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Farscape: The Complete Seasons(TV) (1999-2003)
Farscape features a diverse ensemble of characters who are initially escaping from corrupt authorities called Peacekeepers. The protagonists live inside a giant space-dwelling creature named Moya, which serves as their ship. In the first episode, they are joined by the main character, John Crichton (Ben Browder), a modern-day American astronaut who accidentally flew into the entrance of a wormhole near Earth during an experimental test flight. On the same day, another stranger is picked up by Moya: a stranded Peacekeeper named Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) who appears human. Despite his best intentions, John does make a few major enemies; the primary of these is known as Scorpius. There are a few stand-alone plots, but the show gradually unfolds progressive arcs beginning with their recapture by the Peacekeepers, followed by John's search to find another wormhole back to Earth, and an eventual arms race for wormhole technology.
For more about Farscape: The Complete Seasons and the Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray release, see Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 5, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, Kent McCord (I)
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray Review
To boldly go where several have gone before.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 5, 2011
Is there really anything new that can be crafted in the realm of television science fiction, especially space dramas? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that interesting and even compelling new soufflés can come along every few years. Few people had any hopes for Star Trek: The Next Generation when it came along, and in fact star Patrick Stewart rather sheepishly admits that the only reason he accepted a role he then deemed beneath his Shakespearian talents was that it would be some quick (and abundant) money and the show would never last for the six season commitment his original contract required. So much for making plans. Farscape probably didn't raise many eyebrows when it was announced when it simultaneously premiered in Australia and Canada, and then matriculated to the United States on what was then known as the Sci-Fi Channel (I still find it hard to accept the patently silly Syfy rebranding). But over a relatively short time span, the series developed a rather ardent fan base, one that went through original Star Trek withdrawal when Farscape met an ignominious cancellation at the end of its fourth season, despite that season having ended with a major cliffhanger and a fifth season having already been promised. That particular upset was remedied by a miniseries which was made possible at least in part by fans' insistence that they at least be brought up to speed with several dangling plot elements (the miniseries is not included in this set, as it's a Lionsgate title). Farscape is a frankly not very well hidden amalgamation of ideas from any number of previous television science fiction properties, including Lost in Space, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica (with maybe even a passing nod to the old Irwin Allen series Land of the Giants), but that very proclivity—a little this-a and a little that-a—manages to deliver a fairly nourishing casserole of characters and ideas. The show may wear its sociopolitical heart on its sleeve in much the same way that the Roddenberry outings usually did, and some of Farscape definitely has a déjà vu feeling about it, but often the series manages to be immensely enjoyable, visually striking and intellectually engaging if not exactly challenging. In fact one of the most compelling analogies between Farscape and Star Trek is the vociferous support of its fans, and the swell of outrage from them no doubt helped pave the way for the miniseries which wrapped up the series (more or less, anyway) if not providing for an outright resurrection. What the intervening decades between the cancellation of the original Star Trek and Farscape may have proven more fascinatingly than the mere uprising of fan support is how much the rapid dissemination of information over the internet has changed the face of entertainment in the 21st century. Had the internet been around in 1969, in other words, we might have had that full five year mission that Captain Kirk's voiceover in the Star Trek opening credits always promised.
Ben Browder portrays John Crichton, a NASA test pilot who has a theory about the gravitational pull of planets being able to catapult spacecraft into super-fast speeds he wants to check out. On his test flight, he's sucked into a massive wormhole which deposits him lightyears away in an unknown part of the universe, though one of course strangely rather densely populated by various alien types, many of whom seem to be engaging in a fierce battle as Crichton erupts from his columnar portal. Crichton's propensity to get sucked into things continues as he's magnetically drawn to a massive spaceship and deposited in its docking bay. He soon discovers that he's been drawn aboard Moya, a "biomechanoid" (in the series' verbiage) from a sentient species known as Leviathans, who are both huge "space whale" like creatures which also serve as spacecraft. Moya is one of Farscape's more innovative concepts, and in a certain way presages Avatar, as Moya has been bonded since early life with her Pilot (named, well, Pilot). Crichton soon finds out that the crew of Moya, such as it is, is a bunch of renegade ostensible criminals who are attempting to escape from some evil space villains known in a sort of nod to Orwellian semantics as Peacekeepers. Crichton is also quickly introduced to another stranger in a strange land, a female Peacekeeper named Aeryn Sun (Claudi Black) who like Crichton has been pulled aboard Moya against her will. The supposed criminal crew of course is not thrilled to have Aeryn aboard, and she returns the favor, seeming to reserve special disgust for Crichton. Can love be far behind?
The first two seasons of Farscape see the slow evolution of relationships between Crichton and the crew of Moya, including warrior Ka D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a kind of quasi-Klingon looking character who is volatile but also strangely vulnerable when it comes to his missing son, who has been kidnapped by the main villain of the series' first season, a Peacekeeper named Crais (Lani Tupu). Also on board Moya is a seductive blue (and bald) Priestess named Zhaan (Virginia Hey), a sentient plant species who has a number of spiritual powers, including one that is suspiciously close to the Vulcan mind meld. Rygel provides a lot of the comedy relief of the series. A puppet creation of the Henson Studios, Rygel is sort of the Ted Baxter of Moya, a once despotic ruler who is completely full of himself and who can't quite believe he's forced to slum with these supposed lowlifes. There are several other supporting characters who appear throughout the series' four year (plus a little) run, but the bulk of the stories revolve around this group. Two other main plot arcs though concern Chiana (Gigi Edgley), a sort of street kid (if space had streets) who is brought aboard Moya midway through Season One and who attempts to defy her society's insistence on conformity; and Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), a nefarious villain whose shenanigans take up the bulk of the second season's plot arc as he attempts to obtain the secrets of the wormhole by implanting Crichton with a neural chip which literally drives the astronaut more than a bit batty.
There is no denying that there is the scent of shows that have gone before wafting over large elements of Farscape. Both Aeryn and Chiana are redolent in their own way of Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine, as Aeryn is trying to reconnect with her emotions, buried after years of being a warrior, and Chiana is attempting to escape from her race's insistence on absolute conformity. And the Borg connection is perhaps even stronger with Scorpius, a character who is fairly reminiscent of Lorcutus, the Borg-afied (if that isn't a word, it should be) version of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. And of course getting Lost in Space through a Land of the Giants-esque space anomaly that is somewhat like a Stargate only ups the "been there, seen that" feel to the series.
But you know what? Against considerable odds, Farscape succeeds a great deal of the time, mostly due to some very sharp writing and an invincible sense of humor about itself which keeps the proceedings from getting overly pretentious (for just one great example of this tendency, take a gander at some of the episode titles listed in the Supplements section below, which are frequently a collection of horrible puns). There's a literally childlike sense of wonder to many of these episodes, helped immeasurably by the wonderful creations of Henson Studios and some very good makeup effects on the human actors. As Brian Henson mentions in one of the many supplements included on this 20 disc (!) set, the initial inspiration for Farscape was the bar scene in Star Wars, and the series' creative staff wanted that wild and wooly mix of incredible alien characters to fill every nook and cranny of their series, and to a large degree, they've succeeded admirably.
Farscape actually gets off to a fairly standard start and some viewers may give up when Crichton and Aeryn lock gazes in supposed hatred of each other and most will not be wondering if they'll ever get together but when they'll get together. The show actually picks up considerable steam as it goes along, and by the middle of the second season it's regularly delivering one knockout episode after another, especially after Scorpius starts working his nefarious magic. Seasons three and four are often really spectacular, with some extremely inventive storytelling (my personal favorite is the quasi-homage to Chuck Jones' cartoon career, "Revenging Angel"), and in fact the series seems to really have found its authentic voice in these final two years, once the relationships of Moya's crew had been set and characters were well established enough for the writers to take off on some considerable flights of fancy.
This immense new set will most likely be a welcome addition to Farscape's fans' collections, though many will probably be distressed that the miniseries The Peacekeeper Wars which sought to wrap up some of the dangling plot threads left frayed at the end of the fourth season's finale isn't included here (as was mentioned above, it's licensed by another company which probably has a lot to do with this decision). Maybe fans can mount another internet petition drive and get that excellent conclusion out in HD soon, too. They've proven how powerful they can be already.
Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray, Video Quality
Farscape is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of A&E with AVC encoded 1080p transfers in 1.33:1 for the series' first three seasons and 1.78:1 for the last season (I"ve included screencaps of both aspect ratios so that you can see the difference). Farscape was filmed in Australia and presented there in the PAL standard. The series' creators are insisting that the 35mm prints are nowhere to be found, plus the visual effects were created in SD (meaning they'd have to be recreated for a true HD master), so this is an upconversion which unfortunately does not look great a lot of the time. I'd actually rank the 1.33:1 seasons at somewhere between a 2.5 and 3.0 and the fourth season moderately higher at between a 3.0 and 3.5, for an average score of 3.0. The image is frequently fuzzy, with less than appealing color and some very spotty contrast. The series is often quite dark, regularly taking place within Moya's labyrinthine confines, and crush is rampant throughout these sequences. Things have at least a moderate improvement in the final season of the series, though even at a wider aspect ratio, the image is still distressingly soft a lot of the time, with little of the pop that one would hope for with a series of this relatively recent vintage and one which boasts such an impressive production design and sometimes staggering visual effects. In fact it's the visual effects that probably come off best in the series, with the animated sequences of Moya or other interstellar sequences achieving a modicum of clarity and precision which the rest of this presentation lacks.
Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Much more impressive is Farscape's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which crackles with intensity, some fantastic LFE and relatively consistent surround activity, at least within the confines of a weekly television series. Dialogue is pretty uniformly anchored to the front three channels, but in terms of sound effects, which are plentiful and sometimes quite fanciful, and the synth-heavy score from composer Guy Gross, surround channels are used with a fair degree of regularity. Effects populate discrete channels quite a bit of the time and there are some nice whooshing pans as spacecraft flit about outer space. The best moments are in the series' many action sequences, when things get quite lively and explosions, gunfire and other propulsive effects zing through the soundfield with excellent fidelity and some great impact. The overall feel of this series from a sound design perspective can be just a tad busy at times, though the DTS track maintains excellent clarity and precision even in the noisiest moments.
Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Farscape: The Complete Series boasts one of the most impressive and lengthy collections of supplements in recent memory (just detailing all of these took me the better part of two days). I frankly did not have time to listen to each and every commentary, but I spot checked several from each season, and they're fun and conversational as well as getting into some of the nuts and bolts of characterizations and more technical aspects like the visual effects. Special kudos need to be given to whoever greenlit the idea to let composer Guy Gross have so much time describing how a weekly series is scored, and his segments are among the most interesting, at least to those musically inclined like myself. Most of the Deleted Scenes come with textual prologues giving context. I have organized these supplements by category, but recognize that they are actually split fairly willy-nilly over the discs of each season without any clear organizing principal. Selecting individual episode titles lets you know whether there are commentary tracks.
Self Inflicted Wounds Part II: Wait for the Wheel: Claudia Black
Eat Me: Guy Gross
Green Eyed Monster: Ben Browder and Tony Tilse
Relativity: Lani Tupu and Peter Andrikidis
The Choice: a) Claudia Black; b) Rowan Woods and Justin Monjo
Into the Lion's Den Part II: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Rockne S. O'Bannon and David Kemper
Dog With Two Bones: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Farscape fans are legion and they are loud, as the campaign to save the series indubitably proved. Will those fans clamor for this new Blu-ray release? There are pluses and minuses, and individual fans must weigh those carefully. The biggest minus is the image quality, which is upconverted and lacks little of the finesse, clarity and sharpness videophiles would demand not just from a Blu-ray presentation, but from a series this visually stunning in particular. I never owned Farscape on DVD and so can't offer a valid comparison opinion, but the BDs aren't so much better than DVD quality that they instantly struck me that way. On the plus side, there's incredible lossless audio and one of the most amazing sets of supplements of a (more or less) complete series in recent memory, one which will take literally weeks to completely wade through. While the video quality is a big concern, the show is winning enough to help at least slightly ameliorate that issue, and with that one major caveat, this set comes Recommended.
Farscape: Other Seasons
Farscape: The Complete Seasons Blu-ray, News and Updates
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