- tailor made to carry it, creator Rockne O'Bannon pitched his baby based on the work already done, and the neophyte cable channel had its first hit.
Farscape hit the airwaves on the SciFi Channel in March 1999 and was met with critical acclaim and solid ratings. SciFi, however, for some reason got a bee in their bonnet and cited a misleading drop in ratings and quizzical budget numbers as their reasons to axe the series following the fourth season, despite fans' Star Trek-like write-in campaigns and desperate pleas. But Stargate SG-1 was SciFi's new baby, and there was just no room for Farscape in the playpen. The final resolution of plot lines left dangling after the March 2003 finale didn't occur until October 2004's miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars.
Sometimes called the best science-fiction show ever, Farscape enjoys continued acclaim and a fan base rabid enough to devour as many double, triple, and quadruple dips as ADV Films dishes out. They must do halfway decent business because ADV seems to have no qualms about shamelessly re-releasing the same product time after time. Having seen only a few episodes during Farscape's original run on SciFi and then The Peacekeeper Wars and neither owning nor having viewed any of the previous Farscape DVD releases, I come into this review with perhaps some fresh perspective on the whole phenomenon.
Farscape is really good television, and not just a really good science-fiction show. Its irreverent tone and contemporary style were quick descendants of Hercules and Xena, other shows produced along the Tasman Sea, and unlike just about every other science-fiction show out there (Babylon 5, every incarnation of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, et cetera). Farscape is an unpretentious ride with characters that are a lot more endearing...precisely because they are an unpretentious lot.
As Farscape Season 1, Collection 3 (updated and expanded, woo-hoo!) begins, Crichton (Ben Browder, Party of Five) is well established amongst the fugitives aboard the living Leviathan starship Moya. With former Peacekeeper Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black, Pitch Black), towering Luxan warrior Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe, The Castle), once and future Dominar and all-around annoying slug Rygel (a pint-sized animatronic creation voiced by Jonathan Hardy, Mad Max), blue-skinned priestess Zhaan (Virginia Hey, The Road Warrior), and the massive animatronic Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu), Crichton explores the wonders of the Uncharted Territories and gets into spots tight enough to make James Bond sweat.
This eight-episode collection starts with "Durka Returns," in which a previously encountered villain reappears, brainwashed and placid, a stooge for a cold and calculating fellow named Salis. Rygel, Durka's former torture pet, tries for some payback and unfortunately only winds up rekindling the former sadist's memories and re-igniting his mean streak.
"A Human Reaction" follows, and Crichton finds himself back on Earth after Moya encounters a wormhole that leads him home. Or so he thinks. In actuality, it's all a mock-up created by the Ancients solely to gauge Crichton's reaction to them and thus humanity's likelihood of accepting them as cohabitants of Earth.
"Through the Looking Glass" has Moya attempting to placate her crew's eagerness to return to their respective homes by attempting a dangerous hyperspace jump, or starburst, which is made all the more hazardous because she is pregnant. When the ship becomes stuck in hyperspace and splits into four separate dimensions, it's up to Crichton to figure out how to conjoin the fractions and get everyone safely into real space.
A Peacekeeper boarding party makes life difficult for the crew in "A Bug's Life," and Crichton impersonates a Peacekeeper captain with Aeryn as his minion, while D'Argo, Zhaan, and the rest pretend to be prisoners. Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and Rygel, consumed with curiosity over cargo brought aboard by the Peacekeepers, recklessly free a virus that takes over the bodies of its victims, leading our heroes on a merry chase before all ends well.
"Nerve" is the first of a two-parter, back-ended by "The Hidden Memory," in which Crichton, in order to save Aeryn's life following dire consequences of actions in "A Bug's Life," infiltrates a Peacekeeper base and is imprisoned by Scorpius (Wayne Pygram, Farewell to the King, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith), a leather-clad, cadaverous creature who hopes to wrest the secrets of wormhole technology from Crichton by draining his memories in a machine designed to do just that.
"Bone to be Wild" finds Moya stuck in an asteroid field, unable to starburst to freedom and penned in by Peacekeeper ships trying to wriggle into the debris to capture her and her crew. On one of those asteroids, Crichton, D'Argo, and Zhaan find a deceivingly fetching bone-eating creature and a monstrous botanist living in a veritable Garden of Eden. All is not as it seems, however.
The collection and the first season of Farscape wind up with "Family Ties," with Scorpius ever closer to capturing Moya and Crichton. With defeat imminent, Crichton convinces his companions to go on the offensive, and the episode ends with Moya's offspring under Crais's control, Moya starbursting to freedom, Crichton and D'Argo floating in space after a successful attack destroys Scorpius's Gammak Base, and Aeryn unable to effect a rescue because of a flurry of Peacekeeper ships swarming around her adventurous comrades. To be continued.
This collection certainly delivers the goods as far as the drama goes. Series creator Rockne S. O'Bannon cited his desire to do a Seaquest DSV in space and have it be an anti-Star Trek, an ensemble in which anarchy reigned more often than the cool and assured leadership of, say, Captain Kirk. Indeed, throughout the episodes in this collection, plans and strategies are arrived at via negotiation and compromise rather than a strident "Engage!" These are all characters who have seen and done a lot, and it's difficult for any of them to bend under the yoke of someone else's authority.
But Farscape owes less to Star Trek and Seaquest than it does to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. John Crichton is Buck/Flash, hurled far from home and lost amidst a rabble of weird creatures and inconceivable circumstances, and he must do everything in his power not only to survive and find a way home, but also to overthrow the designs of a seemingly invincible roster of opponents arrayed against him. I like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, so I was immediately impressed with how effective Farscape was in evoking these halcyon heroes without deliberately attempting to do so.
In fact, everything about this series impresses. From the "just regular folks in irregular circumstances" style of acting, which is brilliant and engages the viewer from teaser to end credits, to the excellent special effects, incredible when one considers how authentic most of the effects are and how disciplined and creative the effects and creature shops were in producing it all for a weekly television series. Buck Rogers had his Killer Kane, and Flash Gordon had his Ming the Merciless, so it was only fitting that John Crichton had a super villain to call his own.
Enter Scorpius, and the show's ongoing story arc.
Like The X-Files and Babylon 5, Farscape has a mythology: the conflict with Scorpius and the Peacekeepers and their lust for the wormhole technology. The storylines that deviate from the thrust of the series are fair to middling. Two in this collection fall short of the high standard of the main plot. One is "A Human Reaction," in which Crichton encounters the Ancients. With no other consequence of this episode apparent in these eight episodes, this scenario disappoints. We've seen the Ancients before. Whether as the Preservers in Star Trek or the Vorlons in Babylon 5, they're a hoary plot device, and the scenario of trying to trick the hero with familiar surroundings is itself a yawn-inducing cliché.
"Bone to be Wild" is similarly disappointing and, at one point, actually induces a groan, as Crichton and the hunchbacked botanist Br'Nee debate the merits of sacrificing a single life to save countless others. While the topic is certainly worthy of discussion, this debate came out of nowhere and was a real distraction. The episode is saved by Scorpius's appearance at the end of the episode, as well as a nod in "Family Ties" to the consequences of his generosity here.
The rest of this collection is pretty grim, with torture a prevalent aspect of many episodes. The desperation of the fugitives and the hazards of their plight are well played by the actors and well drawn by the scenarists. The effects, for the most part, are convincing and do a great job helping viewers suspend their disbelief. But does all this make a must-have collection? Hmm...
"Updated!" reads the cover of Farscape Season 1, Collection 3. "Expanded!" As I wrote a bit further above, I came into this collection having seen none of ADV's previous efforts and so was unaware of what was updated and what was expanded. Looking at it with virgin eyes, I can say I was more impressed with the special features on Side B of Disc Two than with any of the other stuff crammed in with the actual episodes.
"The Farscape Chronicles" are snippets of behind-the-scenes wisdom presented in text format, negotiable by clicking on pertinent arrows, and offer little in the way of enlightening information about the series. Similarly, the "Alien Encounters" sections are little more than series bible pages watered down for general consumption and pasted up in text format with some pictures added for reference. Little is found in either feature that cannot be gleaned from watching the actual episodes.
The only other feature offered with the episodes is commentary tracks by Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, series creator Rockne S. O'Bannon, and producer David Kemper. O'Bannon and Kemper's commentary is interesting from the creators' perspective, but it's not exactly required listening. Anthony Simcoe has the most engaging commentary track, not really for the depth of information offered, but rather for his enthusiasm and his great voice. Of all the commentary tracks, this is the one I'd recommend the most.
The Browder/Black commentaries are tiresome and go a long way toward convincing me that Browder is the weak link in the Farscape acting hierarchy. In the commentary, he sounds very much like his character in the series: good ol' boy drawl and lazy delivery. There are times when Browder really delivers on Farscape, when his style and the material intersect with great effect. His line to D'Argo in "Family Ties" just before the two eject from their doomed transport gave me goose bumps. "I love hanging with you, man." But I found most of his soliloquies into his tape recorder to be poorly rendered, except for his final message to his father in "Family Ties." The useless and at times unintelligible rambling of his commentary tracks makes them worthless additions to this collection, except for, again, the "Family Ties" track, which reinforces the perception that this was, indeed, a great episode.
The features on Side B of Disc Two are at least worthwhile, consisting of interviews with Wayne Pygram and Gigi Edgley and an extended piece with Lani Tupu. These three "Video Profiles" and Anthony Simcoe's commentary track for "Bone to be Wild" remind the viewer that most of the actors in Farscape are graduates of prestigious acting programs and have a lot of experience not only in Australian television and film, but in the theater as well. This is quite a contrast to Browder, whose biggest claim to fame was a recurring role in a tepid Fox tearjerker.
Video profiles on creator O'Bannon and producer Kemper provide interesting insight into the creative process, but they unfortunately do not have the benefit of onscreen footage, as Pygram, Tupu, and Edgley have in their interviews. These are just regular guys, the brains behind the outfit. Give 'em their due.
There is also a nice overview of the Jim Henson Creature Shop in Sydney, Australia, which includes footage of the warehouse and offices of the shop. It's impressive to see what these artists do, how they do it, and what corners they cut to get everything ready on time and looking as good as it does.
A few image galleries round out the features and, while not comprehensive, give good evolutionary concepts of many of the characters, with Scorpius's early designs proving mighty interesting.
All in all, this is a pretty impressive package for the size and price. Eight full episodes with commentary and special features provide for a very fulfilling Farscape experience, and I found myself wanting to see what comes next in Season Two and what happens to D'Argo and Crichton, drifting in orbit while a planet burns beneath them.
This Farscape Season 1, Collection 3 (Starburst Edition) is a good buy for the uninitiated. I can't comment on how it stacks up against the other releases made by ADV, but the picture quality is good, the sound is sharp and clear, and there are enough extras to make fans happy. I don't know what sort of features are on the other Starburst Editions, but I found myself wanting to see profiles on Browder, Black, and Simcoe and perhaps a featurette on the making of the music. I love the soundtrack for Farscape, one of the most effective themes I've ever heard on a science-fiction television series. Perhaps ADV's next move will be compiling these Starburst Editions into whole-season packages...whereupon fans now in possession of every other Farscape DVD release will surely starburst into ADV's offices and throw the whole kit and caboodle into the Aurora Chair.
Not guilty on all counts. This economical package may irk those who threw away money on the first DVD releases of this series, but judged on its own merits, this Starburst Edition is a worthy addition to any science-fiction fan's library.
Review content copyright © 2005 Jeff Andreasen; 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: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks
* Cool Facts
* "The Farscape Chronicles"
* Video Profiles
* Image Galleries
* Concept Galleries
* Official Site
* Farscape World