Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 22nd, 2011
“My name is John Crichton…an astronaut. Four years ago, I got…shot through a wormhole to a distant part of the galaxy. I ending up on this ship…this living ship, populated by escaping prisoners…who became my friends. I made enemies…”
Take a magical journey with me now. I don’t mean into outer space. It’s a journey back in time to a day when the SyFy Channel was called the Sci-Fi Channel. A day when it was an exciting and promising place on the cable dial. After a few fledgling years showing old repeats it was time to grow, and grow they did. When the powers that be decided to begin making new original programming they teamed up with Brian Henson who was just getting his feet running his late-father’s Jim Henson Company. Yeah, the Muppets guys. He believed it was time to do something darker, something with an edge and targeted more to an adult audience. His father began the journey with The Dark Crystal. Now it was time for more of that kind of thing. The two companies found their solutions together in a show called Farscape.
Farscape was at once one of the freshest and most unique shows to ever reach television. It was often experimental, and while it often went quite astray, it was that willingness to take chances that ultimately allowed the show to become so compelling. It only lasted four years and ended rather badly on a cliffhanger. After a strong rescue campaign mounted by the feverish fan base, at least the cliffhanger was finally resolved in a mini-series. In that short span, Farscape has left an incredible impact on not only science fiction, but television in general. It dared to be honest, and it never talked down to its audience. It trusted that people were intelligent enough and had the attention span to appreciate the nuances that made this show so intriguing. I’ve never seen a cast and crew put so much trust that those on the other side of the glass would “get it”. Perhaps that really was the show’s downfall, in the end. Maybe not enough people ever did “get it”. Likely, not enough people tried. But for those of us who did make the effort, we were rewarded with truly intelligent drama and more than a little bit of fun along the way. It’s been gone now for nearly a decade. There have been several DVD releases, and I’m one of those who bought those incessant one or two disc collections. The full series took up more space on my shelf than any other show I owned. It was a frelling frustration, but Farscape just had to live here, since it couldn’t live any longer on television. Now we can all rejoice. Thanks to A&E, we can turn that 3 feet of shelf-space into just a few inches. Plus, we get to rediscover Farscape all over again, this time in high definition. All I can say is…
“Prepare for Starburst…”
If you’re already a fan, I don’t need to sell you on the show. This review is for those who are not familiar with the series. Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite series.
Meet the players, as described by the Jim Henson folks:
Crichton (Ben Browder)
The distinction of being a second-generation astronaut came, for Crichton, double-edged. After earning his doctorate in Theoretical Sciences, Crichton spent his time as a scientist/astronaut in his famous father’s shadow, always trying to impress and please Jack Crichton, but never forced to scrabble to make a name for himself, since he was born into the legacy without even lifting a finger.
When his experimental mission aboard the Farscape One module shot him through a wormhole, Crichton found himself definitely not in Kansas anymore. Here, he was at last forced to call upon the heroic qualities he’d inherited from Dad but had never needed to use.
Crichton’s natural leadership and decision-making skills make him an important member of Moya’s crew; his complete lack of cultural understanding of alien races and technology makes his “heroics” just that much more difficult. The variety of alien races and the diversity of personalities represented by the members of Moya’s crew allow Crichton an array of relationships, each intense, each in many ways beyond what his provincial human mind can sometimes easily comprehend.
Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black)
A part of the frontline Pleisar Regiment of the Peacekeeper Military, the Sebacean Aeryn Sun was a top-notch soldier and combat pilot. She worked under the command of Captain Crais until her encounter with Crichton and Moya rendered her, by Peacekeeper standards, “irreversibly contaminated,” and ostracized her from the only family she’d ever known.
Aeryn was born into the military and was raised knowing nothing other than combat. While serving as a Peacekeeper, Aeryn resisted becoming close to other people; though she never spent any time alone – always part of a regiment, a battalion, a colony – she was very independent, and never allowed herself to feel emotions like love. Her experience on Moya has taught her that there are other means and methods of communicating, but, like D’Argo, she still turns to combat as her primary solution to any problem Moya might face. Even at her most diplomatic, Aeryn keeps her Pulse Rifle close at hand.
Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe)
Huge and powerful, the Luxan Warrior Ka D’Argo was wrongly imprisoned by the Peacekeepers as a scapegoat for the murder of his own Sebacean wife, Lo’Laan. D’Argo and Lo’Laan fell in love (taboo by Peacekeeper standards) and gave birth to a half-Sebacean, half-Luxan son, Jothee. When the Peacekeepers found out Lo’Laan was killed by her own brother Macton, D’Argo was framed for it, arrested, and imprisoned aboard Moya.
His hatred for the Peacekeepers runs deeper than most, and he lives to reunite with his son, and to avenge the wrongs that have been done him and his family. His experience aboard Moya, and the love and friendship he’s seen develop among Moya’s crew has taught him patience and understanding… to some degree.
Chiana (Gigi Edgley)
The Nebari runaway, Chiana, is happiest when she has the opportunity to show off her scoundrel skills; she’s a thief, a liar, a seductress, and a drama queen. But beyond that, she’s a very young woman, and often conceals her fears under blustery pseudo-confidence that’s plausible maybe fifty percent of the time.
Her talents for subterfuge have proved useful on more than one occasion for Moya’s crew, but her tendency to be contrary makes her an unlikely team player in crisis situations. Chiana doesn’t do what Chiana doesn’t want to do, and as a general rule, that’s anything that would risk her hide, ruin her reputation, or tear her clothing. Unless, of course, that’s what she was going for.
Her admiration for Crichton has softened her combative edge over time; now, with mock reluctance she’ll let him convince her to help him and the crew, whom she’s grown to like and even respect. Chiana will bicker with Crichton, annoy Aeryn, go shopping with Rygel and respect Zhaan, but it’s her relationship with D’Argo that really makes Moya a home for her. Chiana has become a full-fledged member of the crew, at times risking her life for her shipmates.
Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy)
The Sixteenth Rygel in a line of Hynerian Dominars, Rygel was once the ruler of over 600 billion subjects in the Hynerian Empire. A disloyal cousin, Bishan, usurped Rygel’s throne, and the deposed monarch found himself aboard the prison ship Zelbinion, with not a single loyal subject kowtowing to him.
A prisoner of the Peacekeepers for over 300 cycles (roughly 300 years), and now aboard Moya, Rygel still acts like a ruler. Barely two feet tall, Rygel rarely deigns to stand; instead, he floats about Moya on his ThroneSled, looking down his nose at the other members of the crew, muttering to himself, stealing what looks valuable, and eating whatever will fit in his amphibious mouth and fill his three stomachs.
With an ornery temper, a tendency to fart helium, an unnecessarily egomaniacal attitude and the notion that everyone — in particular attractive females and especially Chiana — should bow to his bidding, Rygel is not the easiest creature to spend time with. Despite all this, Moya’s crew has found him to be oddly endearing, and, though it hurts them to say it, he’s part of the family, too.
Moya is a Leviathan, the fifth generation of these living ships. She was born in freedom, captured by Leviathan Hunters and sold to the Peacekeepers for them to use as a prison transport.
She is a great and powerful ship, with no weapons. Communicated to and taken care of by Pilot, the enormous living entity that is symbiotically fused to her, Moya has adjusted to her new inhabitants and has been able to trust them enough to become their home. Like Pilot, she is anxious to serve her crew, but not at the expense of her own agenda. Her natural instincts to protect all life, however, do override her personal fear of pain and suffering.
Pilot (voiced by Lani John Tupu)
Pilot is an independent entity, but he operates symbiotically with his Leviathan (Moya); the upper half of Pilot’s torso, the part that we see, is the only part of him that is entirely his own. His much larger lower half is made up of neural tentacles, which thread through and fuse with Moya’s systems. With the help of the DRD’s (Diagnostic Re-pair Drones) who act as his eyes and ears, Pilot maintains all of the systems on Moya necessary for the crew’s survival.
Pilot is, to Moya, some combination of operator, bodyguard and partner. Because of this symbiotic fusing, he knows when she’s scared, eager, excited, or sad, and he communicates Moya’s thoughts to Crichton and the others. He and Moya are made complete by their ability to serve the members of the crew, but they are in no way obligated to follow the desires or needs of the crew if their own agendas disagree. Pilot is most often polite and respectful to the crew of Moya, but it’s clear that his loyalty is to Moya first and the others second.
Zhaan (Virginia Hey)
An 812-year-old 10th level Delvian Pa’u (priest), Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan was imprisoned for the murder of another Delvian priest – her lover – who she suspected was using his power to lead Delvia astray. During her seventeen cycles of imprisonment aboard Moya, Zhaan was able to control her “dark impulses” and her violent instincts, and since then, she’s been pacifistic, kind and peaceable. She is still able to call upon her powerful dark impulses, though it hurts her and upsets her to do so.
Delvians are flora, not fauna, and therefore Zhaan, a plant-evolved being, has extreme reactions to solar energy, experiencing photogasms – intensely pleasurable sensations – when exposed to solar flares. Additionally, Zhaan knows herbs and herbal medicine intimately, which often gives her the responsibility of doctor, healer and scientist aboard Moya. Being older, wiser and more accepting of the ways of the universe than most of her shipmates, Zhaan is frequently the voice of reason among the crew… but by no means is she always the peacemaker.
Season 1′s bad guy is:
Crais (Lani John Tupu)
Captain Bialar Crais was born in a Sebacean farming community, but while still a boy, he and his younger brother Tauvo were wrested from their family and conscripted against their will into the Peacekeeper military.
If you asked Crais what his crusade was, he’d tell you he was bent on avenging the brutal murder of his brother. He’d say that loudly, with gusto and insistence. But Crais knows, in his heart, that Crichton didn’t murder his brother on purpose, but having no one to blame is terrifying to Crais. He needs a scapegoat, and Crichton, coupled with the “contaminated” Aeryn, fills that role perfectly.
Crais’ respect for the Peacekeeper mandates is unclear; at times, he’s the flag bearer for military tradition; at other times, he’s a renegade. Anything that could be construed as a challenge to his authority terrifies him; he despises Scorpius for almost the same reason he despises Crichton.
Season 2 brought about some changes Crais is run out of his command and joins the outlaws by taking over Moya’s baby Taylin. The new bad guy, Scorpius has put a chip in Crichton’s head that is, in a sense a neural clone of himself. The idea is to steal his wormhole knowledge. The clone also ends up being a bit of a hindrance as it looks and acts like Scorpius. He calls the clone Harvey.
We are introduced to a few new regular characters:
Stark (Paul Goddard)
A member of the Banik slave race, Stark has the ability to ease the pain and suffering of those passing over to another realm. This trait, inherent to the Stykera – a particularly special breed of Banik – made him a highly sought after test subject for Scorpius’ experiments. Stark gains his freedom after helping Crichton to survive and escape from Scorpius’ Gammak base.
and our newest, baddest, bad guy:
Scorpius (Wayne Pygram)
Scorpius’ mother, Rylani, was a Sebacean colonist. Scarrans were abducted as part of a larger breeding program designed to produce a useful hybrid species. Scorpius therefore spent his childhood under the brutal tutelage of Tauza, a female Scarran obsessed with destroying his Sebacean half’s ‘weaknesses’. The young Scorpius finally escaped, defecting to the Peacekeepers with his knowledge of, and profound hatred for, the Scarran race. Scorpius works for the Peacekeeper military, but only so far as working for them serves his purposes. His single-minded mission: to develop a means to control the creation, and travel possibilities, of the natural space phenomenon known as wormholes. Knowing that the Scarrans have the same goal, his quest has become an arms race that he is absolutely determined to win.
Being a half-breed, Scorpius maintains the physiology of both Scarrans and Sebaceans. The Scarran tendency to radiate extreme heat, coupled with the Sebacean intolerance for heat, causes problems for Scorpius, who has to wear a complex protective suit to compensate. Scorpius also has a cooling rod installed in his brain that helps regulate his temperature; the rods heat up after a time and need to be replaced or else Scorpius runs the risk of succumbing to heat delirium.
One positive of his hybrid background is Scorpius’ unique ability to detect lies: a quirk of his vision allows him to monitor aberrations in most species’ energy signatures.
In Season 3 the crew was split up, for a time, as was Crichton. He was cloned and now there are two of him. One Crichton joins Aeryn, Crais, Rygel and Stark on Talyn. The rest remain on Moya with another of the Crichtons. Thus Browder is the only actor to feature in every episode of the series. The episodes would alternate between the two crew groups for the stories. I have to say, this was my least favorite season. It did have one very bright spot. While in a coma, Crichton dreams in Looney Tunes style. Virginia Hey was having a ton of problems with her makeup and felt the need to leave the show. Zaahn leaves saving a life. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some new faces to contend with:
Jool (Tammy Macintosh)
Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hovalis is a young female Interion of remarkable accomplishment. Strikingly beautiful with orange-and-yellow-hued skin offset by a mane of wild, silken hair, she has a fiery temperament to match her visage.
Raised in a peaceful star system, Jool attended a rigorous series of universities, raising herself into the “meritocracy” — earned respect and privilege. As such, she has, at a young age, become schooled in the arts and graces of a finer life. She’s proficient in everything from music and art to biology, chemistry and universal cosmology – knowledge that does nothing to help her survive in the Uncharted Territories.
While on a trip to the other side of the galaxy her group was hijacked and forced into slavery. Near death, her body was sold into medical research, and for the last 22 cycles, she’s been frozen solid, her organs earmarked for donation to anyone who had the money to purchase them – at least this is the story she’s given the crew of Moya when they rescue her from the Diagnosan’s medical facility. Later she reveals that she was in fact on the run after stealing from a Noation gem mine, but she swears she only stole the gems to study them. Not that it matters; Chiana and the others are so use to hearing different stories from those that come aboard Moya, that this revelation barely raises an eyebrow.
and yet another bad…girl in:
Grayza (Rebecca Riggs)
Born and bred on a Command Carrier, Commandant Mele-On Grayza has achieved the pinnacle of Peacekeeper advancement. Rising rapidly through the ranks, she is now flag officer of the highest station within the military es-tablishment. Relentlessly dogged, cool and self-confident, Grayza is determined to put an end to Scorpius’s wormhole research. Though military to the core, Grayza’s strongest weapon is her seductiveness. A trait she has helped by having a Heppel Oil gland implanted in her chest. Grayza is infuriated when her charms ultimately fail to work on the human, making her more determined than ever to someday destroy him.
The 4th season would find some quite amazing stories. One of the best episode arcs of the series finds the crew on Earth. An entire episode is seen through a video-cam by John’s nephew during the visit. Of course, they first visit on Halloween. Chiana gets a new power. She can slow down time, but each time it leaves her blind for longer periods at a time. Jool only sticks around for a few episodes, and we get 2 new faces on Moya:
Noranti (Melissa Jaffer)
While her birth confirmation disks were lost centuries ago in the razing of her home colony, Utu Noranti Pralatong is believed to be approximately 290 cycles (years). Very old by our standards; “getting up there” by hers. Her physical beauty has long been eroded by time, wear and tear, leaving a countenance that scares young children and perhaps even troubles a few adults. However, if one takes the time to know her, Noranti’s inner gifts soon erase that visage from the mind, leaving a sparkling impression of wisdom, grace, compassion, and soul.
Traskan society believes in job rotation, and as a result Noranti has accumulated many skills in her long and varied life. She is an eccentric, eclectic, phenomenal cook making her, despite her other eccentricities, a firm favorite of Rygel’s. She is also a Teacher, encompassing both secular and spiritual instruction. Mixing her steely resolve with a disarmingly friendly manner, Noranti has diffused many a delicate international situation as a Gambler, the word roughly translating to “Negotiator” in English. However it is her abilities as an UTU (Healer/ Doctor) that most affects the lives of those on Moya. Drawing on her seemingly endless supply of mystical herbs she is able to elicit memories of the past and future and allow other’s to see into their own souls, as well as affecting the minds of those she wishes to confuse and delude.
She is warm, yet controlled. Funny, yet intense. Wise, yet scattered. Spiritual, yet pragmatic. But in addition to suffering from narcolepsy, she also has the early signs of her race’s version of Alzheimer’s, so she more often than not gets all of her disciplines hopelessly mixed up.
Sikozu (Raelee Hill)
Feisty with an acid-sharp tongue, Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu believes she is smarter than anyone else on Moya and is not afraid to let them know. Born without translator microbes and able to assimilate all other’s languages with relative ease, she is indeed intelligent and incredibly focused, but with little ‘real-world’ experience she still has a lot to learn.
Sikozu’s home world is deep in the Uncharted Territories and as a result she has a decided distrust of Peacekeepers. This coupled with the strange traits of her species — her ability to shift her center of gravity and the capability to reattach any severed limbs — magnifies the differences between her and the rest of the crew.
While most on Moya are skeptical of Sikozu’s trustworthiness, Scorpius finds himself surprisingly attracted to the Kalish beauty. In her, he sees one of his own kind — a pragmatist, her actions not guided by emotion. This can lead to her looking unsympathetic; however, it is merely her logic-based reasoning at work. There are few problems that get solved by becoming emotional, so why waste the time and the energy?
The season ended in a cliffhanger even though the crew got word at the last minute that Sci-Fi was going back on their earlier announced season 5 commitment. It left our characters in a terrible fix. A huge save Farscape campaign was started and the show was saved…sort of. A mini-series called The Peace Keeper Wars aired in 2 parts. It fixed the cliffhanger but still left the show unresolved. The mini-series IS NOT included in this release, so hang on to those DVD’s for now. I suspect there is a rights issue. I will attempt to find out more.
There are also some terms you’ll need to know to watch the show:
Arns = hours, Cycles = years, Microts = seconds
Dren = crap, frell (frelling, frelled) = the F Bomb, DRD = Diognostic Repair Drones, Drad (dradest) = cool (neat), Fahrbot = crazy, insane, Hetch = speed measurement, Schlock = take a crap, Tralk = whore, Yotz (Yotza) = damn.
The show was populated by the widest array of alien creatures you’ve ever seen on television. Many are wonderful makeup effects that provide some of the better traditional kinds of aliens. But Farscape’s charm has to lie somewhere inside David Elsey’s Creature Shop. Many of the alien’s were quite elaborate puppets that required both the use of an actor as well as puppeteers for heads or extra appendages. Think of The Muppets but on steroids. Of course some of the most charming regular characters were complete puppets. Pilot had a tremendous ability to show wonderful emotion with his expressions and eyes. My favorite character might well be the puppet Rygel. I promise you that you have never seen so much production design in a television series before or since. And now because of the high-definition transfers you can explore this world in detail never before possible.
It doesn’t matter if they were human actors or a huge team of animation technicians that brought these characters to life. Each of them had tremendous presence, and the cast was top-notch. Certainly Ben Browder and Claudia Black get a ton of credit for their chemistry, but the show was never just about that relationship. The cast and crew came together and brought us a universe completely unlike anything we’ve seen before. That means that Farscape is a bit of an acquired taste. It might take you a few episodes to really get into the show. But just like a fine wine that might not delight you the first time you try it, once you do acquire the taste, there’s no end to the good times in store.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio. For seasons 1-3 that means full frame and for the final season in 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20 mbps. Obviously, the final season looks far better than the first three. Still, the job that was done on these episodes provides the show in a brand new light. Detail allows us to appreciate the wonderful production design. Black levels are rock-solid, and the episodes are grouped no more than 5 on a disc. The early single discs were quite impressive. The later Starburst edition, not so impressive. This will blow away any Farscape discs you currently have.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is not near the quantum leap that you find in the visuals. The original discs sounded quite good. These add more bass response and a fullness to the sound that comes from having uncompressed tracks. Little nuance sounds like the Moya ambiants truly stand out.
There’s a ton of stuff here, including audio commentaries on a great number of the episodes. The rest of the extras are legion with bonus stuff available on each of the 20 discs. They include:
Deleted Scenes on nearly every episode
Interviews with all of the show’s stars
Score segments with composer Guy Goss on several episodes
A recap for each of the seasons
Making Of A Space Opera: (22:26) This is a wonderful primer for all of you who do not know the show. You’ll get a good look at exactly what the show is.
A Look Back With Brian Henson: (38:10) He recalls the entire process from the four years of development to trying to find a network and the eventual cancellation controversy.
Wrap Speech From David Kemper: (3:37) The producer addresses the complete cast and crew on the cancellation and offers some kind critic words.
Inside Save Farscape: (30:44) Fans and cast members talk about what the show means to them. We get a good look at the huge effort to save the show and the people behind the effort.
Memories Of Moya: (36:51) This is the only HD extra. It’s a new look back with the cast and crew and certainly a delight to see everyone again after so many years.
The show ended not because of falling ratings. The show’s fans are about as loyal as the Star Trek crowd. The numbers held pretty much steady throughout the show’s run. The problem was twofold. It cost a lot of money, and Henson admits that the network lost money on the series each year. The network was also trying to grow. It wasn’t good enough for the suits to hold on to an audience. It was decided that the show had reached its maximum potential. I’m not sure that was true. As the network grew I think more folks would have found it. There is still hope, more so than for the network which fills its schedule with paranormal shows and wrestling now. There hasn’t been a good show on the network since the Stargate franchise wound down. There is talk of an internet series. I’ll be keeping my eyes open. I do suspect Farscape will return one day in some form or another. Until that time we now have a different network, A&E to thank for giving us these beautiful episodes to enjoy for cycles to come. “Okay, Alice. Once more into the looking glass…”