Judge Erick Harper begins his analysis of a decidedly non-Uncharted Territory: the final season of Farscape.
Our reviews of Farscape Season 1, Collection 1 (Starburst Edition) (published January 12th, 2005), Farscape: Season 1, Collection 3 (Starburst Edition) (published June 22nd, 2005), Farscape: Season 2, Collection 1 (Starburst Edition) (published September 7th, 2005), Farscape: Season 2, Collection 2 (Starburst Edition) (published October 19th, 2005), Farscape: Season 3, Collection 1 (published May 16th, 2003), Farscape: Season 3, Collection 1 (Starburst Edition) (published April 26th, 2006), Farscape: Season 3, Collection 2 (Starburst Edition) (published June 7th, 2006), Farscape: Season 3, Collection 3 (published August 20th, 2003), Farscape: Season 4, Collection 1 (Starburst Edition) (published September 4th, 2006), Farscape: Season 4, Collection 2 (published January 19th, 2005), Farscape: Season 4, Collection 4 (published January 26th, 2005), Farscape: Season 4, Collection 5 (published February 2nd, 2005), Farscape: The Complete Series (published December 7th, 2009), Farscape: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) (published December 15th, 2011), Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (published March 23rd, 2005), Farscape: Volume 1 (published August 23rd, 2001), Farscape: Volume 2 (published August 23rd, 2001), Farscape: Volume 3 (published August 23rd, 2001), Farscape: Volume 4 (published August 23rd, 2001), and Farscape: Volume 5 (published August 23rd, 2001) are also available.
Congratulations. You made it through the day without being shoved out the airlock. Of course, this day is not quite over.
As the fourth season of Farscape began, fans the world over had high hopes. Season Three ended, as is apparently required of all science fiction television programs these days, with a tantalizing cliffhanger. Moya's crew of fugitives had all gone their separate ways; would the break-up of the old gang be permanent? How would Crichton deal with the revelation, in the final seconds of the cliffhanger, that Aeryn was pregnant with his child? Would Crichton ever unlock the secret wormhole knowledge implanted in his brain and make it home to Earth? How would he deal with the Peacekeepers, Scarrans, and various and sundry other unsavory characters chasing him?
And so the science fiction/fantasy/adventure serial/soap opera known as Farscape entered what was supposed to be the fourth of five seasons.
Facts of the Case
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 1 includes the first five episodes of Farscape's ill-starred final season on two feature-packed DVDs:
• "Crichton Kicks"
• "What Was Lost Part 1: Sacrifice"
• "Lava's a Many Splendored Thing"
Video quality for these episodes is disappointing. While they do look vastly better than they did on television, there are considerable issues with the transfers. This is particularly clear during the "What Was Lost" two-parter, which features numerous scenes outside in bright sunlight. Complex details like foliage patterns shimmer, sparkle, and shift like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Even purportedly solid surfaces like the rock walls of the ancient temple complex seem to flow like sands through the hourglass at times. 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 a lengthy primer on "The Story So Far," which is 22 minutes of film clips set to a musical background and with interstitial title cards providing needed narration and background information. It summarizes the previous three seasons nicely, and presents the essentials to get a newcomer caught up in a fast-moving and entertaining manner. 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 some more substantial fare, including an interview with Rebecca Riggs (Alien Cargo), the actress behind the seductive and devious Commandant Grayza. The interview runs for about 30 minutes, and also features various video clips to illustrate points that Riggs wants to make. Also on this disc is an effects featurette narrated by the various people, both at Farscape and at the Animal Logic effects house, responsible for creating passably high-quality eye candy on a weekly basis. Rounding out the collection is a blooper reel from Season Two and a collection of ADV previews.
In addition to all this, there is an informational booklet 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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I love Farscape it is easy to see why some of these early Season Four episodes might have caused the SciFi Channel to question their commitment to the series. Within the first five episodes "Crichton Kicks" is a cheesy, Die Hard-in-space that serves little purpose other than introducing a new character and catching up with a few old ones in the most formulaic way possible; and "Lava's a Many Splendored Thing" is a completely wasted episode. Yes, Crichton and D'Argo pick up a nifty little gadget that might be useful later on, but it's hardly crucial to the ongoing story arc and could easily have been included as a throwaway bit in a much better episode. Even the two-part "What Was Lost," while giving essential background that will help move the broader storylines along in new and unexpected ways, is a chore to sit through. Of the five episodes in this two-disc collection, only "Promises" is up to the level of the better episodes in the series, and it has its weak moments as well. The saving grace of "Promises" is that it does what Farscape has always done best: it maintains a focus on character complexity and development while adding new, unforeseen wrinkles to the overall long-range plot of the series. These are clearly not the episodes to turn to if one is new to Farscape. Once Season Four picked up steam, though, it got a lot better than this.
Farscape: Season 4, Collection 1is something of a disappointment, even for a diehard Farscape fan such as myself. The special features are nice, but the video quality is something of a disappointment, as are the majority of these episodes.
Not guilty! This particular collection has some of the weaker episodes of Season Four, and the video quality is a bit sub-par, but the overall quality of the show and a good collection of special features tilt the balance in the defendant's favor.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• "Farscape -- The Story So Far" Featurette
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