Farscape: The Complete Series 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Wild Ride in Outer and Inner Space

Westerns were a big thing for a very long time. The West (capital W very much intended) meant the frontier. The place where civilization had a toehold but was definitely not in charge. The tension in the stories was between the aspects of civilization (home, hearth, the fort or the farm) and the wild world outside that threatened it. Western TV shows were massively popular exploiting this tension.

But the space race happened. In 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, and by degrees the Western frontier of the United States (long since conquered in reality but still “free” in the imagination) was replace by what Star Trek called “The Final Frontier.” Space.

And Star Trek is the obvious progenitor for the TV Space Opera. There were precedents – Buck Rogers and the like, but Star Trek set the template for the relatively successful space-faring TV show. A governmental, quasi-military disciplined ship goes to unusual places, and engages them with discipline, with the very best of humanity offered against the wild alien worlds.

Farscape throws this template on its head. It’s about a group of aliens on a spaceship, going from adventure to adventure. But there is no organization. There is no discipline. There are entirely different species, with no loyalty and little friendship, thrown together in a situation where they grudgingly cooperate. They all have disparate, conflicting goals, and aren’t shy about using the others to try and fulfill them. They’re not civilization coming to the frontier, they’re malcontents tossed in a chaotic sea. The Farscape: The Complete Series 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray contains all four seasons and the final TV-movies of this wild show.

The audience surrogate character is John Crichton, an American astronaut. He got caught in a wormhole during a test flight and was thrown into a distant part of the galaxy. His ship is dragged on board a Leviathan spaceship – a living creature that traverses the stars. This particular Leviathan was enslaved as a prison ship, and (as luck would have it) just broke out of this slavery.

Which means John is stuck on a bizarre refugee ship filled with escaped prisoners. Not the best scenario for making friends.

The other prisoners are a giant, violent Luxan, D’argo; a spiritual bald blue Delvian woman, Zhaan; and a little wormy dude, Rygel, a Hynerian Dominar. He is also a puppet. Farscape was produced by the Jim Henson Company, and one of its many virtues is the extensive use of puppetry, animatronics, and various practical effects to create creatures that look worlds stranger than the typical TV human with weird things on their head aliens.

The final alien Crichton meets is Aeryn Sun, a Sebacean Peacekeeper. The Peacekeepers are basically the freelance military that serves as a de facto police force for the galaxy, keeping various factions in check through intimidation and violence. Sebaceans look exactly like humans, with a few anatomical differences that become important as the show goes on.

Aeryn Sun is taken prisoner by the ex-prisoners, and this puts her in disfavor by the fanatical Peacekeeper captain Kress. She’s exiled, and forced to go on the run with the rest of the Leviathan’s inhabitants. That’s the core of the show: this is not a group of friends in space. At least not at first. Everyone has reason to distrust each other, to despise each other, because of mutual conflicts. And even as they get to know each other, some of these conflicts persist, meaning there’s always some tension on board.

But they’re still stuck in the Leviathan (named Moya) and must learn to live with each other while keeping a step ahead of Kress. He’s the main villain of the first season, obsessed with catching Crichton. Kress’ brother died in the pursuit of Crichton. He holds Crichton responsible and will stop at nothing to get his revenge.

But as the show goes on, Kress’ role changes substantially. Any readers who have seen the show know what I mean, and for the uninitiated it’s too good to spoil. Farscape, more than most similar shows, is constantly evolving, and it plays for keeps.

Which means that when a character has a major change, it isn’t rewritten in the next episode. Even when a seemingly dead character is resurrected, someone is going to pay the price. Early in the third season there’s an episode with cloning – a pretty typical sci-fi TV show plot. But the clones don’t just go away at the end of the episode. They play major roles throughout the season.

And at the end of the first season, we meet the series’ major villain, Scorpius. He works with the Peacekeepers but is obviously not the same race. He is obsessed with wormholes, like the one that brought John Crichton to this part of the galaxy and will go to extraordinary lengths to find out more about them. He’s a vicious scheming murderer, and probably the most interesting character on the show.

And that’s saying something, because Farscape piles on layers of character development. Every major character on the show has deep motivations for what they do. They have scars, and interests, and will all do terrible things to act on them.

And it has Muppets. Practically every episode has some new creature or construct, and they’re often very impressive. The aforementioned Rygel is a two-foot-tall worm with big floofy eyebrows and a very elevated opinion of himself. Pilot, the creature that can interface with the living spaceship, is an enormous puppet, probably one of the most impressive, expressive creatures to ever come out of the Jim Henson workshop.

This could pose a roadblock for a potential audience. If you can’t take seriously that some of the main characters of this show are entirely rubber, you’re not going to get that far with it.

Farscape was made in Australia, with a largely Australian cast and crew. It aired from 1999-2003 on the Sci-fi Channel. The production was wildly ambitious, often well beyond the means of its budget. For every beautifully produced set or creature, there’s a lot of jank. Several alien planets are just the same corridor with different colored fabrics thrown around. There’s plenty of cheapness…

But who cares? It’s easy to get into the spirit of the thing because the stories and the characters are so engaging and get better as it progresses. The production design is gorgeous. The cinematography is often wild, with enthusiastic camera movements and wide-angle lenses. The aesthetic is almost like an early Terry Gilliam film made into a television series.

This Farscape 25 Anniversary Edition is the first time that the series two concluding films, The Peacekeeper Wars, have been made available on Blu-ray in the U.S. The rest of the series has been on Blu-ray, and while I do not have those discs for a direct comparison, the video is pretty good. Occasionally the image is soft, and it doesn’t have the clarity one would hope for a relatively recent TV series. According to some sources I’ve seen on-line, the original film masters have been destroyed, so these discs have been produced from the best available materials extant.

For fans who have bought earlier Blu-ray box sets, it is my understanding the video on this box set is marginally superior. Some earlier releases had some pitch problems but according to Shout Factory these have been corrected. I can’t definitely say if this is worth an upgrade, though it does finally have The Peacekeeper Wars included, which the previous box set did not. Each season in this release is in its own Blu-ray case.

Farscape is an incredible series. It follows the kind of Star Trek story template, but from a wildly different perspective. The characters aren’t competent professionals, but wild emotional characters who readily come into conflict with each other. It’s wild, strange, and beautiful. I love this show, and this handsome box set is a worthy addition to any sci-fi fans collection.

Farscape: The Complete Series 25th Anniversary Edition has been released on Blu-ray by Shout Factory. Thirty episodes have audio commentaries by various participants. There are also numerous video extras. The only one new to this release is “A Look Back at Farscape” (44 min) with Brian Henson, Rockne O’Bannon, hosted by Adam Savage.

The special features disc of archival material: “Making of a Space Opera” (23 min), “In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson” (38 min), “Listening In with Composer Guy Gross” (115 min), “Farscape Undressed” (44 min), “Season 3: A Look Back” (45 min), “Zhaan Forever with Virginia Key” (30 min), “Composer Guy Gross Discusses the Season 3 Theme” (4 min), “Memories of Moya” (37 min), “Farscape: The Story So Far” (27 min), “Save Farscape” (31 min), “Villains” (15 min), “Season 4 visual effects” (10 min), On the Last Day (4 min). Then there are nearly three hours of behind-the-scenes interviews with most of the cast, Farscape in the Raw (76 min) which compares broadcast with early director’s scenes of some episodes, several deleted scenes, an alternate cut of Season 2’s premiere, bloopers, TV promos, and video profiles.

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Kent Conrad

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