...with another review by THE MIDDLE MAN. This time, he's taking a look at Farscape.
Farscape is one of those shows which may come out of nowhere to whop genre fans up-side the head. Few people have heard about it, most people don't even know it exists. But it is coming in March to the Sci Fi Channel, from Henson Productions (the Jim Henson folks).
To give you a little background on The Middle Man, he is a huge fan of science fiction films, television, and storytelling. He is intimately acquainted with the television industry, and knows a lot about what it takes to make a show "happen". In fact, when The Middle Man first heard about Farscape, he genuinely believed it couldn't be done. The project was "too big for the budget they had to work with" he said to me recently when justifying his attitude about the project.
None the less - for better or worse - Farscape did get made, and The Middle Man digs it! When I spoke to The Middle man last week, he couldn't stop gushing about Farscape's "dazzling" CGI, which are apparently tremendously well rendered and close to (if not meeting) model quality FX work. The Middle Man is a big, big Babylon 5 fan - but Farscape threw him for a loop - and he thinks the series could (with a double-plus emphasis on could) give B5 and its spinoff Crusade a run for their money.
Fightin' words? I 'spose we'll see in March.
Please understand, I am not personally vouching for Farscape, or supporting some of the "competition" statements that The Middle Man makes in this review. I have not seen the show, so I can not do that. As such, I'm just expressing The Middle Man's deep sincerity that this show has something to offer. .
Here's what The Middle man wrote about Farscape:
"Look, it's Lexx without the hormones"!
"No, it's Star Wars: The Series without the budget"!
"No, it's Buck Rogers without the timetravel bits"!
Well, I'll be damned.
To be honest, I never thought that this baby would make it on the air.
It has been offered to networks worldwide for two years (under the name Space Chase, if I remember correctly). It always came with a bunch of scripts by Rockne S. O'Bannon, who I hold in high regard for being one of the driving forces of the underrated Twilight Zone remake of the 80's. Well, he also wrote seaQuest, but who's perfect? Anyway, the series idea was turned down for being wayyyy too expensive to produce. I think that's a good place to give you the lowdown on the story:
John Crichton is a scientists cum astronaut who wants to use a new shuttle prototype for an experiment using planetary gravitation for acceleration.
Before you know it, he gets sucked into a wormhole and lands directly in a big space battle. A fleet of humanoids chase a big "Leviathan" cruiser that is manned by a bunch of freaky aliens (a Chewbacca lookalike with a Klingon attitude, a blue gal straight out of classic Trek, and a floating Joda type who could be Londo Mollaris soulmate).
Crichton discovers that the aliens kidnapped the ship after their prison breakout. He is forced to tag along, together with a captured female "Peacekeeper" fighter. You see, they call themselves Peacekeepers, and they are humanoid, but they wear black. So they must be fascist oppressors. And indeed, they are.
Our band of misfits flees into uncharted territory, with the Peacekeeper armada in pursuit. Their ship, by the way, is organic, a living being. Okay, so you got tons of space battle scenes, several aliens as regular characters, and lots of sets. They gotta be kidding, right?
Actually, they aren't.
Jim Henson Company produces the series in Australia, getting a lot of bang for the buck. Let's do this in an organised fashion:
THE SETS: The sets are huge, and and they use not only specially built sets, but also giant hangars and old factories. And where that is not enough, they use CGI-enhanced sets (check out the cool planet in the first episode). And the design is very lush, with innovative tidbits here and there.
THE CGI EFFECTS: Awesome. I mean, I love Babylon 5, but this is much better. The low-key color schemes make the ships look more "real", and the planet surfaces are better than anything I have seen on television to date (and I have seen a lot, including a Turkish Star Wars movie). The CGI looks like it uses a higher resolution than usual. And there's tons of it.
THE PUPPETS: Since this is a Jim Henson series, there are many puppet aliens. Sure, they are amazingly well done, and they look better than the new Star Wars Yoda, but you never forget they are puppets. The Babylon 5 pilot had a similar problem. Maybe this will attract more kids or help the merchandising (and it sure is a bold move), but I will have to wait and see if I can get used to it.
THE STORIES: Well, they try to be sci-fi standards with a twists: alien cockroaches invade the ship, a giant ghost ship is discovered, and such. But even though the writing is not always up to par (relying a bit too much on cliches), it's consistently entertaining and mainstream-compatible. It can get rather rude at times ("it's a pissed Luxan warrior!").
THE CHARACTERS: Some nice touches. Crichton is totally at a loss to what is going on, the big warrior guy named D'Argo is slightly nuts, and the blue alien chick (Zenn) has some amazing powers.
But it's also very cliche. I mean, the warrior carries a sword around! But man, can he spit! Rygel, the floating Yodatype ex-monarch is quite funny, though.
THE ACTORS: Okay, here we face the big problem. Farscape stars Ben Bowder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, and Virginia Hey. Never heard of them?
Neither have I. They are a rather bland bunch.
I think to attract a larger audience you should have at least one recognisable face (Boxleitner in B5, Anderson in Stargate). I am afraid, these guys and gals just don't cut it.
In a lot of ways, Farscape is probably the series TNT wanted Crusade to be. It's action-adventure with a broad appeal. Sure, it's not incredibly smart, but it somehow grows on you. What more, it remains to be seen whether the Sci-Fi Channel wants another spaceship show next to Farscape. Could Farscape turn out to be the Crusade killer?
Only time will tell.
With a better-known lead actor, this could've been a contender. As it is, it's still good fun for the sci-fi crowd.
You can chck out a press release by CLICKING HERE!
Below, two images of a set from Farscape - just to give you a sense of the look of the show...