Out of the myriad of SF shows that I've watched in my day, the main one that never received the respect it deserved was Farscape. Sure, Firefly had a much shorter run, but if you mention that great show to even a causal SF fan, they'll list it's cancellation as the most bone-headed decision in TV history (and they'll be right.) Star Trek has a slew of spin off series, and
Commander John Crichton (Ben Browder) is an astronaut testing a new shuttle-like spacecraft (dubbed Farscape) when he accidently open up a wormhole in space and is transported to a far-off part of the galaxy. There he finds an immensely huge spaceship, Moya, that happens to be a living creature.
Upon docking with Moya he discovers that he's walked in on a prison break. Moya was being used to hold a group deemed undesirable by the Peacekeepers, an interstellar military force/ mercenaries that dominate much of their part of the galaxy. They've escaped and taken Moya, and they're really not looking for any hitch-hikers. The crew includes: Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) a very tall, muscular and aggressive Luxan warrior, Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey) a blue-skinned humanoid plant creature who killed her lover once she discovered he was collaborating with the Peacekeepers; Dominar Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy) a very small being who was once ruler of an empire before being betrayed by his cousin; Chiana (Gigi Edgley) a thief from Nebari; and Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) a Peacekeeper who was battling to retake Moya but was captured. He commanding office has decreed that she's been contaminated by coming into contact with the prisoners and she's now an outlaw too. Then there's Pilot, member of a race that has a symbiotic relationship with Leviathans. He is bonded with the ship and can communicate with it and relay instructions.
The early episodes deal with Moya's crew (for want of a better term) getting away from the Peacekeepers. A Peacekeeper officer, Bialar Crais (Lani Tupu), blames Crichton for the death of his brother and wants his head on a pike. He relentlessly tracks the giant ship (which has no offensive weapons, by the way) and is constantly putting pressure on the group.
In the second season Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), a hybrid between a human-like species and a reptile, starts after the renegades. He's a Peacekeeper, but he doesn't care that there's a group of convicts on the loose... he wants the secret to wormhole technology that is trapped inside John Crichton's head.
The first thing that strikes viewers about this show is the complexity. Most SF programs have good guys and bad guys and leave it at that, but this show is covered in shades of grey and moral ambiguity. The beings traveling and living in Moya are not a plucky band of rebels who have been brought together by a common goal, just the opposite. They all have their own agendas and sometimes those come into conflict, not to mention that the Peacekeepers are more than willing to give one member what they want if they'll just betray their partners. If you can imagine a version of Star Trek where Captain Kirk was more than willing to stab Spock in the back you'll start to get the idea. This adds a lot of suspense and drama to the show, not to mention suspicion, and it also sets it apart from most other space operas.
Another thing that sets this show apart is the group dynamics. They don't like each other at the beginning, much less trust each other. This can make for some tense situations when they're under attack. It's also part of the show's story arc. As the program progresses everyone learns to respect and eventually trust each other, and its great watching the group slowly bond.
There's a lot of continuity in the show, which is nice, but the writing is really what sets this apart from many other SF programs. The story is tightly woven together and they add a good dollop of humor (the show is often hilarious) to lighten the mood. It's a dram first and foremost, and there are some very moving sections. The programs where Rygel talks the rebellion that cost him his empire or when Pilot reveals just what he had to do to become bonded with Moya particularly standout.
I've been a huge fan of Farscape since I accidently stumbled upon the show in the latter half of the first season and it's an excellent program. All four seasons are enticing and enjoyable, and it's a shame that it couldn't go on another year. The show was schedule for a fifth season, but the Sci-Fi Channel pulled the plug at the last minute and canceled season five. The show deserved better treatment than that.
The Blu-ray Discs:
This set collects all four seasons in a nice, compact box. Each season comes in its own multi-disc case, and these are housed in a nicely illustrated slipcase. There are 88 episodes in all spread across 20 Blu-ray discs. Notably missing however is the final two-part mini-series that aired a year and a half after the last episode from season four. Another company owns the rights to that series, but hopefully that will be appearing in HD soon too.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounds great! This really brings the show to life and immerses the viewer in a wonderful field of sound. The rears are used extensively throwing incidental music cues and audio effect behind the viewer and there are quite a lot of cool audio pans across the whole soundstage. The dialog is crisp and clear and the music if full and dynamic. There's a good amount of information thrown to the subwoofer too. Overall I was very, very happy with the way this set sounds.
I wish I could say the same thing about the video. First the good news: I've never seen this show look better, either when it was originally broadcast or on DVD. Now the bad news: the 35mm film elements could not be located and this is an up-conversion from the original PAL tapes. That means that this doesn't look great for a Blu-ray disc, but it's still an improvement. The image (with a 1.33:1 ratio for the first three seasons and a 1.78:1 ratio for the final year, as they were originally broadcast) has a lot more definition and detail than the SD counterparts. Unfortunately there is some mosquito noise in the image and some of the blacks are crushed in the darker scenes. The colors are okay, not horrible but not the strikingly vivid hues we get in the best HD presentations. Overall it's an okay looking set, but fans will want to upgrade anyway.
Wow. Just wow. There is an immense amount of extras... over 15 hours in total and that's not counting the commentaries. There is some great stuff here, much too much to discuss it all individually, so I'll hit the highlights and just list the rest.
The brand new documentary, Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored was probably my favorite. This 37-minute featurette is a nice look back at the series, what it was trying to do, and how everyone felt about it.
There are also some interesting pieces on the show's cancellation, On the Last Day - Farscape Wrap Speech from David Kemper is less than 4 minutes, but it was an interesting, raw look at a horrible point for most of the cast and crew. Inside Farscape: Save Farscape is a half-hour look at how fans rallied and tried to save the show.
In addition to those featurettes there's a wealth of Farscape information: 31, count 'em, 31 audio commentaries; dozens of deleted scenes; a Listening In With Composer Guy Gross series where the guy behind the music for the series talks about his contribution (there are about a dozen of those); TV spots; behind the scenes interviews with the cast; Farscape in the Raw, comparisons between the original cut of several shows and the final versions; and featurettes both vintage and recent on the special effects, the cast, and the show. It's a very impressive collection.
This is a really great package. While I'll be the first to admit that it's disappointing the video comes from an upgraded SD PAL source, the show looks better than it ever has. Add to that the excellent DTS HD audio and the amazing extras, and this is a nice collection. Of course all of that would be meaningless if the show was lacking, but it's not. Farscape is an excellent SF show, with a creative group of characters, a lot of humor, and some excellent writing. Any SF fan who doesn't have this show should run out and buy this now. Highly Recommended.