Farscape: The Complete Series [Blu-ray] (2011)

Actors: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe
Writers: Rockne S. O'Bannon
Format: AC-3, Box set, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Region: A/1
Number of discs: 20
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: A&E Entertainment
DVD Release Date: November 15, 2011
Run Time: 4086 minutes





Jim Henson always felt that puppets could entertain adults as well as children, and not just in a family entertainment context.

During his lifetime, he often strained against the boundaries of popular perception, with very grown-up elements in movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, as well as sexually explicit sketches on Saturday Night Live. He never quite found the magic bullet to make it work . . . but his son Brian did.

Along with Babylon 5, Brian’s co-creation Farscape represented the most innovative science fiction series since the original Star Trek back in 1966. It was bold, it was original, and to quote the fan base, even the puppets got some. Now it’s on Blu-ray, providing an ideal opportunity to get acquainted with its genius.

The show concerns the misadventures of John Crichton (Ben Browder), an American astronaut shot through a wormhole to the far side of the galaxy. He finds himself onboard a living starship, crewed by a trio of escaped prisoners and one very cranky soldier (Claudia Black) dragged along for the ride.

It sounds like a standard-issue set up, but from the beginning, it was clear that Farscape had no interest in business as usual. It eschewed the traditional dynamic of heroes and villains. There were no benevolent governments in this end of creation: no powerful Federations or enlightened beings battling against the forces of evil.

The two primary powers – the human-looking Peacekeepers and reptilian Scarran – ranged from actively oppressive to flat-out genocidal. Other alien races, such as the pale Nebari, brainwashed recalcitrant members of their society, and even the warrior Luxans (who adhered to a rough code of honor) had a way of flying off the handle in deeply distressing ways. Victory in this universe meant survival and safety, not providing any grand boons of freedom.

Despite its dark overtones, Farscape remained very witty and light on its feet. It showed no qualms about embracing the more ridiculous side of its scenarios and its refreshingly grown-up take on political and philosophical issues stood in stark contrast to the po-faced preachiness of Star Trek. Browder proved a winning hero, with a knack for clever quips and a way of mining the fun out of his character’s constant in-over-his-head dilemmas. He and Black made for a great pairing, both in platonic terms and with the growing romantic chemistry that their characters developed over four seasons.

As for villains, Farscape struggled a bit early on. The original bad guy Crais (Lani Tupu) turned out to be a wet noodle, though his subsequent morphing into an uneasy ally made his character far more interesting. It took the arrival of Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) late in the first season to really kick the proceedings into high gear. Television may not have seen a better antagonist since . . . well since ever, and as great as the Ben Linuses and C. Montgomery Burns out there can be, one look at this guy turns them all into perennial runners up.

The puppetry performs similar wonders. Though unarguably a part of the Henson canon, figures such as Rygel (the conniving deposed ruler of an intergalactic Empire) and the ship’s symbiotic Pilot display a unique quirkiness that belongs in this universe, as well as decidedly grown-up sensibilities that had no place amongst Kermit and his friends. The show made excellent use of those assets, bringing a special flair that no other science fiction series could match.

It wasn’t always brilliant. Farscape shot for the moon every week, and on those infrequent occasions where it missed, it was a long way down. The Blu-ray set ends without a finale as well: the fifth and final season was unceremoniously cut, though the four-hour Peacekeeper Wars miniseries (not included here) gave fans a good sense of closure.

Eighty-eight episodes are bound to produce a few boners, but the remainder are absolutely unforgettable. Farscape continues to generate passion and enthusiasm among its fans, like a lot of sci-fi shows. But the source of that passion is truly one of a kind, and with the release of the Blu-ray, there’s never been a better time to discover it.

THE DISC: The set contains 20 Blu-ray discs – five for each season – each holding a handful of episodes and bonus features. The images are sharp and good-looking, though the Blu-ray doesn’t improve upon DVD quality. In addition, the show’s first two seasons were shot in 4:3 aspect ratios, meaning that most TVs will have black bars on the left and right of the screen for those shows.

The supporting features are exactly the same as those on the DVD box set released a couple of years ago, with one exception. An informative documentary entitled Memories of Moya – featuring cast and crew members talking about the show – is all-new for this set. The remaining special features are fantastic, including multiple documentaries and featurettes, a hard-to-find behind-the-scenes feature called Farscape Undressed, audio commentaries on 31 of the 88 episodes, deleted scenes, promo spots and tons of interviews. Owners of DVD set should have all of those, however, and while Memories of Moya is good, it’s not $200 worth of good.

WORTH IT? Absolutely, though if you have the DVD set, there’s no real need to double-dip.

RECOMMENDATION: This is an ideal way to re-experience a sci-fi classic. Newcomers to the series may want to look out for an older series of DVD, which collected two or three episodes in a single set (like this one: It spares you from having to commit right away, and if you like what you see, this terrific set will be waiting for you.

- Rob Vaux



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