Farscape: Series 2, Boxset 1 Review
Who would have thought a TV series where two major characters are puppets would manage to be taken seriously? I didn't, and while I enjoyed the first few episodes of the first series I really didn't think it could take off. How wrong I was - even at the beginning of the first series there was a lot of promise, and this has been built on to the extent that I now think Farscape is just as important as the various Trek's in the TV science fiction arena.
Leaving behind the somewhat stuffy image that Star Trek has picked up in recent years, Farscape never takes itself too seriously. But at the same time it's not exactly lightweight stuff. The series tackles numerous concepts usually restricted to the realms of heavy sci-fi. In addition even with the core characters, you're never quite sure if they're on the same team and double-crossing seems to be a way of life aboard the living starship, Moya. Despite this, the crew still manage to co-exist believably and although they almost always end up fighting on the same side, the way that this is done is very believable.
The first series nemesis, Crais, has now taken on a more intermediary role - not fighting on either side. Scorpius (introduced at the end of the first series) takes over as the Peacekeeper trying to track down Moya's crew, and more specifically John Crichton. Scorpius does indeed make a more menacing villain - however, he effectively takes over directly from Crais and would have been nice to see a bit more motivation for his search for Crichton.
One thing that does bring the series down a notch is the fact that it can never be considered as being subtle. In addition, there are often situations that move out of the realms of believability. The script at times can be a little flaky - most probably due to the relative age (and therefore lack of experience) of the series compared to its competition. I also feel there's a slightly uneasy balance between the lightweight and heavyweight aspects of the series - there are times when I get the impression that the writers gloss over certain subjects possibly to relate to the core audience and yet the other extreme is also common with the writers assuming audience knowledge on quite complicated things.
It's quite difficult to work out who the target audience is. While for the most part the concepts and stories are suitable for wide audience, the writers have chosen not to aim at as large an audience as possible with some quite adult language present in some episodes. One or two episodes due to appear later in the series have been classified as 18 by the BBFC.
One thing the writers are not scared of doing is pushing the envelope of the series. There isn't the 'reset-button' mentality that prevails over other series. Characters actions DO resonate through the series and the writers are obviously not holding back in the character development department.
The five episodes here feature both on-going plot thread and stand-alone stories:
Mind the Baby follows on from the last episode of the first series. Moya's baby - named Talon - has fled under the command of the renegade Peacekeeper, Crais. Split loyalties continue to prevail with Aeryn Sun and Crais both switching sides 'on-the-fly'.
Vitas Mortis sees D'Argo discover an old holy Luxan who feels it's her time to die. She persuades him to take part in a Death Ritual - but when things don't go quite to plan Moya's life is put on the line.
In Taking The Stone, Chiana discovers that her brother has been killed. Instead of grieving, she joins a group of thrill seeking aliens and leaves Moya.
An alien boards the ship offering to help the crew hide from Scorpius in Crackers Don't Matter. His motives aren't quite as clear as first appears and as the ship passes through a star field Moya's crew begin to act irrationally.
Finally, The Way We Weren't sees the crew discovering that Aeryn was present when Moya's original pilot was murdered. No one is too pleased that she has chosen to keep this from them - least of all, the pilot who was brought in as a replacement.
As always, with TV series some of the plots work well while others struggle. The pick of this bunch is probably the last episode and it does really expand on both Aeryn's past and strengthens the crew's current relationships. The duffer in this lot is probably 'Taking The Stone' - which doesn't really ever manage to come together as a convincing and satisfying episode. That said, Farscape fans will be more than happy to have all the episodes on offer here - and fans of more conventional science fiction series should take a look as this really does offer a breath of fresh air.
Have Contender managed to keep ahead of the game as far as the DVD is concerned? They certainly had their work cut out considering the quality of the first series - however, I don't think anyone is going to be disappointed with these discs.
The picture quality is pretty much as we'd expect - it's on par with the original series DVDs, and is broadcast quality. It is a little soft during the live-action scenes, but the special effects sequences are fairly sharp so the transfer itself isn't at fault. There are no digital artefacts present.
For the record, the transfer is in the original 4:3 aspect ratio and is non-anamorphic. It'll be interesting to see if the series ever goes widescreen as an anamorphic transfer is the only thing that could make this any better than it is already.
Once again, the biggest bonus is the full Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Other than recent Stargate SG1 releases, this is the only TV series I'm aware of with a full 5.1 channel mix. Even better - this one is particularly active with extensive use being made of all five channels giving a much wider soundstage than is associated with most TV-DVD releases. I'd go as far as to say that the soundtrack here manages to rival, if not trounce, most big-budget science fiction movies.
One area that has caused some concern is the extras. Up until the Region 1 Series 1 discs began to appear, we didn't think things could improve much over our Series 1 boxsets - however, we didn't count on the US discs containing commentary tracks.
The Region 2 Series 2 discs seem to be continuing in much the same way as the previous boxsets. Extras are present - just not in huge quantities. In this release we get a selection of four deleted scenes - mainly cut for time reasons.
There are biographies on all of the main cast members - these are limited to two or three static pages of text and cover most of each person's past work and their role in this series.
The gallery consists of mainly concept art and various special effects and makeup pieces. There are also shots of various gadgets used in the episodes on this disc.
Finally, we have a trailer for the second series which rounds of the package quite nicely and hints at some of the things we can look forward to in upcoming episodes.
Quite an impressive package for what is still a fairly low-profile TV series. If, as it seems likely, Contender continue in this fashion, the second series of Farscape should certainly deserve a place on most science fiction fans shelves. I can personally forgive the fact that we're not getting the commentaries that may (or may not) appear on the Region 1 releases - the fact that we're getting these discs anything up to a year earlier than the US more than makes up for this. Buy with confidence!