Farscape – Series Review

movie reviewThis is a TV Series that did not live long here in german television. Whatever the reasons were – the fourth season never even aired. I can remember seeing the first episodes of the first season when it first aired here. What I saw there stood in my memory since. I must admit though that I did not continue to watch it any further back then. Over the years I, every now and then, heard the name pop up and said to myself “well, someday you’ll give it another shot”. And that’s what I did now.

The plot is actually pretty simple. John Crichton (Ben Browder) is an Astronaut who is going into Space to test an experimental Shuttle Craft. Suddenly something weird happens and a wormhole drags him into a far far away part of Space. He lands right in the middle of a battle and manages to land his ship on an unknown spaceship that is chased by another unknown vessel. We soon learn that the people (all from an alien species) on board of the ship are criminals on the run. The ship chasing them is from a military called the ‘Peacekeepers’. John has no idea what the hell is going on and that’s what the audience is thinking too. What the hell…? Not to mention that a Peacekeeper lands on the ship too. She, yes a woman, builds the perfect counterpart for John. Due to some complications she gets banished from the peacekeeper military and has no other choice than to stay on that ship as well.

Throughout season one we learn a lot about the prisoners/crew and what happened to them. John tries make friends with them and they all kind of become a team. And the ship… the ship actually is a living creature. Controlled by an alien pilot who is connected to the ship that allows him to translate everything the ship says. He’s also in control of shipwide systems and therefore a key character as well.

At first all the characters are a little paranoid. No one knows each other too well what leads to some nice character happenings here and there. John Crichton is the character that will lead us through the series. Of course all the alien stuff is overwhelming and he has to adapt to the situation. An implant makes him understand what the aliens are talking which, of course, helps a lot. Aeryn (Claudia Black), the Peacekeeper lady, soon becomes John’s love interest. She’s really giving him a hard time and, maybe it’s the romantic in me, it’s kind of nice to watch that.

Pretty much all the characters of the series have some great, emotional, things to go through. To mention it all would really make my post explode. Some of the episodes are also very bold moves. There is this one for example, that is a cartoon for the most part. The storyline of the series has a very psychological element. Some things only happen in the head of Crichton. And we all know how vivid an imagination can be at times. So, for me, sure… why not! Bring on the animations! It was unexpected but a welcome surprise. Especially when it happens in a series that really has a dark dark tone to it. Season 2 and 3 explore quite some psychologic things. You really want to know in what direction the characters develop.

The alien world/universe they created has some cool and innovative ideas. The whole ‘living ship’ idea is used fabulously by the writers. Of course you also have the usual generic scifi elements. But they played around with some of them and mixed it up a bit. So it feels new and a little refreshing. And that could have been a reason why the series did not do as well as so many others. People tend to hate new things.

The bad guys in the series want to know the secret behind wormholes and assume John has the key to the technology. Throughout the storyline things come into play that really make John the master of wormholes. The fascinating issue is that some of the bad guys even have to unite with John to get through certain complications. That opens up another nice array of character developments and situations that are seriously fun to watch. Beside the Peacekeepers we have the Scarrans. A reptile like race that builds a counterpart to the Peacekeeper faction. Of course these guys are after John’s knowledge too. So the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans want the wormhole technology to create a weapon to defeat the opposing force. That leads into a permanent ‘on the run’ scenario for our heroes.

The series started in 1999 and was one of the first tv productions that depended on heavy CG use for the space scenes. Nothing crazy exciting compared to today but for the time it was good. And, the most important fact, the CG was only used if necessary. Because what really defines the series is that Jim Henson (yes the Muppets guy and his artists) contributed a lot to the creature design and their technical realization. So we get some really awesome puppet work in that series! Especially the pilot of the living ship is so amazingly well done. You can read all possible emotions in his face. There are a lot more examples of the phenomenal work throughout the series. Truly remarkable stuff which makes you think why Hollywood became pretty much CG only territory over the past decade. So many issues could easily and better be resolved using practical effects instead of super-expensive CG.

The series lasted until 2004 and you are really able to see the advancements that happened in CG during that time. Unfortunately the series, in the last season, feels a little rushed. They knew they had to end it because the they didn’t get any more financing. Too bad. BUT…! They at least brought it to a satisfying end. After season 4 they made a miniseries, consisting of 4 episodes (if I remember right). All of them actually a very long movie so to speak. “The Peacekeeper Wars” rounds up the whole series nicely. A lot of action in that one. I enjoyed it.

So ultimately I can say that the series is a lot of fun. You can see development in the characters. Especially John Crichton and Aeryn have a nice arc. I also have the feeling that Ben Browder learned a lot in the first two seasons and delivers quite some phenomenal work in three and four. He really makes you feel the pain with his character. Same goes for Claudia Black.

Yes, watch it if you have a chance! Some great, original and lovely characters. An unusual setting. And scifi! What’s not to love about it.


Farscape on IMDb

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