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Farscape - Season 1

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 1058 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
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Farscape is (or, as of recently, was) a big budget joint USA/Australian science fiction television show featuring live actors mixing it with puppets from the Jim Henson Company. Like Star Trek, it features a fixed number of characters with others coming and going as the series moves along, and has a rather significant and vocal fan base. The news is both good and bad for Farscape fans, for just as the first series is released as a six disc DVD box set comes news that the show has been axed after just four seasons. Fans have been protesting loudly both here and in the USA, where the show seems to have been more widely received.

Filmed in Australia, with a significant number of Australian actors, the show follows the adventures of the Leviathan, Moya, a living space craft. On board, initially, are three escaped convicts, D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Zhaan (Virginia Hey), and Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy). They are unwittingly joined by IASA Commander John Crichton, an Earth scientist aboard an experimental space craft, Farscape One, that finds itself sucked into a wormhole and deposited a long way from Earth. Unwittingly involving himself in the affairs of those that occupy the space at the end of the wormhole, Crichton finds himself aboard Moya, trying to make sense of what is happening. The other lead character is PeaceKeeper Aeryn Sun, who is basically a 'good cop' who unfortunately ends up on the wrong side of the law, but of course the law doesn't care about such things, and it seems she is better off with the convicts, for now anyway.

The crew encounters various worlds, aliens, and problems in each of the 50-or-so minute episodes, and as each is self-contained there is no essential need to watch them in order, although the first few are very much focused on establishing characters and the show's premise, so it is an advantage to at least watch the first few in order. The gradual interaction between the main characters is a joy to follow, as suspicion and mistrust is forced to make way for tolerance and understanding. It is particularly entertaining to hear Crichton trying to compare what he doesn't understand to the things that he is more familiar with back on Earth. The amusing little throwaway lines and quick references to modern pop culture are rather amusing.

The characters have been well cast, even Henson's muppets. There has obviously been money spent by both The Jim Henson Company and Channel 9 Australia. The stories are well written, giving space for each character to grow, and revealing a little more as the series progresses. The makeup and attention to detail is to be commended. The costuming is excellent, as is the acting and pace of each episode. It is also quite refreshing to see earthlings being the minority race, and most definitely thought of as the alien. For once, we are the freaks. Each of the 22 episodes is highly entertaining and progressively better than the previous one. There are some amusing quips from most of the cast, especially Crichton, and this combined with the drama and action in the storylines has proved to be a large part of its success.

As mentioned, there are/were four series in all, and if the fans get their way, there will be more. As passionate, loud, and determined as they are, there is little precedent for such a thing as saving a television series such as Farscape that has already officially been given the chop. Just ask the fans of BBC's Doctor Who...

  Video
Contract

There are some very positive things to report from this transfer and some very bad things too. Being a television show, the aspect ratio is 1.33:1 and therefore it's not 16x9 enhanced. Let's look at the good first. Colours are excellent, and there is an extremely wide palette used for all manner of things. Aliens come in all colours it seems, and they are fun to watch. The palette has been slightly over-saturated, but it still looks great. The overall image is very sharp and clear, with detail coming through nicely. There are no problems with colour bleeding or chroma noise. Grain is barely evident, and there are only some very brief examples of shimmer.

Black levels are very good and solid, and shadow detail is wonderful. There are only a very few instances of white flecks that are so hard to spot you will be hard pressed to notice them. It all sounds fantastic so far huh? Well, it pretty much is, and only bombs in one area; MPEG artefacts. In virtually every episode there are examples of severe macro blocking that affect the whole screen. Although they are not lengthy, they are still an unforgivable fault that may cause discerning viewers a great deal of concern. The other problem is some noticeable break up of the image when there is a lot of movement on screen, or the camera is forced to pan. This is not quite as big a problem as the macro blocking, but together they form quite a duo. If not for this, I would have scored Farscape a 10 for video.

Layer changes are placed between episodes and therefore are not intrusive.

  Audio
Contract

Again, there is good and bad to be reported, though it is mostly good. The most obvious bonus is the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and it sounds great. Science fiction benefits greatly from a 5.1 audio and this is no exception. It has been well thought out with great use of all speakers and subwoofer. The vocals are mostly placed in the centre speaker, and the others speakers are used extensively for sound effects that really fill up the room. The subwoofer is kept busy, and all low-level sounds are deep and rich, just right for such things as spacecraft and explosions.

There is a great deal of well thought out separation and panning, and all sounds and vocals are clear and make full use of the available sound range. From the opening credits, it is clear that this is going to be one great audio experience, and for the most part it is; but not entirely.

The first quibble concerns two small audio dropouts in episode two on Disc One, and a third on Disc Six during one of the extras. Ok, so there is no missing dialogue, but the ongoing rumble of the soundtrack falling silent even for a second is very noticeable. The major complaint, though, is the audio synchronisation, and while some can be attributed to post production dubbing that even the best actors can get wrong, some of the problem is most definitely attributed to the transfer to disc. Some episodes are more affected than others, but it can become distracting. If you can learn to ignore this, then this is a very enjoyable audio experience indeed.

  Extras
Contract

There is quite a number of varied extras included, but there is also quite an amount of repetition, too - so watching them all at once can be a bit if a chore. Still, this is far better than no extras, so complaints are soon forgotten.

Making of Documentary: At a shade under 24 minutes, this was obviously made for television and is quite a thorough behind-the-scenes look at the show. It features interviews with the cast and crew, and is more of a selected collection of pieces from all the other extras, nicely edited.

Costume Design Not surprisingly this is a look at costume design and construction. A little over ten minutes long, it gives a fairly brief look at the time and dedication required to create Farscape.

Character Profiles: This features five main characters (no Rygel) in an interview and snippet format. Each clocks in around the ten minute mark, and while informative, I would like to have heard something about each of the actors as well as their character. A small photo gallery accompanies each video profile.

Art Gallery: A series of sketches is included that gives some insight into the creation process, via these conceptual designs. All sketches will look familiar, though some are early sketches and it is interesting to note how the final objects, characters, and costumes often look quite different to what was originally planned.

Australian Creature Shop: Another behind-the-scenes look at the creature shop where the conceptual ideas are developed into the real thing. This tour lasts a little over nine minutes.

Trivia Questions: Each disc contains questions based on the episodes it contains, for a total of just over a hundred questions. They are mostly observation and memory type questions, and are easily navigated with instant correct or incorrect responses.

Screen Savers: Those with a DVD-ROM may wish to access this extra and set up their PC accordingly.

Web Links: As the name suggests, five web links are provided. It is just as easy to type "Farscape" into a search engine, and see the results - which will yield more than five, I can assure you.

  Overall  
Contract

Fans will no doubt lap this up, and there is much to be gained even for the uninitiated like myself. The show is a great deal of fun, not overly mentally challenging, and doesn't baffle viewers with too much jargon or in-jokes. As you watch each episode, you will become increasingly drawn in, and watching the characters grow and interact is quite rewarding. There are some very subtle, almost Buddhist-like messages subliminally included, but they are for the most part a mixture of fairness and common sense and non-threatening. With a total running time of almost 20 hours, this is bound to keep fans and newbies alike well satisfied until the DVD release of series two.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1880
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      And I quote...
    "Fans will have already decided this box-set is for them. Others may need some convincing, but all should be pleased - mostly."
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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