Some might easily overlook Farscape in the shuffle of science-fiction television series that have come and gone over the past twenty years, namely those that take up real estate on the
Sci-Fi Syfy Channel, but not taking the time to delve into this bizarrely entertaining space opera would be a frelling mistake. While other shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica latch onto harder science-fiction rules and tones, this Australian production fueled by Alien Nation's Rockne S. O'Bannon and Jim Henson Productions explored the outlandish possibilities outside the boundaries of practicality, from living spaceships and mind-conjoining blue aliens-plant hybrids to extended bouts of psychosis due to brain implants. Thing is, Farscape knows exactly what to do with its outlandish elements: enrich the characters, a medley of both alien and humanoid fugitives seeking redemption. While resulting in some of the most delightfully batty, intelligent sci-fi television produced, it also crafts gripping, deep characters in those coping with the universe's challenge, delights, and tragedies.
The chaos starts in the premiere episode, where astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) -- a brilliant scientist from Earth living in his father's shadow -- travels through a wormhole during an in-flight experiment, sending him into an unknown universe. When he arrives, accidentally upsetting the militant Peacekeeper forces patrolling the area (and drawing the attention of one of their captains, Crais (Lani Tupu)), he's drawn onto a vessel called the Moya where he discovers a small group of fugitive alien beings maintaining the ship: Zhaan (Virginia Hey), an ethereal and sagely blue female; D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), an aggressive warrior not unlike the Klingon from Star Trek; Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), a minuscule but high-minded and autocratic former member of royalty; and the ship's Pilot (the voice Lani Tupu!), a bizarre insect-like being with an intuitive link to Moya. Crichton soon discovers that humans are far from the evolved species he believed them to be, underscored even more once they bring aboard Aeryn (Claudia Black), a humanoid Peacekeeper woman educated from birth to be a cold, ruthless soldier. They all have their demons, their reasons for running from the law, slowly emerging as Crichton's obsession with wormholes and returning home drives his perspective.
While the premise of getting stranded in another dimension or galaxy for a fish-outta-water setting isn't a new one -- the show draws clear inspiration from other sources in its setup, such as Star Trek Voyager and the entire Stargate universe -- Farscape develops its own distinctiveness at first through a blend of unique shipmate dynamics, humor, and exploring Crichton's "primitive" place among the crew. Ben Browder effortlessly, yet confidently, guides the series' tone as the learning-curve crew member who possesses stronger skills than his shipmates seem to realize, namely his mental prowess and his burgeoning ability to lead the leaderless. Part of the show's personality roots in how this "savage" casually investigates his cohabitants' mannerisms and the reasons why they're fleeing the law, often dependent on Crichton's charisma to pulls them together. He's not always successful, though, which is another component of the show's shrewd writing, creating exceptionally humorous and deliciously melodramatic moments when Moya's inhabitants have their buttons pushed or their skeletons dragged out of their closets.
Farscape, after all, is all about the characters and how they adapt to a cornucopia of truly zany events in their travels, sparking conflicts and transforming their motivations as elements of their personalities surface. That includes Moya herself, soon revealed to Crichton as a living, organic entity called a Leviathan instead of a mere machine, who endures pain, reproduces, and reacts to biological shifts in ways that directly impact the crew's everyday activities. Making the relationship between passenger and ship a symbiotic connection instead of something more utilitarian forms a really interesting pattern as the show progresses, especially around the evolving romantic connection between Crichton and Aeryn. Those living under Moya's roof are, with no exception, well-drawn and fascinating in one way or another, even and especially those created by puppetry, facial prosthetics, and layers of makeup. What's more, the show rarely misses an opportunity to bring new inhabitants onboard -- including Chiana (Gigi Edgley), a peculiar, unpredictable, yet streetwise murder suspect with ashen skin and haunting eyes, a crucial early addition to the cast.
Occasionally, the series focuses on something resembling a handful of overarching plots, from the Peacekeeper threat given complexity by one of their leaders, Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), to Crichton's obsession with wormholes and his wavering sanity (eventually at the same time), but the joy of watching Farscape mostly comes in the episode-by-episode inanity that resolves its contained, bizarre conflicts within each installment. It cleverly scratches off a list of sci-fi tropes -- warped realities, invasion of memories, untrustworthy body duplicates, complex illnesses requiring fetch missions -- but with the added edge that comes from the pathos of these unique characters and piles of self-aware writing, willing to explore darker moral areas than one might expect . Make no mistake: this series isn't designed for technobabble explanations to what's going on, instead relying on convenient, roll-with-it solutions so it can get its hands dirty with unique, thought-probing themes and complications between Moya's cohabitants.
Underneath its imaginative hybrid of digital visual effects and puppetry, Farscape shrewdly justifies its lack of answers with sheer delight in relishing the melodrama, humor, and unyielding tension across its four seasons, counterbalancing the rare "off" episodes with several bursts of something exceptional. It rarely wastes opportunities: smaller-scale episodes that never leave the maze-like ship and operate on raw cabin-fever are, oftentimes, just as captivating as those that venture onto the obscure planets full of equally-unusual conflicts. The unfortunate reality, though, is that without the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries later developed for its loyal fans, the series does end on a pretty brutal cliffhanger due to its cancellation -- something that hits even harder due to the show's consistent and gripping characters. It's a shame that the final season of Farscape wasn't allowed to see the light of day, but at least that passion was distilled into a conclusive send-off for this mesmerizing narrative in the form of a miniseries, undeserved as the abrupt halt was in the first place. Be prepared to starburst out there to find it.
Surprisingly ceremonious for what's essentially a repackaging/reissue of the previous Blu-ray collection, Farscape: The Complete Series arrives from Flat Iron Films / New Video in a set of four five-disc standard Blu-ray cases (twenty (20) discs in total), sporting uniform off-white cover artwork that differs from the 2011 release. The cases arrive in a thin slipbox featuring a minimally-designed cover with Moya, the show's living ship, front and center, along with raised letting and a slight foil sheen to the fiery elements. Outside of the design overhaul, this set also arrives with an exclusive Mini-Comic, featuring the story "Backyard Barbecue" which takes place around the time of the Peacekeeper Wars. The paper quality is solid, the cover artwork appealing, and it easily slips under the tabs inside one of the standard Blu-ray cases. Despite new loading cards featuring Cinedigm, The Jim Henson Company, and RHI, however, the menus and operations of the discs themselves play out exactly as they did with the 2011 set. Click here for DVDTalk's 2011 Farscape: Complete Series Blu-ray review.
Video and Audio:
Scapers would probably love to hear that this 15th Anniversary edition of Farscape somehow magically stumbled onto those lost 35mm prints of the show, but the unfortunate truth is that the collection of 1.33:1 and 1.78:1-framed episodes -- the shift occurs in season four -- are the exact same PAL-sourced, flat, somewhat muddy, yet entirely serviceable 1080p upconverts. The Blu-ray treatment's strong suits lie in the replication of color and some very adamant efforts at projecting detail through the unavoidable limitations: Crichton's clothing, D'Argo's beard and tentacle braids, and the puppetry work in Rygel's scrunched face project admirable eye candy considering the circumstances, while shades of blue in Zhaan's skin tones and Moya's warm amber corridors nail some vibrant palette tones. Skin tones aren't too shabby, either. However, they'll always have to fight against the murky and noisy appearance, alongside some unstable black levels and a few instances of print damage. It's about as good as it can look under the circumstances, but it's also still a tough sell.
Far easier to recommend are the 5.1 Master Audio tracks, bursting at the seams with immersive design while maintaining a robust balance between music, effects, and dialogue. Surround elements remain constant and robust to a surprising degree, capably allowing battle atmosphere and space-flight ambience to create a multi-dimensional, if somewhat gimmicky, stage of commotion. The somewhat restrained verbal fidelity never has any trouble being heard amid the activity, while there are surprisingly moments of clarity and level awareness in the dialogue's quieter moments. Naturally, this is an action- and activity-oriented track, so it comes as no surprise that energy gun shots, explosions, and other louder elements pack a substantial punch on the lower end, staying surprisingly stable and free of distortion all points considering. The only real faults can be found in its age and production restraints, because Farscape still sounds pretty frelling fantastic.
DVDTalk has written extensively about Farscape's plethora of supplemental materials in our comprehensive coverage -- here are direct links to the other Complete Series reviews (Blu-ray; DVD) -- so it should be pretty clear to long-running fans and newcomers alike that the depth of material able to be explored about this series is impressive, exhaustive, and delightful. The most relevant piece of information I can really offer is a clarification of sorts: unless I'm overlooking something across these discs, these are the same thirty-one (31) Audio Commentaries that were available in all previous presentations, which goes against the description on the back of the box stating that thirty-five (35) commentaries are available. Put bluntly, everything that's been made available in terms of special features carries over here, to a point where it truly seems as if these are the exact same discs as previously available. For those keeping score, that's a good thing.
Since Disc One through Disc Four typically only have deleted scenes and commentaries, Disc Five in each set is where you'll find the the meatier supplements. Among the bounty of interviews, video diaries, and vintage pieces that'll keep Scapers gleefully locked on their screens for hours, there's a few true standouts from the pack. The most essential one would be Memories of Moya (36:51, 16x9), a freshly-created retrospective involving the show's actors and creators, catching up with where their perspective on the show has arrived. The vintage Making of a Space Opera (22:26, 4x3) piece provides a nostalgic look at the show's creation through interviews that include Rockne S. O'Bannon, while Zhaan Forever (30:16, 4x3) features some rather intimate interview time with Virginia Hey about her character, a crucial piece given the circumstances around that season. Also, the set includes a "rare" episode-length catch-up entitled Farscape: Undressed (44:02, 4x3): a reintroduction to the series for newcomers featuring Ben Browder and Claudia Black in fancy threads, halfway in character and half not, as the characters brought to life by Henson's puppets also make appearances. An it's hard not to have a soft spot for the Saving Farscape (30:44, 4x3) piece, covering how many of the actors felt when they heard about the cancellation ... and how the fans reacted.
Farscape fans might experience a rush of excitement when they see this title "15th Anniversary Complete Series", but they'll be just fine passing over this release since powers beyond their control keep it from providing any reasons to upgrade -- namely the absence of the show's original 35mm negatives, as well as the distribution rights to the somewhat "necessary" Peacekeeper Wars mini-series conclusion that's missing here. Aside from a short comic and slightly fancier packaging, it's the same array of extensive goodies found in the 2011 release. Essentially, this collection is nothing but a budgeted repackaging of one of the zaniest, spellbinding space operas brought to television, full of rich characters and boundless possibilities as John Crichton tries to "make it work" after he's shot through a wormhole across the galaxy, landing in a living, breathing ship populated by a handful of fugitive aliens. Just about every episode brings something outlandish to the table, and just about every episode allows the well-drawn, incredibly well-performed characters to grasp the odd conflicts, resulting in clashes of ship politics, past transgressions, and general personality differences as they open-mindedly grapple the universe's oddities. Highly Recommended to those who still need it or find the premise even mildly interesting, but Scapers with the previous set can give it pass.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site