When it comes to the science fiction genre on television there are some big names that instantly come up in a conversation between sci-fi geeks. Indeed Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Babylon 5 all top the charts, but ten years ago the sci-fi world was turned upside down by a little show called Farscape. A joint effort between The Jim Henson Company and the Sci-Fi Channel, Farscape was essentially unlike any other show out there. The series combined space-faring science fiction, pop-culture references, muppets, and some fantastic, witty writing to create something that felt fresh in almost every way.
For the longest time fans have had to go bargain bin hunting for individual volumes, multi-disc "Starburst" editions, and complete seasons. The license was held by ADV and let me just say they didn't exactly make it easy for fans to collect the show. Playback issues plagued their releases and sooner, rather than later, they let the show expire. Thankfully all that is a thing of the past since A&E and New Video have picked up the defunct license. All four seasons of this incredible sci-fi series have been boxed up as part of a 26-disc collection that features all 88 episodes and hours upon hours of bonus material. Needless to say this is an enticing double-dip for fans with the previous ADV releases (though you'll be missing some features from the Starburst release) or newcomers curious about all the fuss.
When Farscape premiered it instantly grabbed the attention of sci-fi fans everywhere. This fish-out-of-water tale about an astronaut from Earth, named John Crichton (Ben Browder), being sucked into a wormhole and winding up on an alien vessel was engrossing. Think Star Trek Voyager, but a single person from modern day being sent across the galaxy only to be rescued by a living alien ship manned by escaped prisoners trying to evade capture from the Sebaceans. Unfortunately, in the scuffle Crichton's shuttle inadvertently strikes a Sebacean ship, causing it to crash and kill its pilot. Considering the pilot was the younger brother of the Sebacean commander, Crais (Lani Tupu), there's naturally a manhunt for Crichton and Moya that ensues.
From this point the show goes on to follow Crichton and his alien friends as they try to find a way back to their homeworlds. Along the way other antagonists are introduced, such as the evil Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) and the Peacekeepers constantly make life difficult. It's a traveling buddy story with a foundation that was marvelously conceived from the ground up. Everything from the writing to the acting and visual design is quite dynamic and stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best in science fiction.
What stands out the most with Farscape is the quality of its characters. A great deal of continuously expands the cast and the show integrates new faces as time goes on. Each of the characters comes from a different race and throughout the show the writers explore what makes them tick and how they interact with one another. It's these interpersonal relationships that draw you in and make you care. I do have to say, however, that it's the impressions of every event through the eyes of Crichton that makes the show ever more compelling.
Throughout the show his point of view creates a connection between the show and the viewer. Whether he's referencing Star Wars or some other familiar entity or term, Crichton's reactions are priceless. Browder sells the character through his performance, but it's clear the writers had a great time coming up with his sharp dialogue and one-liners.
It's worth noting the other characters in the series fill out the ranks nicely as well. Claudia Black plays the cold and calculative Sebacean warrior Aeryn Sun with great finesse. Anthony Simcoe portrays the Luxan Ka D'Argo who starts out gungho and Klingon-like, but eventually softens up as his outer shell begins to crack around his friends. Virginia Hey is the calm, collected Delvian priestess Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan. The show also goes on to change the roles of some of the characters frequently, drops some, and even incorporates new faces such as Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and Stark (Paul Goddard). Then again there are also the muppet characters like Rygel and Pilot who had a great deal of personality and uniqueness to the series.
After sitting through all four seasons of Farscape it's clear to me this is a show that was constantly evolving for the better. In addition to the growth of its characters, the universe got larger and more interesting, and the series even became darker, more mature as well. The show lives with the consequences of its actions and there is no reset button like is often complained about in Star Trek, so that adds yet another layer to its depth.
While the majority of this series is absolutely phenomenal, some of it leaves a little to be desired. Early on the show explores traditional sci-fi concepts to varying degrees of success and later on there are some story arcs that don't quite mesh with the rest of the series. The ending is also something of a disappointment since it closes on a cliffhanger. The mini-series, Peacekeeper Wars, that followed the cancellation of this show brought about a somewhat more proper finale, but unfortunately that is not included here.
Despite its minor flaws, Farscape was a refreshing show that turned the genre on its head. It did many things other science fictions series could not, and even did some of the things they did better. It's been years since I had the opportunity to watch this show and thankfully it's every bit as charming and engaging as I remember. If you're looking for sci-fi that marches to the beat of a different drummer Farscape is definitely the ticket you've been waiting for. For fans and the uninitiated this series comes highly recommended!
Farscape: The Complete Series comes in a box that contains five regular-sized DVD cases. The four cases that house each season hold six discs a piece and the fifth contains two with over six-hours of bonus features. The artwork is impressive all around and the box that houses the cases, though embarrassingly flimsy (mine tore after two openings), looks decent on the shelf. I must say that the lack of an episode guide of any kind is a disappointment.
The video presentation for Farscape varies greatly in terms of quality. On the aspect ratio side of things the first three seasons of the show are presented with fullscreen 1.33:1 with the fourth seasons shown in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The disparity in aspect ratio is a little jarring at first and when the switch happens, but it's just the way the series was produced. Now, as far as the transfer is concerned that's another story entirely.
The picture quality here is soft, grainy, and full of compression artifacts (primarily in the first season as it gets much better during the other three). The color quality remains vibrant and the show's contrast is good as well, but there was definitely a loss in overall quality when the show was compressed from 48 discs to 26. The series hasn't aged too well either and it's a shame that a little restoration wasn't in order for this release. In the later seasons the picture is all around sharper and richer with deeper black levels, so there's at least some light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps if there were ever to be enough demand for a blu-ray set the show would receive a little love? Overall this show looks slightly better than average, but it can't really be considered top of the line.
The audio in Farscape comes in two forms: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Both of those options serve up a perfectly fine experience with crisp, clean sound and a solid enough presence on the soundstage. The 5.1 offers a slightly better presentation with some use of the rear channels, but it's definitely not a deal breaker. The sense of immersion for this show is not the best and the rear channels only kick in during a few key moments. Still, it's more than adequate for this show. Just don't come expecting a bombastic score and you'll find it to be sufficient.
Naturally when a release such as this comes along it brings into question whether or not all bonus features collected prior to the set are included here. Unfortunately A&E's collection omits a bunch of material from the ADV Starburst sets. Image and production galleries are gone, profile clips, character bios, and a few featurettes have been left out as well. None of these were really anything of consequence, mind you, but it does leave one feeling shortchanged knowing these features were already produced and available. Thankfully there is still a bevy of other content to explore and even a new feature made available for this boxed set.
There are a whopping 31 audio commentaries included on this set, though the amount in each season dwindles as they move forward. Actors, production crew, and other dignitaries pop in to provide conversation about the episodes at hand and their impressions of what's going on in the show. Generally speaking most all of these commentary tracks are very entertaining, lively, and fun to listen to. They are also informative to varying degrees, and there's a great deal of personal retrospectives on the show from the people who made them that are interesting enough.
In addition to the commentaries that are spread out across all four seasons, there are also more deleted scenes than you could poke a Qualta Blade at. Seasons one and two also feature some director's cut versions of a couple of scenes. The rest of the features are broken down by season and they vary in terms of theme and quality.
The first season brings two featurettes to the table. The first is "In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson", which is more or less what you'd expect it to be. This interview with Henson examines the series as a whole and it's very retrospective at times. There are some spoilers included in this conversation (since it covers material up through to the series' finale) so you probably shouldn't watch it until you finish off the rest of the show. I found it pretty interesting and there's definitely a lot of ground covered here that isn't touched upon during the commentaries. The second feature, "Making of a Space Opera" was created around the time the first season was produced. This is a rudimentary behind-the-scenes feature, but it offers some decent glimpses into how the show was put together in the early days.
On the second season there is a chuckle-worthy blooper reel and an alternate look at the season's premier episode. Moving onto the third season there's a look at the theme of the show with composer Guy Gross as well as TV promos and interviews with cast members Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, and Wayne Pygram. The third season also includes the feature "A Look Back with Executive Producer David Kemper". This feature kind of catches viewers up on what has transpired in the show in case they may have missed anything. It's not entirely necessary if you're watching this set completely, but it does point out a few incidentals that may have passed you by.
The fourth season also includes a "catch up" feature, which is more or less a collection of clips. "Farscape: The Story So Far" is a weaker version of the conversation with Kemper and doesn't help a whole heck of a lot. Leading up to the show's cancelation is a feature called "On the Last Day: Farscape - Wrap Speech from David Kemper". This is a heartfelt goodbye to the cast and crew and I recommend watching it once you finish the show. There are also two mini featurettes covering the "Villains" and "Visual Effects" in the show. And finally, "Save Farscape" is a dedication to the fans who tried to save the series from dying an untimely death.
With the four seasons out of the way there is a disc entitled "The Archives", which holds yet more bonus features. "Farscape Undressed" is a rarity that aired on Sci-Fi but never made its way to home video until now. This is essentially another feature that helps get viewers up to speed, but it's a little better put together than the other ones of this type. Otherwise Guy Gross comes back again for some more talk about music and there are a bunch of interviews with the people on the show.
Farscape was a show of epic proportions and it took the sci-fi world by storm upon release. Further fervor came about when it was announced that the series would be cancelled after its fourth season, and it's safe to say the show died before its time. Things were truly just getting interesting when Sci-Fi pulled the plug, though I suppose the argument could be made that it's about the journey and not the destination. Thankfully the journey this show brings you on is truly memorable, unique, and entertaining from start to finish.
With all of that being said I can't deny the show had some problems. It contained so much continuity that it was extremely hard to jump in and watch. There were also some episodes that just didn't raise the bar of quality above mediocre. The A/V quality of this set is good overall, but there are some issues that stem from a lack of attention to the mastering of these discs and compression. Also, though the bonus features are missing some of the inclusion from the Starburst sets, there is an awesome amount of content to sift through. The commentaries alone would have sufficed, but the deleted scenes and featurettes are like icing on the cake. This is about as unique a science fiction show as you're ever going to see and it's a charmer right up until the end. All things considered Farscape: The Complete Series comes Highly Recommended.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!