TV

Review: ‘Farscape: The Complete Series’ (Blu-ray)

The Jim Henson Company and SyFy Network’s gritty, weird, violent, and beautiful space opera comes home to Blu-ray in an impeccable release.

The series
According to the pilot commentary by series creators Rockne S. O’Bannon and Brian Henson and star Ben Browder, Farscape took nearly a decade to make its way to TV. It was simply tough for them to get the vision for the show in place and to get anyone to sign off on a space-based series with lots of Muppets and practical special effects. And when you look at the series at the highest level, it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that could work, a mash-up of Buck Rogers, Lost In Space, The Defiant Ones and stranger still, Labyrinth as a one hour action drama. And while four seasons isn’t a lot in the great scheme of things, Farscape somehow took hold of viewers in a very particular way, thanks to clever writing, engaging and frequently complex characters, and a constant thread of the bizarre and off-kilter to keep you riveted.

The series features Browder as astronaut and physicist Commander John Crichton, whose experiment with wormholes goes awry, flinging him out of our star system and into another, in the middle of a prison break by three violent offenders D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe) and Zhaan (Virginia Hey) aboard a living ship called Moya with the help of its pilot, Pilot (a giant animatronic rig featuring the voice of Lani Tupu). They’ve, in turn, got to contend with the unwilling Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), a disavowed soldier stuck tagging along with them after being found complicit in the prisoners’ escape. Crichton and his wildly mistrustful crew must make their escape from the rest of the human-like, jackbooted Peacekeepers and various other alien races who, over the course of the series, want the wormhole technology that is locked in Crichton’s head. Of course, along the way, they learn to (gradually) trust and care for one another, while gaining and losing other outcast travelers in their four years in space.

There’s a real streak of, if not pacifism, then a real queasiness with the idea of killing other living things. Consider that Moya doesn’t have any kind of offensive weaponry, and you get where Farscape stands in terms of what it thinks about its heroes and what they should aspire to. Much of the series takes place in the backdrop of a looming war between the Peacekeepers and the physiologically and technologically more advanced Scarrans, with the rest of the galaxy caught in the middle. And while the series has its share of shootouts and violent conflicts, they more often than not seem to have a cost for the characters.

Most importantly–and why the show still works to this day–the show doesn’t simply allow Crichton and crew to simply start getting along right off the bat. Each character that comes in contact with Moya has some additional motivation that might mean that at any time, they could be willing to betray the rest of the crew to get what they need. This often gives the show a sense of complexity space operas of this type otherwise don’t have, as the various needs of the crew often complicate an already complicated situation.

While the series had its occasional clunkers–the one with the “technomage” or whatever and the planet of extreme space ravers being another–the four seasons that make up the Farscape experience are nonetheless well-crafted and really speak to the characters created during the course of its run.

Image and audio
I almost had a weird disconnect when I saw the first episodes from the inaugural season in HD, given that I’d never seen the show look quite as sharp as it does here. I noticed details in the characters’ costumes and in some of the puppets that I wouldn’t have otherwise during the original run of the show (or even when watching the series through Netflix’s streaming service). A+E has remastered the series based on its original materials, and whereas it felt like a case of “doing the best they could” with the Robotech set, here it almost feels like a reintroduction to Farscape given how rich the detail is on disc. Best of all, many of the CG effects employed by the show don’t necessarily suffer by a higher level of visual detail. While there’s nothing in the four seasons that you would hold up to Avatar-quality or anything, there’s none of the artifacting of incongruity with the environment found in other shows from that period that have gotten the HD treatment.

Likewise, the audio seems to have gotten a nice little makeover, with 5.1 DTS audio. While there’s nothing here that’s going to blow your speakers out or anything, the improved quality will allow you to hear some of the nuance in many of the rich voice performances and the show’s quirky soundtrack.

Special Features
Many of the features appear to be ported from the 2009 26-disc release, also from A+E, so on the offhand chance that you’re just getting this for additional features, all you’re really getting on top of the entire package is a nice new retrospective. Otherwise, if you’re picking this set up for the first time, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for over 70 hours.

Here’s what comes on disc:

  • 20 Blu-ray discs featuring 88 complete and unedited episodes from the four-season run (1999-2003), remastered from the highest quality source material available
  • Collectible packaging featuring all-new series artwork
  • 29 Episode Commentaries, including “Premiere” with Rockne S. O’Bannon, Brian Henson and Ben Browder; “Jeremiah Crichton” with Claudia Black, Producer/Writer David Kemper, Browder and O’Bannon; “Bone to Be Wild” with Anthony Simcoe;“Relativity” with Lani Tupu (Crais/Voice of Pilot) and Director Peter Andrikidis; and, “Bad Timing” which features Browder, Black and Kemper discussing the series’ final episode.
  • A BRAND-NEW documentary – Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored featuring revealing new interviews with the cast and creators.
  • Multiple featurettes and documentaries including “In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson”; “Making of a Space Opera” and “Inside Farscape: Save Farscape,” on which fans, cast and crew discuss the fate of their beloved series.
  • Multiple video profiles featuring archival clips and cast/crew discussing their characters and roles on Farscape.
  • Over 90 minutes of deleted scenes.
  • 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.
  • Original TV promos and trailers

Farscape: The Complete Series is available now.

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