In March of 1999, the Sci-Fi Channel premiered its latest foray into the genre of science fiction with a little program promisingly named FARSCAPE. There wasn’t a lot of pomp and circumstances surrounding the new program – certainly not the kind of media blitz Sci-Fi practically demanded for its BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot a few years later – but, to be fair, that may’ve actually served FARSCAPE’s assortment of slightly bizarre characters best. You had an American astronaut displaced into a distant galaxy by a wormhole. You had a ship filled with escaped convicts, each one an oddity until himself, herself, and/or itself. And you had a living, breathing ship with all of its own faults and foibles. This unlikely crew was thrown together out of circumstances yet forced to cooperate, to collaborate, to get past their petty differences in order to have one last chance at survival. Fate be damned, they’d make something of themselves or die trying … so it was perfectly acceptable that FARSCAPE came in below everyone’s radar but endured for four epic seasons. It even managed to defy death in its own way when its stars and creators joined forces to fight for a final miniseries with which to wrap up its principle storylines, and THE PEACEKEEPER WARS brought back John Crichton, Aeryn Sun, Ka D’Argo, and the rest for one last shot at glory.
Now, Cinedigm is giving audiences a chance to relive these adventures in a glorious 15th anniversary release of the complete series, so I figured there was no better time like the present to tell you what I thought of it all.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
John Crichton (played with a right balance of sanity and insanity by Ben Browder) is the astronaut at the center of this epic tale. After finding himself thrown across the galaxy thanks to a wormhole swallowing him up on the maiden voyage of his Farscape 1 spacecraft, Crichton finds himself smack dab in the middle of a galactic prison break. His entrance into the foray accidentally causes a death that sets up one of the program’s ongoing storylines … but rather than focus on all of the details (trust me: there’s vastly too many for a single review!) I’ll leave it at that and just tell you this is one space journey that’s definitely worth taking.
FARSCAPE lasted for four seasons, all of which is included in Cinedigm’s release. Hoping to avert any kind of disillusionment, I’m comfortable admitting that all of this ends with a massive cliffhanger (THE PEACEKEEPER WARS isn’t included in this set as it remains the property of different production companies), but, as any ‘Scaper will tell you, the sentiments wrapped up within that cliffhanger are a part and parcel of what made FARSCAPE such an impressive journey. In short, it was always ‘the little engine that could’ (or ‘couldn’t’, depending upon one’s perception). It defied the odds – defied the network that always kinda/sorta treated it like a stepchild throughout its stellar four seasons – and is one of those rare shows that’s actually grown a bit in popularity since its cancellation. Indeed, this release’s press materials reminded me that FARSCAPE remains one of the 25 best Cult TV Shows in history (according to TV Guide).
As opposed to belaboring you with any additional rundown of the materials – if you’re already here looking into it, I suspect this is something you’re interested in purchasing – I’ll throw in a few fresh words on the new content with this release: a 16-page graphic novel called “Backyard Barbecue.” It’s almost entirely the creation of writer/artist Ramon Perez (there was some coloring assistance provided by Ian Herring), and it’s essentially intended to be a prequel to the aforementioned THE PEACEKEEPER WARS. The story is basically more of a vignette – a few moments in the life of these occasionally Looney Tunes characters – which shows how they survived when pressed between a rock and a hard place. The artwork is solid – definitely reminiscent of the tone of the show as it aired – but, alas, it’s an all-too-brief snapshot back at these beloved heroes. Lastly, the book closes out with a nice interview with Brian Henson, giving him a chance to reflect back on FARSCAPE, its production, and its legacy: truth be told, I enjoyed it vastly more than I did the comic, but that’s only because of the type of person I am.
FARSCAPE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) is produced by Jim Henson Productions, Hallmark Entertainment, Jim Henson Television, Nine Film & Television Pty. Ltd., Nine Network Australia, and the Sci-Fi Channel. DVD distribution for this release is being handled by Cinedigm and New Video. As for the technical specifications … really? This is a Blu ray release, and, though I’m led to understand these are the same masters used and prepared for the 2011 release, it’s perfectly clear that the highest commitment to providing the finest quality sight and sound has been taken. And how about the special features? Well, the downside is that there’s nothing all that ‘new’ here – countless hours of commentaries, deleted scenes, director’s cuts, behind-the-scenes, and so much more – but there’s a nifty exclusive 16-page graphic novel (see above for my thoughts on it) die-hard fans won’t want to miss. Seriously, folks … you couldn’t ask for more.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. If you’ve never discovered FARSCAPE, then all I can say is that you’ve no possible idea what you’re missing: for my tastes, it was the boldest, brightest, and most creatively invigorating sci-fi epic to land exclusively on the Syfy Channel (then ‘Sci Fi’) when it aired originally. Even today, it retains a unique freshness with some modest narrative complexity, its willingness to keep raising the on itself and its various players, and its consuming insistence on seeing these characters through to the end of their days. I’ve said elsewhere that it is – without a doubt – the show that STAR TREK: VOYAGER probably wanted to be (VOYAGER began a few years prior to FARSCAPE) but, under Paramount’s constant tinkerings, never had the stones to even try (don’t even get me started on the some of the most obvious comparisons). Make this journey. Take this mission. You’ll be glad you did. Prepare for Starburst!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cinedigm provided me with the Blu ray release set of FARSCAPE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (15TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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