Monday, November 05, 2012

Farscape: Premiere

Farscape rewatch
A little over a year ago, I set for myself the goal of rewatching the entire Farscape series from beginning to end. I failed to watch a single episode in the ensuing 12 months. I had an excuse--that Chicken Ranch book utterly consumed my life. But since the book is now essentially finished (revisions pending) and Farscape remains to this day my favorite show ever (sorry Firefly), I've taken up the challenge and begun my long-delayed rewatch. And I've decided to share my impressions here with you (blogging more often is another something I'll do now that the Chicken Ranch book is no longer consuming my life).

The first episode of Farscape, titled "Premiere", throws a lot of plot at the viewer in a very small amount of time. Watching this episode, I'm amazed at how dizzying a pace they set, not really pausing to breathe. Here's the skinny: Astronaut John Chriton suffers from Great Man's Son syndrome, as his father (played by Kent McCord of Galactical 1980 infamy) was one of the last astronauts to walk on the moon. John Crichton is about to launch on the space shuttle to test a theory of his own devising, in a craft of his own design (looking remarkably similar to NASA's X-38 lifting body design) called the "Farscape Module." The experimental theory itself isn't outlined clearly, but it is apparently some variation on a gravitational slingshot, albeit one that minimizes atmospheric drag allowing the craft to pass much closer to the planet's surface, thereby accelerating faster without burning up. Typical Hollywood rubber science, but at least there's a grain of fact buried deep within.

Anyway, Crichton launches and begins the experiment. All is going well until a wormhole opens up in front of him (as wormholes are wont to do) catapulting him across the galaxy into the middle of a firefight between fighter ships piloted by human-like aliens known as Peacekeepers and a giant bio-mechanoid prison ship populated by political prisoners trying to escape. The Farscape Module collides with a fighter, sending the latter crashing into an asteroid and exploding impressively. The prisoners tractor beam Farscape aboard, hoping they can use the wormhole technology to escape. Chrichton proves useless. The prisoners manage to effect an escape on their own (the living ship, Moya, is able to starburst--a sort of short-range hyperspace jump) so they imprison Crichton with a captured Peacekeeper, Officer Aeryn Sun. Sun promptly beats Crichton up as a traitor to his species before gradually accepting that the human is an actual alien. The gloriously dysfunctional crew is introduced in short order--Dominar Rygel XVI, a pint-sized, greyish Muppet character who happens to be the self-important deposed ruler of the Hynerian Empire; Ka D'Argo, a towering Luxan warrior with non-prehensile tentacles growing from his head and a temper that leads the viewer to categorize him as a Klingon stand-in; Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan, a bald, blue-skinned Delvian priestess and anarchist, the spiritual center of the group; Pilot, an elaborate, four-armed animatronic alien surgically grafted to the living ship; and Moya, the living Leviathan ship itself that never actually speaks but communicates through Pilot. It's never quite clear just how intelligent or sentient Moya is, but instinct plays a great role in her behavior.

By cooperating, Crichton and Aeryn escape and flee to a nearby commerce planet, with the idea of joining back up with Aeryn's military detachment. Unfortunately, the pilot of the fighter that Crichton collided with was the brother of Commander Bialar Crais, who is bent on bloody revenge. When Aeryn makes a half-hearted attempt to defend Crichton, Crais condemns her on the spot. Facing certain death, Crichton and Aeryn escape (along with the captured D'Argo) and flee back to Moya. With Crais' Peacekeeper Command Carrier closing fast, Crichton uses his gravity/atmosphere/slingshot theory to accelerate the Leviathan away from danger... for the time being.

Commentary: Now's probably a good time to mention Farscape was the brainchild of the Jim Henson Company (to show off the talent and capabilities of the Creature Shop) as well as Rockne S. O'Bannon, creator of Alien Nation among other credits. Production values for the episode are top-notch. The aliens do indeed look otherworldly, as opposed to human actors with funny bumps glued on their noses. If you're watching this on DVD or Blu-Ray, be sure to turn on the commentary track after the first viewing, because there are a lot of amusing Easter Eggs hidden throughout the production. The entire episode rushes by at breakneck pace, and really feels like a pilot, in that it's setting all the chess pieces on the board for future stories. Characters are broad types--the greedy one, the figher, the mystic, etc.--and not given much room to grow. This is to be expected, being the pilot episode. However, a lot of the wit and clever writing that made Farscape such a fan favorite isn't yet on display. Even Crichton has little personality beyond being the confused and lost Earthman. A nice touch was the "translator microbes" injected into him early on, shades of the Babel Fish from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Also, the utter dysfunctional nature of the crew is a big change from most traditional SF television, and something that will play a much bigger role later on in the series. It's hard to say the pilot episode would win anyone over outright, but it certainly offers enough promise to bring viewers back for another episode or two, to see if this series is going anywhere worthwhile.

Crichton Quote of the Episode: "Boy, was Spielberg ever wrong. Close Encounters my ass."

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing up your rewatch. I love Farscape and look forward to taking this ride with you.