[10 January 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Co-created by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Brian Henson, Farscape was many things during its 1999-2003 run. It was the then Sci-Fi Channel’s flagship show. It was a technological wonder that also displayed really great writing. It was a drama. It had comedy. And action. And adventure. And animatronics (many characters were products of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop). It was a groundbreaking science fiction space opera that drew passionately devoted fans. Now, all 88 original episodes of the four seasons are available on the blu-ray set Farscape: The Complete Series
The story begins when astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) gets sucked through a wormhole during a test flight, and ends up on the other side of the universe. He is brought aboard a sentient, bio-mechanoid ship named Moya amidst a prison break from the militaristic Peacekeepers. Peacekeepers come from a race called Sebacean which very closely resembles humans, but the other beings Crighton encounters are decidedly more alien in appearance.
Moya’s escapee passengers include D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a Luxan warrior with dreadlocked tentacles; Zhaan (Virginia Hey), an empathic blue priestess who happens to be part plant; and Rygel XVI (voiced by Jonathan Hardy), a deposed Dominar who eats everything and farts helium when he’s nervous. Also on board is Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu), who is physically bonded to Moya in a sort of symbiotic relationship. Rygel and Pilot are Henson creations, but these are not your kid’s kind of Muppets (helium farts notwithstanding).
Crichton’s sudden appearance, mid-battle, causes all sorts of problems, not the least of which occurs when his lunar module is hit by a Peacekeeper prowler, killing its pilot who just happens to be the baby brother of baddie Peacekeeper Captain Crais. This sets up the first conflict, as Crais will naturally go to any lengths for revenge.
The second source of conflicts comes from the prisoners’ capture of another Peacekeeper pilot, officer Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black). She makes the momentary mistake of trying to defend Crighton, and Crais declares her “contaminated”, which means that she, too, must now be on the run from Peacekeeper forces. In addition to becoming a part of Moya’s motley crew as it evades capture and explores the uncharted territories, Aeryn eventually becomes a love interest for Crighton as he attempts to adjust to his new life and tries to find a way back home to Earth.
For the first few seasons Farscape focuses on Crighton’s adjustment to his alien environment, and his companions’ acceptance of him. Chiana (Gigi Edgley), a grey-skinned, sexy, trouble-maker of a Nebari girl, comes aboard and a new villain enters the picture in the form of Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), who pursues and tortures Crighton, trying to unlock the secrets of wormhole travel that have been locked in his subconscious mind. Other characters come in (Stark, Jool), some change allegiances (Crais), and some die (Zhaan).
These seasons are fun and exciting as we get to know each of the characters and meet worlds of strange and fantastic new beings. Aeryn and Crighton’s relationship is a major plot point, as does a neural-implant Scorpius inflicts on Crighton, and the stories often touch on all the standard sci-fi fare , but in non-predictable ways (a Crighton clone, for instance, who takes off on Moya’s son-ship, Talyn, with Crais and Aeryn Sun).
By the start of the fourth season, Moya’s crew is fragmented, separated, and Aeryn may be pregnant with Crighton’s child. Noranti, a nutty old woman who assumes some of the spiritual roles formerly addressed in Zhaan or Stark, has joined the main characters, as has Sikozu, a wall-walking know-it-all Kalish woman, though her tenure is a bit brief. Season four is also fragmented, and a lot of that comes down to the storyline that takes the characters to Earth. Sure, a lot of the “aliens-discovering-human-society” stuff is funny (Chiana’s impressions of, and reactions to, life on Earth are priceless), but much of it feels like lazy storytelling. This runs over into other story lines as well, dragging down the latter half of the fourth season. Or perhaps it doesn’t work simply because the show’s creators didn’t get to realize a planned fifth season (despite the truly heroic efforts of the aforementioned fan base!). The Peacekeeper Wars miniseries later attempted to wrap up loose ends and give the fans closure, but it’s not included on this set.
What is on this set, however, is impressive. The 20 Blu-ray discs include all 88 unedited episodes remastered from the highest quality source material available, so the image quality is somewhat better than DVD releases and the sound is much improved by its availability in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Bonus features account for than 15 hours of entertainment, with 31 commentary tracks, which feature, variously, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Brian Henson and Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Producer/Writer David Kemper, Anthony Simcoe, Lani Tupu and Director Peter Andrikidis. Many episode menus contain deleted and alternate scenes, totaling more than an hour and a half of edited footage.
There are several documentary pieces and featurettes, including “In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson”, “Making of a Space Opera”, and “Inside Farscape: Save Farscape” as well as video profiles and behind-the-scenes interviews. This set also features Farscape Undressed, the rarely seen behind-the-scenes special hosted by Browder and Black, and Memories of Maya: An Epic Journey Explored, which is a brand new documentary in which the cast and crew fondly recall their experiences and discuss Farscape place in sci-fi and television history. Farscape: The Complete Series on blu-ray is hours (and hours and hours) of groundbreaking, imaginative, quality entertainment.