Farscape - The Peacekeeper Wars Review
After four years, Farscape rounded off its fourth season in September 2002 with the wrapping-up of some long-term plot threads, the crew of Moya setting back the Scarran advance with the destruction of a major base and the necessary closing of the wormhole that would have enabled John Crichton’s return home to earth. With Aeryn Sun pregnant, it was time for Crichton to accept his new place in the universe. Under such circumstances the cancellation of the series at the end of Season Four might just have been more accepted as another casualty of science-fiction TV programming were it not for the rather critical note on which the series ended – the death of Crichton and the pregnant Aeryn at the hands of aliens unknown on a water planet. That note, combined with the massed force of a fanbase that few other series have quite the power of, ensured that Farscape was reprieved in December 2004 – not for another full season, but for a 4-part mini-series that would wrap-up the storyline and leave it in a better position for picking up again, should circumstances ever be more favourable.
The Peacekeeper Wars starts off with repairing the damage wreaked at the end of Season Four – literally piece by piece. But in true Farscape fashion, one serious piece is overlooked and the “re-unification” of Crichton and Aeryn runs into a few immediate problems with a misplaced pregnancy. Their aggressors, it transpires, are an unknown ancient race – the Eidelons – descendants of the inhabitants on Arnessk freed by the crew of Moya in Season Four after 12,000 cycles of captivity. The Eidelon have a natural negotiation and peacekeeping ability that could form a more effective peacekeeping role than the militaristic one currently pushing the Sebaceans into a vast war with the Scarrans. However, considering their initial treatment of Crichton and Aeryn, their diplomatic skills and peacekeeping ability is obviously in need of some refinement. If they can be brought back into contact with their ancestors on Arnessk, they could regain the knowledge and the skills required to ensure the safety of a galaxy that is on the brink of destruction.
Divided into two parts across two DVDs, The Peacekeeper Wars effectively sets its agenda in the first half of the mini series – the solution to the looming war between the Peacekeeper Alliance and the Scarran Empire, either through peacekeeping means or by means of the wormhole technology that is kept inside Crichton’s head and anxiously sought after by both sides, as well as by Crichton’s nemesis Scorpius. Added to this – again in true Farscape fashion – are the more humanistic aims of the joining together of Crichton and Aeryn and the safe delivery of their child into a peaceful universe. The second half then delivers all the fireworks, racing forward with all the impact of a Season’s worth of development compressed into a couple of episodes, taking the series back to its origins, making a few revelations, revisiting old characters from the past and most importantly bringing a much needed sense of closure, which is exactly what fans needed.
And make no mistake, it is the fans that are being catered to here. There is little opportunity, or even likelihood of Farscape attracting new viewers at this late stage – so The Peacekeeper Wars only makes the most cursory of recaps before making the most of the limited time available to it and getting on with wrapping up the story. It makes little concession to anyone who is not conversant with the last four seasons (which is why I’m grateful to my brother Aidan for filling some of the gaps in my knowledge of the continuity, which certainly got confused with gaps in the alternating clone Crichton episodes in Season 3) and instead focuses on closing all those character arcs and leaving the series in a position where it could be picked up again should circumstances ever be more favourable. It’s maybe not Farscape at its boldest or most imaginative, but considering what the creators and cast had to work with, the continuity they had to wrap up in a short period of time, and the amount of fans they had to keep happy, there is no question that The Peacekeeper Wars delivers what it sets out to do.
Farscape has shown itself to be one of the most imaginative and original science fiction series created for television. Against the odds and with little concession to the part-time viewer, it has fashioned incredibly complex plots over the course of its four seasons, allowing for greater character development and imaginative situations to be played out in a way that other more episodic series haven’t been able to achieve. And while it doesn’t have the epic scale of the ultimate battle between good and evil developed over the five seasons of Babylon 5, it does have a greater human interest element. “The war is not your responsibility” Aeryn tells Crichton during the mini-series here, and you really get the sense that the creation of an epic space-opera isn’t the primary point of Farscape. Crichton’s duty is to himself, to Aeryn and his about to be born child and, somewhat appropriately, the birth of that child turns out to be the biggest battle scene in the The Peacekeeper Wars – more emotional, more powerful and more significant than the destruction being waged by the Sebaceans and the Scarrans. It’s this sense of the struggle of the little man – and all the stupid mistakes he makes – that makes Farscape what it is, and makes it different from all the other grand heroics of science-fiction space-operas. There’s no techno-babble or deus ex machina solutions here – the characters make mistakes, live with them and work around them. It’s the inner conflicts and relationships between the small group of diverse characters onboard Moya that takes precedence here and is the reason for the series success, opening it up to a wider audience than the narrow male audience science-fiction shows normally attract – but its failure to cater to lowest common denominator with an episodic format that delivers primary school level morality lessons before pushing the "reset" button is also partly the reason for the show's decline and the reason why, unfortunately, there may not be any further expansion of the series beyond The Peacekeeper Wars. But, for now, thankfully Farscape has achieved its aim and shown – in the tradition of the best science fiction shows – the limitations of budget and adherence to traditional science-fiction stories demanded by TV executives that can be overcome with good story writing, strong characters, imaginative situations and, as the very appearance of this series and DVD attests to, an enthusiastic and loyal fanbase.
Like the other series of Farscape released on DVD in the UK, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars is released in the same 2-DVD box format by Contender. The full 4-hour TV series, minus the ad-breaks, becomes a 3-hour series on DVD, split into two 88 minute parts over the two DVDs. The second disc in the set also includes numerous extra features – a few more than the US Region 1 edition of the series.
The video-sourced 1.78:1 anamorphic picture is a little bit on the fuzzy side and there is a lack of detail throughout. Blacks are fairly flat, again showing almost no shadow detail, making the rather darkly attired Claudia Black almost indistinguishable from the backgrounds in certain dimly lit locations. Occasionally, the blacks can be a little bit murky and faded looking (see screen shot below), but generally, this lack of detail doesn’t cause too many problems. Compression artefacts can be seen quite frequently on the single-layer Disc 1 with the image regularly flickering, but they are almost completely absent on the dual-layer Disc 2, which exhibits a greater stability and clarity. Overall though, the image is still pretty good throughout, colours are bold, clarity is good and although its a little on the soft side, the picture is certainly more than satisfactory.
The audio is similarly clear and effective. While not particularly outstanding in any way, it packs a punch when required. The fine music score is warm and comes across most effectively. Voices however are weak and at a low volume and can occasionally get lost in the mix. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but rear speaker effects and sub-woofer effects are used sparingly and appropriately for when they will have the most impact.
There are no hard of hearing subtitles available on the DVD.
The Battle Behind The Wars – The Making Of The Peacekeeper Wars (29:00)
Interviews with cast and crew cover most aspects of how the reprieve for the series was gained and how much work had to go into pulling it together. This is a good making of featurette, better than the usual fluff piece, you sense genuine camaraderie between the cast and crew rather than the usual insincere back-slapping – borne out by the fact that everyone gathered together again after cancellation and gave everything to ensure the show went out the way it deserved.
Very detailed biographies are included for 13 characters in the series, which I personally found very helpful for filling in gaps in my knowledge of the series. Added to this are picture galleries for the main characters and short interviews with Ben Browder (3:37), Claudia Black (3:54), Anthony Simcoe (3:34) and Gigi Edgley (3:30), talking about their characters and what it means to be working on the show again.
Behind The Scenes Interviews
There are additional interviews with writer and executive producer David Kemper (3:49), producer Andrew Prowse (3:29) and director and creator Brian Henson (3:42). They cover the issues and problems wrapping up the storyline in a mini-series, talk about why they think the series worked and pay tribute to the fan power that made it all possible.
Deleted Scenes (13:37)
A number of deleted scenes are shown in unfinished form, timecoded and a little grainy, but presented in anamorphic widescreen and the quality is nonetheless reasonable. There is no information on the scenes other than a title such as ‘Scene 35E’. Most of the scenes are brief and apart from one good scene between Crichton and Scorpius are mainly inconsequential featuring the supporting characters D’Argo, Chiana, Rygel, Sikozu and Jothee, doubtless removed to improve the pace of the second half of the series.
A brief gallery of 18 images shows mostly face-masks, make-up and props used in the series.
Trailer Material (1:55)
An excellent trailer in anamorphic widescreen for the big finale.
7 PC wallpaper images featuring the characters are included in the DVD-ROM material, accessible if you have a DVD drive on your PC.
Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars wouldn’t be the best jumping on point for new fans, but if you have any familiarity with the series, this mini could certainly be appreciated on some level for sticking true to the ideals it started out with and faithfully carried through to a conclusion against all the odds. For anyone new to the series or anyone who hasn’t been following the series faithfully, The Peacekeeper Wars could look a bit choppy and messy, and the full impact of the final arc won’t be grasped – but for fans who have lived with these characters and stuck with them through all their adventures, setbacks and struggles it is everything they could have hoped for and certainly achieves its aim, wrapping-up a lot of extant storylines and carrying the characters through to achieving their destinies. The Region 2 release is well presented – a colourful widescreen transfer with 5.1 surround sound and worthwhile extra features, including interviews and deleted scenes not found on the Region 1 edition. If you’re a fan, you’ll need no recommendation from me – this is what you’ve been waiting for and it doesn’t disappoint.