ADV Films // 2003 // 260 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // January 19th, 2005
I've been around long enough to know how ignorant I am. I don't assume the universe obeys my preconceptions -- but I know a frelling fact when it hits me in the face!
Farscape's final season continues with this two disc DVD collection from ADV.
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 2 includes the second set of five episodes from Farscape's ill-starred final season on two feature-packed DVDs:
* "Natural Election"
The premise of this episode is deceptively simple: our heroes must defeat a giant parasitic plant that threatens to destroy Moya's systems. In the process, however, they must learn to work together, and even begin to trust the new arrivals, the harebrained mystic Noranti (Melissa Jaffer) and their erstwhile hated nemesis Scorpius (Wayne Pygram). An important development that will have future repercussions is Moya and Pilot's (Lani Tupu) demand that Moya's crew elect one person to act as their spokesperson/captain.
* "John Quixote"
This is clearly one of the most imaginative and bizarre episodes ever to air. Crichton (Ben Browder) and Chiana (Gigi Edgley) are returning to Moya with desperately needed supplies. Chiana has also purchased a sort of virtual reality game that draws in the player's entire consciousness. She gets Crichton to try it and they find themselves stuck in a surreal dream-version of Crichton's memories and imagination. It seems that Stark (Paul Goddard) stole the memories of Crichton's dead duplicate (a major plot point in Season Three that I won't go into here) and sold them to a game developer. Crichton and Chiana, dressed in quasi-medieval costume, must fight their way through one bizarre level after another in an attempt to complete their quest and kiss the princess if they are to exit the game alive. Also of note in this episode is the wide variety of shooting techniques, including some interesting use of split-screen and other nifty disorienting tricks.
* "I Shrink Therefore I Am"
At first glance, this episode seems based on a silly stock science fiction gimmick: bounty hunters working for the Peacekeepers take over Moya and capture everyone on board by shrinking them down to action-figure size. It falls to Crichton to try to set everyone free. However, there is a lot more going on here than is readily apparent; the appearance of the Scarrans, who also want to know what is in John Crichton's head, adds another strand to the tangled web of the Farscape universe. Also, the crew's grudging trust of Scorpius develops further when he shows his loyalty in this crisis.
* "A Prefect Murder"
In another episode that shows some creativity in structure and composition, Crichton and the gang find themselves on a planet in what is known as Tormented Space. This planet has only recently begun to unify its various warring clans under a peaceful central government. Distrust among the clans runs high, and distrust of off-worlders even higher. When Aeryn (Claudia Black) and Crichton begin having vivid daydreams and hallucinations it seems only a small cause for concern...until Aeryn shoots the chief candidate to replace the planet's prefect in upcoming elections. Someone is controlling her and forcing her to act as an assassin, and time is short for our heroes to find out who and how.
* "Coup by Clam"
Taking a page from the Star Trek playbook, this episode makes a preachy and painfully obvious statement about a social ill from the real world -- in this case, sexual discrimination and harassment. Of course, it does so in typically offbeat Farscape fashion, incorporating a bizarre coup attempt involving tainted shellfish, a gentlemen's club with all the sexual intrigue of an eighth-grade dance, and Crichton and Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy) in drag. Once again, Scorpius shows his growing trustworthiness by taking one for the team.
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 2 marks the point, about a quarter of the way in, where Season Four really started to find its legs and make some important contributions to the ongoing Farscape mythos in an interesting and entertaining style more in keeping with what had gone before.
Character development and interaction have always been of paramount importance in Farscape, and these episodes provide some important moments for several of the major characters. The ongoing humanization of the seemingly evil Scorpius is done in a careful, tantalizing manner that never leaves the audience -- or Crichton and friends -- completely sure of his sincerity. The other major character story is the ongoing development of the "new girl," Sikozu (Raelee Hill). As we see more and more of her through her interactions with the other characters, particularly Scorpius, we are not quite certain of her loyalties or sincerity either. Of course, all the old favorites are back as well, adding new layers, for instance, to the rocky relationship between Crichton and Aeryn.
The acting in Season Four is consistent with the previous seasons: a high level of quality and constant improvement from the regular players, and some less than praiseworthy performances from guests and extras. One of the real treats from an acting standpoint is "John Quixote," which allows the series regulars to play completely against the established personalities of their characters; it shows the versatility of the cast as well as the sense of cohesion and fun that must have existed on the Farscape set.
As is true with all of the two-disc Season Four releases, video quality for these episodes is inconsistent and somewhat disappointing. While they look considerably better than the initial broadcasts and vastly better than subsequent reruns, there are considerable issues with the transfers. This is particularly clear during "A Prefect Murder," which features numerous scenes outside in bright sunlight. Complex details like foliage patterns show a lot of problems. Picture quality can be maddeningly inconsistent even within given episodes; there are moments in "Coup by Clam" or "I Shrink Therefore I Am" that are breathtakingly clear, followed almost instantly by scenes that are soft, grainy, and full of digital ailments. Edge enhancement and haloing are disturbingly evident, and the whole affair seems like it was compressed just a little too much. On the other hand, colors are rich and vibrant, and blacks are deep, solid, and true. Most viewers will be able to sit back and watch the episodes without noticing the defects; however, once one notices them, they are significant enough to be distracting. On the bright side, Season Four was the only season of Farscape to be shot in widescreen, and these episodes are all presented in a 16:9 anamorphic format.
Audio is a much happier story. Each episode in this collection comes with either the original two-channel surround mix as originally broadcast, or a Dolby 5.1 mix. As surround mixes of television show go it is quite nice, and creates a satisfactorily immersive audio environment, with adequate use of directionality and limited but effective tracking from channel to channel.
One thing that ADV has done well with these collections is the special features. Each disc is packed with interesting bits of information about the Farscape universe in a variety of formats. Disc One carries, for starters, an in-depth interview with Jonathan Hardy (Moulin Rouge!), the voice of Rygel, that runs for twenty-plus minutes. In particular, Hardy focuses on the virtues and vices that make even a character as strange as Rygel so thoroughly human. As always, in these sets, there is a selection of "Cool Farscape Facts," featuring little-known behind-the-scenes information along with stills. A recurring feature on ADV's two-disc sets is the "Alien Encounters" segment, featuring brief descriptions of characters or creatures, along with optional illustrative video clips. The ubiquitous "Set, Prop, and Costume Galleries" are nicely done, although a bit boring; essentially a ten-minute slideshow of various sketches, stills, and production photos set to music. Disc Two carries a featurette entitled "Inside Farscape: Villains" which focuses on the three main baddies to appear over the four seasons -- Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), Crais (Lani Tupu), and Commandant Grayza (Rebecca Riggs). With a scant 15 minute running time this featurette is not as in-depth as it might have been, but it does make for an informative look at some of the most interesting characters in the Farscape universe. Seeing people out of makeup and in street clothes is a treat as well. Also on this disc is a collection of animatics from the Season Three episode "Revenging Angel." This particular episode put Crichton and D'Argo into a Chuck Jones-inspired cartoon world where Crichton played the part of the Road Runner and D'Argo became Wile E. Coyote. It's one of the more creative, amusing, and innovative episodes of the show, and getting this small bit of it, comparing finished footage to concept sketches, etc., is a nice treat. Both discs also feature a few short deleted scenes.
In addition to all this, there is an informational booklet entitled "A Dren Load of Farscape" in the case for each two-disc collection that makes up Season Four. Most of the time I disregard printed material stuck in a DVD case, but in this instance there is some quality information about the show, including episode synopses, character histories, and more. Overall, the quality and amount of extra material stays fairly consistent throughout the five two-discs sets comprising Season Four, and shows a good deal of TLC on the part of both ADV and the makers of the show.
I am getting a little tired of the "What is anime?" ads that run at the beginning of each and every ADV disc, along with ads for the English edition of Newtype magazine. I know what anime is, and I don't particularly care -- I'm here to watch Farscape, not bug-eyed Japanese cartoons. I know that anime is ADV's main product, and I realize they have every right to hawk their products on completely unrelated DVDs, but it is getting old. On the bright side, their ads (and even their FBI warning) can be easily skipped with the Chapter Ahead button, so I guess I shouldn't be complaining.
A much bigger annoyance is the lack of English subtitles on these discs. I occasionally miss a bit of dialogue, and like to go back and see exactly what the characters said, and I can't do that here.
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 2 adds essential depth and background to our favorite group of escaped interstellar prisoners, and provides some good old-fashioned fun adventuring to boot. The special features are nice, but the video quality is something of a disappointment.
Not guilty! Aside from some ongoing concerns about picture quality, I recommend these discs without reservation.
We stand adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2005 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 260 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Inside Farscape: Villains" Featurette
* Cool Farscape Facts
* Alien Encounters
* Set, Prop, and Costume Gallery
* Interview with Jonathan Hardy
* "Revenging Angel" Animatics Featurette
* Season Two Bloopers
* Deleted Scenes
* Farscape Trailers
* ADV Trailers
* Official Site
* Sci-Fi Channel Farscape Site