ADV Films // 2003 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // February 2nd, 2005
"Since its unexpected and unheralded arrival in March 1999, this lavishly produced space adventure quickly established itself as the most irreverent, unpredictable, sexy, intelligent and exciting sci fi show on TV. By comparison, Enterprise is a lumbering dinosaur. Ben Browder and Claudia Black have incredible chemistry, and are surrounded by some of the most vivid and compelling fantasy creatures ever created. Farscape is a joy to watch, and I've always been puzzled about why its rabidly loyal audience hasn't swelled in numbers each season. The show requires attention to be paid -- maybe it's too much TV for some people -- but the rewards are great. For Sci Fi to cite economic reasons for denying fans a final year of Farscape would seem to be at odds with the network's mission as an entertainment brand. This decision is likely to be compared years from now to NBC's short-sighted cancellation of the original Star Trek after a mere three seasons." -- TV critic Matt Roush, TV Guide, September 9, 2002
I suppose it is a sort of weakness, a general shallowness endemic to those of us brought up in modern pop culture, which causes people to become attached to their favorite television programs beyond all sense or reason. We celebrate the final episode of a beloved sitcom as if it were a wake for an old friend. (Which reminds me: I'm still trying, more than twenty years on, to find a tape of the complete final episode of M*A*S*H so that I can finally see the whole thing.) To an unfortunate degree, we are what we watch.
It would be stereotyping, but perhaps also accurate, to say that this is more noticeably true of science fiction fans than most other people. For some reason, science fiction programs tend to develop the most devoutly loyal supporters, the people who turn out to be the most vocal in the wake of a threatened or actual cancellation. Perhaps this is a personality defect that we science fiction geeks all share, some inherent neurosis that causes us to become sci-fi fans in the first place. On the other hand, I like to think instead that it is an active, perhaps even overactive, imagination that leads us to seek out these tales of the fantastic and bizarre. (I won't go as far as some have, to suggest that the love of sci-fi is indicative of above-average intelligence, but that thought does carry a certain appeal.)
I think the reasons behind the appeal of Farscape are much simpler, however. Yes, there are cool spaceships and aliens and nifty weapons aplenty. There are time/space continuum conundrums and dangerous alien seductresses and more new life forms and new civilizations than you can shake a stick at. Still, the appeal of Farscape comes from its attention to the basics of good television: plot, characters, and dialogue. Few shows on television today, planet-bound or otherwise, can match Farscape's hat trick in these fundamentals of writing. It provides good drama, solid and interesting characters, a plot as dense and complex as those in most novels, and an ample helping of adventure, action, and romance. It's also smartly written, and often wickedly funny when one least expects it. These factors make a show like Farscape transcend genre boundaries, and that's why fans like myself love it so.
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 5 includes the final four episodes of Farscape on two feature-packed DVDs:
Note: There is so much plot development in these final four episodes of the series that they become almost impossible to discuss without giving spoilers in one form or another. Consider yourselves warned.
* "We're So Screwed, Part 1: Fetal Attraction"
Having determined the location of Katratzi, the top-secret Scarran base, Moya's crew head for Scarran space. They dock at a border outpost where, luckily enough, the Scarran freighter carrying Aeryn (Claudia Black) to Katratzi is docked as well. The freighter is about to leave, but thanks to some quick thinking by Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy) the Moya gang is able to create a medical emergency that locks down the entire station. When the authorities start to get wise to the ruse, Noranti (Melissa Jaffer) infects Rygel with the Hynerian Dermaphollica, a fatal and highly contagious illness. Sebaceans are also susceptible to the disease, but Nebari are not, so Jenek, captain of the Scarran freighter, kidnaps Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and orders his medical staff to transplant Aeryn's fetus into her. The ensuing rescue attempt is messy, but works out pretty well for everyone except Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), who winds up headed to Katratzi as a prisoner.
* "We're So Screwed, Part 2: Hot to Katratzi"
The crew continues on to the one place they had hoped to avoid, Katratzi, in order to rescue Scorpius. Crichton and the others had originally intended to forget about him, but the neural clone in Crichton's head is back with a warning: Scorpius apparently knows everything Crichton has learned about wormholes. To keep the Scarrans from torturing this information out of him, Crichton and the others head to Katratzi, hoping to crash a top-secret meeting between the Peacekeeper Commandant Grayza (Rebecca Riggs), Scarran War Minister Ahkna (Francesca Buller), and Scarran Emperor Staleek (Duncan Young). Crichton, ever the clever Earthling, builds a small nuclear bomb that he can wear on his person, and which is set to go off if any harm should befall him. He waltzes into the peace conference claiming to offer "all the powers of the universe," his wormhole knowledge, to the highest bidder. While Crichton tries to disrupt the negotiations, the others attempt to stir up hostilities between the Charrid troops and Kalish technicians and bureaucrats; both races are employees of the Scarrans, and each sees the other as a threat to their stability and status. Scorpius, meanwhile, may or may not be a Scarran mole, and is either trying to help the Scarrans invade Peacekeeper territory or trying to destroy their ambitions.
* "We're So Screwed, Part 3: La Bomba"
Still stuck on Katratzi but reunited with the shifty Scorpius, Crichton learns of Scorpy's ultimate goal: the destruction of Scarran imperial ambitions using Crichton's wormhole technology. Crichton, for his part, will have none of it. As an alternative, Scorpius settles on a horticultural approach. At the deepest levels of the Katratzi base there is a cavern full of flowers. These flowers, chrystherium utilia, are essential to Scarran brain development; without them, the Scarrans revert to stupid, brutish creatures. The plant requires very specific conditions for growth, and Katratzi is one of the few suitable places in that region of space. According to Scorpius, destroy the flowers, especially the "mother plant," and Scarran advances in that area will be set back for hundreds of years.
* "Bad Timing"
Bad timing, indeed. Originally intended as a cliffhanger to bridge Season Four with Season Five, "Bad Timing" gives as much resolution as possible to the story of John Crichton. He and his friends have escaped the Scarrans, but their situation has not improved. Crichton realizes that the next stop for the Scarrans will be Earth, since he inadvertently told Emperor Staleek that a plant very similar to chrystherium utilia grows there. Now, a massive Scarran warship is headed for the wormhole that leads to Earth. If it arrives, Crichton's home planet is doomed, because they have no capacity to resist a technologically advanced power like the Scarrans. Crichton's only option is to destroy the wormhole, which will ensure Earth's safety but will also prevent him from ever returning home again.
The four episodes in this collection serve as a fitting if unintended capstone to the four year Farscape adventure. The three-part "We're So Screwed" mini-epic is an excellent suspense/action story, with some nice character moments and even a bit of humor mixed in with its intrigue and excitement. "We're So Screwed" also makes excellent use of the entire Farscape ensemble cast. The series finale, "Bad Timing," had it not ended with a cliffhanger, could have made a satisfying conclusion to the story, with its clear attempts to tie up loose ends and Crichton's monumental decision to give up any chance of returning home in order to save Earth from the Scarran threat. There is a great scene where Crichton stands on the moon and says his goodbyes that is as touching as anything on television, even if it does come across as a bit hokey. Above all, even with the occasional ups and downs in writing that can plague any television series, these final four episodes strengthen viewers' connection with this universe and characters and showcase some of the main reasons we fans all found it so hard to leave them behind.
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. Picture quality can be maddeningly inconsistent even within given episodes; there are moments 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. This becomes quite evident in action scenes, which make very good use of the entire sound environment. Shots are often fired in one channel, for example right rear, and impact in another, such as left front.
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 Anthony Simcoe, better known to fans as the warrior Ka D'Argo. As with all of the interviews on these DVDs, this is an entertaining look at the actor's experiences with the character. 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. The usual complement of deleted scenes are included, as well as a segment entitled "Lost and Found," where we find the deleted scenes from Farscape: Season 4, Collection 1 that were listed on the packaging but somehow failed to show up on the DVDs.
Of particular note in this collection are two supplements dealing with the cancellation of the show and its aftermath. One is a short video clip from the archives, showing series creator David Kemper speaking to the assembled cast and crew on the Farscape set after wrapping the final day of shooting. He reads the statement from Matt Roush featured above, congratulates the predominantly Australian cast and crew on their work, and makes the point that this was a story 80 percent completed; one more year would have allowed them all to wrap it up in the manner they originally intended.
Paired with this is a featurette entitled "Save Farscape." This features many of the principal cast members (Ben Browder being the notable exception) sharing their stories of learning that Farscape had been canceled. The featurette then focuses on the fan campaign to save the show. These campaigns have become something of a tradition in science fiction fandom, and hearken back to the legendary, almost heroic efforts by fans to stave off the cancellation of the original Star Trek in the 1960s. The fan response when Farscape was cancelled was immediate and extremely well-organized, as well as being much more professional in its execution than any such fan campaign in the history of television. The organizers established a number of different committees, including those in charge of writing letters and e-mails, as well as those dedicated to more media-savvy tactics. Within a few weeks of activity they had even attracted the attention of CNN, which ran stories on their efforts a couple different times. They even went so far as to create a television campaign, featuring an assortment of fans declaring, "I am Farscape." There is oftentimes something vaguely fanatical and off-putting about campaigns of this nature, but the Farscape fanbase avoided most of the geeky excess of other similar efforts. They were not, of course, successful in saving Season Five, but they can take some consolation from the later Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, which the SciFi Channel aired at least partly in response to their efforts.
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.
If there is a criticism of these final episodes, it is probably the over-reliance on deep, world-shaking revelations about the characters. It seems that not an episode can go by without some new vital bit of information about Scorpius or Sikozu or even Aeryn. These deep, dark secrets are meant to move the plot along in strange and new ways, but often wind up feeling a bit too much deus ex machina. This becomes especially pronounced in the "We're So Screwed" trilogy, where Scorpius and Sikozu both suddenly pull rabbits out of their hats that may or may not agree with established character backgrounds, but are awfully convenient nonetheless.
Since this is likely my last chance to complain about it, I need, once again, to take ADV to task for the lack of English subtitles on these discs.
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 5 stands as a showcase for all that was good and all that was sometimes frustrating about Farscape. It hits a few sour notes, but for the most part delivers a compelling, interesting, intricate story with all the style and quirkiness that was the show's trademark. It's a shame they had to go out this way, but at least they went out on a high note.
Not guilty! A great, if unplanned, conclusion to the Farscape series.
We stand adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2005 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 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: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cool Farscape Facts
* Alien Encounters
* Set, Prop, and Costume Gallery
* Interview with Anthony Simcoe
* From the Archives: Farscape Wrap Speech by David Kemper
* Inside Farscape: Save Farscape
* Deleted Scenes
* Farscape Trailers
* ADV Trailers
* Official Site
* Home Page at the Sci-Fi Channel
* Save Farscape/Watch Farscape Home Page