Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Farscape: The Complete Series – 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
farscapeAn imaginative fusion of live action, state-of-the-art puppetry, prosthetics and CGI, Farscape, produced by The Jim Henson Company in association with RHI Entertainment, featured mind-boggling alien life forms, dazzling special effects, edge-of-your-seat thrills, irreverent humor and unforgettable characters — all brought to rich life by the creative minds at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.  Strap in and hold on tight for the extraordinary adventures of astronaut John Crichton, (Ben Browder) who, after a freak accident, finds himself surrounded by hostile aliens and soaring through the cosmos aboard Moya, a glorious living space ship.  Hunted by the relentless Peacekeepers, he allies himself with Moya’s crew — Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), Luxan warrior Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), azure priestess Zhaan (Virginia Hey), spritely Nebari thief Chiana (Gigi Edgley), Dominar Rygel, the deposed royal ruler of the Hynerian Empire and Pilot – to search for a way out of this inconceivably alien world and return home.

“My name is John Crichton, an astronaut.  Radiation may have hit me, and I got shot through a Wormhole.  Now I’m lost in some distant part of the Universe, on a ship – a living ship, full of strange alien life forms.  Now, listen please.  Is there anybody out there that can hear me?  I’m being hunted by an insane military  commander.  I’m doing everything I can.  I’m just looking for a way home…”

Show (4 out of 5 stars) 

If you ever wondered what a show would look like if Buck Rogers, Doctor Who, and Dark Crystal were blended together,then Farscape is your answer.  The show starts off on modern day Earth with astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) preparing for a shuttle launch.  His father (who was also an astronaut) is there to see him off and we see how much John has tried to live up to his father’s reputation and expectations.  The shuttle mission has been dubbed “Farscape One” and is happening so John can not only test his new experimental spacecraft that he designed while also testing his theory of using the Earth’s gravity to slingshot the ship which will greatly increase it’s momentum.  It ends up working too well since the ship flies so fast that he accidentally goes into a wormhole and transported to an entirely new galaxy.
As soon as he exits the wormhole he is caught up in a firefight between some escaping prisoners and the galaxy’s authoritarian regime known as the Peacekeepers.  One of the Peacekeeper ships collides with John’s ship and explodes, which John will later learn killed the brother of the leader of the attacking Peacekeeper armada.  John’s ship is pulled into the escaping prison ship which is actually a giant space dwelling creature named Moya along with one of the Peacekeepers named Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black).  John soon meets the other people on the ship including the warrior Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), the imperious Dominar Rygel XVI (Johnathan Hardy), Moya’s pilot known as Pilot (Lani John Tupu), and the mysterious Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey).
With the Peacekeepers after them, the group forms a tight bond over time which is  important since they rack up so many enemies over the course of the show.  One of their most persistent is a commander of the Peacekeepers named Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), a half man/half reptile who is obsessed with leaning everything Crichton knows about wormholes.  The show’s revolving cast members also includes allies as well since over the course of the show many new characters join Moya’s crew including Jool (Tammy MacIntosh) whose screams can melt metal, a three eyed alien named Noranti (Melissa Jaffer) who helped the crew with her herbalist skills on more than one occasion.
One of the key elements of the show is the  relationship between John and Aeryn that started off adversarial in the beginning but later grew into a complicated romance.  It doesn’t help that Aeryn views emotions as a weakness which in turn means that her opinion of the passionate John isn’t that positive either.  They do eventually get closer but even that is challenged when John is “twinned” and a perfect carbon copy of him is created.  They are identical in every way which gives John the unique opportunity to achieve both of his goals – one of him can return to Earth while the other John can remain with Aeryn.
I had heard about this show over the years from friends that had really liked it but I never watched it for some unknown reason.  I think perhaps that I thought it was more a show for kids with the puppets being involved but I was wrong. Much like with Yoda, these aren’t the cuddly muppets you might have imagined.  In fact, some of them are quite vicious and a threat to be taken seriously.  They are integrated with the show well and pretty soon you forget what they are and focus and their character.  I think another reason I was hesitant to watch the show was because it had so much CGI and at that point of time, I assumed it would be poor quality which was also incorrect. Not only does the CGI still largely still hold up, but the way it was used was also impressive.  It wasn’t used just as a still shot of a location, but instead a showcase for frenetic space battles that look very cool in all of their intricacy.
The lead actors all do a fine job showing the evolution of their characters, especially Ben Browder and Claudia Black whose characters evolve the most.  Anthony Simcoe brings a lot of authority and humor as the fierce warrior Ka D’Argo.  Poor Virginia Hey had to leave the show and her character Zhaan behind because of the blue paint was making her kidneys bleed and her contact lenses were also affecting her adversely too.  There’s a lot to like about this show including the scripts which were always very funny and I especially liked John’s dry sardonic humor.  The plots themselves weren’t as good as the one-liners but it’s that humor that sealed my enjoyment of the show.  It’s a shame that the series ended the way it did, since it’s abruptness and apparent ruthlessness caught many fans off guard when it was canceled but it was given a chance to tie up the loose ends with a miniseries titled Farscape : The Peacekeeper Wars, which is not a part of this set.
John Crichton: “Aeryn, if Scorpius gets me…”
Aeryn Sun: “I know, shoot you.”
John Crichton: “No. No, no. Shoot him.”

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The series’ 1080p transfer has two different aspect ratios over the course of the show since it’s 1.33:1 for the first three seasons and 1.78:1 for the final season.  The series produces have claimed that the original 35mm film the show was shot on has been lost so they had to use the upconverted PAL tapes to master this show in high definition.  Unlike the recent Star Trek Remastered sets, the special effects for the show were not upgraded and they are still in the standard definition format they were filmed in.  Much of the show looks soft but it’s not as bad as you might have believed.  The colors are decent but not excessively vivid.  There is some noise throughout the series and the black levels are frequently subject to crush, but the special effects themselves look pretty good.
John Crichton: “Hey. D’Argo… how come I’m not afraid?”
Ka D’Argo: “Fear accompanies the possibility of death. Calm shepherds its certainty.”
John Crichton: “I love hangin’ with you, man.”

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

Farscape’s fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix makes up for any issues I may have had with the video quality.  For a television show, this lossless mix is very impressive.  All of the channels get a lot of action with the front three handling the clear crisp dialogue and the others providing a swirl of musical cues and sound effects that really draw you into the show. There’s a lot of nice directional effects that are accurate and atmospheric.  The mix also packs a lot of punch too and your subwoofer will come to life during the many battle sequences both in space and on land.
John Crichton: “Have we sent the ‘Don’t shoot, we’re pathetic’ transmission yet?”
Zhaan: “That was actually the first thing we tried.”

Extras (5 out of 5 stars) 

Without a doubt, these extras are the highlight of this set with over fifteen hours of special features to enjoy.  All of the previous extras from the previous DVD and Blu-ray sets have been included and this Blu-ray set includes a new comic book and an interview with creator Brian Henson that’s exclusive to this set.  These are scattered across all of the discs instead of being consolidated into a couple of bonus discs but I’ve tried to organize them.  All of these are in standard definition with the exception of the documentary “Memories of Moya.”
  • 20 Blu-ray discs featuring 88 complete and unedited episodes from all four-seasons, remastered from the highest quality source material available.
  • New Sixteen page comic book,  The Peacekeeper Wars, by Ramon Perez followed by an interview with Brian Henson.
  • Episode Commentaries - There’s a ton of fun and informative commentaries on this disc for fans of the show.  The following episodes also have a commentary:
    • Premiere: Rockne S. O’Bannon, Brian Henson and Ben Browder
    • I, E.T.: Claudia Black and Anthony Simcoe
    • Exodus from Genesis: Brian Henson and Virginia Hey
    • Throne for a Loss: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
    • Back and Back and Back to the Future: Ben Browder and Rowan Woods
    • Thank God It’s Friday. . .Again: Rockne S. O’Bannon and Anthony Simcoe
    • DNA Mad Scientist: Ben Browder and Claudia Black, Rockne S. O’Bannon and David Kemper
    • Jeremiah Crichton: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Rockne S. O’Bannon and David Kemper
    • A Human Reaction: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
    • Nerve: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
    • Born to be Wild: Anthony Simcoe
    • Family Ties: Ben Browder and Claudia Black, Rockne S. O’Bannon and David Kemper
    • Crackers Don’t Matter: Claudia Black and Ian Watson
    • The Way We Weren’t: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
    • Won’t Get Fooled Again: Rowan Woods and Richard Manning
    • The Locket: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
    • Die Me, Dichotomy: Ben Browder, Claudia Black and David Kemper
    • 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: Claudia Black, 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
    • John Quixote: Ben Browder and Claudia Black
    • Kansas: Ben Browder, Claudia Black and David Kemper
    • Bad Timing: Ben Browder, Claudia Black and David Kemper
  • Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored – featuring revealing new interviews with the cast and creators that’s an exclusive to this set.  Just about everyone participates in this look back at the show and they share their thoughts about the show and what it meant to them.
  • Multiple Featurettes and Documentaries including -
    • In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson – This almost forty minute interview done in 2004 covers how the idea of the show originated for Brian Henson and also covers how Brian wanted to really take his father’s legendary into a new direction and what he wanted the show to become.
    • Making of a Space Opera – This is a good overview that covers the general scope of the show that is a little over twenty minutes.  This is a good place to start for people new to the show.
    • Inside Farscape: Save Farscape - on which fans, cast and crew discuss the fate of their beloved series.
  • Over 90 minutes of deleted scenes – a ton of clips than span all four seasons.
  • Slideshows and archival photo galleries, including character concepts and promo photos.
  • Production design galleries featuring screenshots, rough drafts and concept slide shows.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Interviews – with Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Virginia Hey, Gigi Edgley, Paul Goddard (Stark), Wayne Pygram (Scorpius) and more.
  • Farscape in the Raw: Director’s Cut Scenes – A look at the comparison between the director’s cut for these episodes and what was broadcast on television.  The quality of these comparisons isn’t that good since it was taken from a VHS tape (with a timecode) but it still provides an interesting look at how the scenes between the two versions differ.  The following episodes are compared:
    • The Flax
    • Through the Looking Glass
    • Re:Union
    • Mind the Baby
    • Vitas Mortis
    • Taking the Stone
  • Listening In With Composer Guy Gross - In what has to be a first for Blu-ray extras, an extensive amount of time (around two hours) was allocated to the composer of the show named Guy Gross to talk about writing music for the show and the entire process in which it all happens. This is very interesting and any music buff will enjoy it.  I wish more films/shows did this.
  • Re:Union – A completely recut version of the season two premiere episode.
  • Farscape Undressed – A special hosted by Ben Browder that was intended to provide a recap between the second to prepare audiences for the third season.
  • Season 3: A Look Back – This is  another recap designed to remind viewers of the events of the third season before they watched the fourth and final season.
  • Farscape: The Story So Far – And here is another retrospective of the overall story.
  • “Zhaan Forever” with Virginia Hey – A generous thirty minute talk with the actress who played Zhaan before leaving the show due to health reasons.
  • From the Archives: On the Last Day - Farscape Wrap Speech from David Kemper – A touching farewell speech to a shellshocked cast and crew where they are read a love letter of a review from TV Guide that predicts that Farscape’s cancellation will in time be viewed as much of a travesty as Star Trek’s was.
  • Inside Farscape –
    • Save Farscape – A thirty minute look at the efforts of the show’s fans to save the series.
    • Villains – A quick overview of the show’s bad guys.
    • Season 4 Visual Effects – A brief look at the visual effects from season four.
  • Video Profile -
    • Creator/Executive Producer/Writer Rockne S. O’Bannon
    • Executive Producer/Writer David Kemper
  • Original TV promos and trailers
  • Bloopers
John Crichton: “That’s your plan? Wile E. Coyote would come up with a better plan than that.”

Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Farscape is a great science fiction show that is filled with memorable characters and a lot of funny dialogue.  This new 15th Anniversary Blu-ray set is just about all that any fan of the show could ask for under the circumstances.  Until the original 35mm prints are found, this is the best it’s going to look but the audio quality is excellent and the extras are magnificent!  I do wish that Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars was included so I would have it all in one box, but due to ownership rights, that’s not going to happen.  With that exception though, this set has everything else you need for the show!
Order your copy today!

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