the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

ADV Films presents

Farscape #1 (2000)

"Houston are you there? Uh....Houston?"- John Critchton (Ben Browder)

Stars: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe
Other Stars: Jonathan Hardy, Lani John Tupu
Director: Andrew Prowse/Pino Amenta

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, some language)
Run Time: 01h:57m:40s
Release Date: 2001-02-06
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

In 1999, when I first saw the previews for the upcoming sci-fi/adventure show, Farscape, I was suitably impressed. I was even more excited to learn that the Jim Henson Company was behind it; a company with massive talent, but also a group that hadn't really delved into more serious fantasy work since the departure of the Storyteller series off the airwaves. While I will concede that the Muppet films are pretty well done, I miss the Henson Company that brought me Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I've been a pretty faithful viewer of the series since its original premiere, and I'm very satisfied that, despite a few problems, it's one of the best shows on TV. Unlike a lot of sci-fi shows, it tends to follow its own path, and isn't some Star Trek clone hiding behind layers of cloaking. It has certainly set itself apart with fantastic production design and style that surpasses anything on the tube right now.

The general story revolves around astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) who, in the premiere episode, hopes to guide his experimental spacecraft, the Farscape, to success. He intends to use the Earth's atmosphere to slingshot the Farscape to incredible speeds, improving ideas for space travel. Unfortunately, when piloting his ship, his slingshot theory accidentally launches him into some kind of distortion that hurtles him into another part of the universe. Once there, he is brought on board an alien spacecraft containing three escaped prisoners from some other part of the galaxy. The prisoners include: Zhaan (Virginia Hey), a priestess of a mystic religion; D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), a warrior general and Rygel, a small, toadish being in a floating chair, who was once the ruler of an entire planet until betrayed by his own royal family.

The ship they command, known as 'Moya', is actually a living being; a kind of biomechanical vehicle that requires a special creature, known as a 'Pilot', to guide it. Eventually, these convicts team up with other assorted faces as they go through various adventures and quests to evade their possible captors; a galactic military force called the 'Peacekeepers.'

Thankfully, the budget and production values are extremely good, resulting in lots of interesting creatures and worlds. The computer graphics also serve to enhance the show, and aren't abused to any great extent. Of course, I'm sure it helps that Henson Company are so good with puppeteering, costuming, and overall design.

This first disc in the home version of Farscape, contains the original premiere episode and the second episode, I, E.T.. Considering Farscape is about to go into its third season (in only a week or two at the time of my writing this), the funny thing about these early episodes is how simple they are, compared to the elaborate state the series is now in. This isn't a criticism, it's just interesting how they've managed to add so many new characters and plot elements, and not drown the whole thing into oblivion. That said, I think most would agree with me that what really drives the show is the characters. With distinct personalities and histories, there's a lot for the writers to explore and deal with.

The show probably could have been successful if the entire series were nothing but endless chases between these alien convicts and the Peacekeepers, but thankfully there's always something more lurking under the surface. Farscape is also blissfully free of morality lessons. The show has heart, it just doesn't make a big deal out of it, nor does it try and mimic real-life political or social struggles into some kind of "feel good" message. This is sci-fi/fantasy at its best, and now even newcomers can get up to speed with the onslaught of episodes that ADV has planned.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in full-frame (which is how the series is photographed), the disc looks incredibly good. Having watched the series all this time on cable (and not very good cable, at that), the disc is definitely good for the eyes. The image is superbly crisp and clear, running at an average 8-10mbps bitrate. As near as I can figure, each episode is also on a separate layer, providing full quality for each segment. Color balance and black level is extremely good, and there are no instances of digital problems. Although a few areas seemed overly dark, this was most likely a problem with the filming itself, and not the disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio, which I thought would be kind of gimmicky, is actually outstanding and extremely well done. There's a whole lot of surround usage and directionality, with lots of atmosphere and ambience to go with it. All the elements are very well balanced, and nothing is every pushed out or hard to understand. There's a lot of energy and excitement here, and I think most fans will love that their favorite TV show sounds so great on home video. The 2.0 Surround audio is pretty good as well, and is the format that Farscape is broadcast in on cable. About the only significant difference between the two audio soundtracks is the increased use of surrounds (and split effects) in the 5.1 and a slightly clearer soundstage. Otherwise, the 2.0 surround is still really good for a basic mix.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 4 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Spriggan, and more...
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by (1)Rockne S. O'Bannon, Brian Henson, Ben Browder [Episode 1], (2)Claudia Black and Anthony Simcoe [Episode 2]
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Ben Browder video profile.
  2. Conceptual Drawings
  3. DVD-ROM Weblinks.
Extras Review: Both episodes feature commentary tracks. The premiere episode features a commentary by creators Brian Henson and Rockne S. O'Bannon, along with actor Ben Browder. It's a very good, well managed commentary in which they all discuss origins for the ideas that make the show, production anecdotes, and other minor aspects that the casual viewer might miss. It's an excellent look inside the minds of the creators and basically explores quite a bit of the history of the show.

The second episode, I, E.T., features a commentary by Claudia Black (Officer Aereyn Sun) and Anthony Simcoe. This is another excellent track that exposes the personalities and ideas behind these two character actors. It's a busy track by two very informed, well-spoken people and is filled with anecdotes, information, and background information. Both these tracks are well worth a listen.

A 22-minute feature is included about the making of the series or, at least, the early days of its creation and filming. If I recall correctly, this aired on television soon after the show gained critical acclaim and praise. In any case, it's a good look into the people behind the scenes and how everything got off the ground. It's also kind of fun to see some of the more evil and sinister characters from the show as just regular people.

An actor/character profile is included for Ben Browder, who plays John Crichton. While it may seem like a thin bio for the totality of the series, the way I understand it, ADV plans to focus on one actor and his/her character per disc, which is kind of a good idea in a stylish way. The profile is a 10-minute piece that extends on his interviews already given in the making-of piece. This is accompanied by an image gallery of promotional stills that all feature Ben Browder.

A gallery of conceptual drawings makes for an interesting look at the evolution and development of some of the characters, ships, and equipment seen on the TV show. My only complaint is that the images are a little small and no details are given. The weblinks seem to be the usual, basic stuff (just a link to ADV's website).

The menus are nice, but take a little long to maneuver through. There was no insert, other than an advertisement for various Farscape merchandise, including some goofy-looking action figures. The disc is preceded by a skippable series of trailers for other ADV anime releases.

Though the case comments that the episodes are uncut, I didn't really notice any extra footage above what normally ran on TV, but then I haven't seen these episodes in a long time.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

It seems that as each month goes by, people are either clamoring for a release of a certain TV series on DVD, or they're disappointed by what's happened to their favorite show when it did hit DVD. With Farscape, ADV Films seems to be doing everything right from step one, and as a fan of the TV show, I'm pretty well blown away by the quality presentation of this disc. All signs seem to point to a continued commitment to the series, and it looks like it will be well worth it. Highly recommended.

Dan Lopez 2001-02-27