Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars

Most of you have probably never seen “Farscape”. It debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1999, received heaps of critical praise, and audiences responded by resoundingly ignoring it. Of course it probably didn’t help that a lot of people don’t have the Sci-Fi channel. A surprising number of cable providers don’t even offer it (I know from experience), and strange though it may sound, a lot of people do not have cable television. In 1999, I was one of those people. It wasn’t until 2002 that I found myself with a cable provider that was willing to pipe the Sci-Fi Channel into my apartment, and by that time “Farscape” was an established commodity. A lover of good science fiction, I tuned in to see what all the critical hubbub had been about… and was completely lost. The show was incomprehensible and after one episode I gave up, vowing never to bother with it again.

A year later, I discovered why it didn’t make any sense. Each episode of the show is connected. They build on one another to create complex characters with real personalities, changed and affected by what happens to them in the show. As in real life, each episode references back to past episodes. No episode is a self contained story. To really get something out of it, you need to understand what leads up to it. A year later, I finally forced myself to sit down and watch it. It took 5 episodes for me to fall in love. Give it 5 episodes and it starts to make sense. The more of the show you see, the more you love it, and the more genius it seems. Those of you lucky enough to be watching it from the premiere have the edge. I’m still playing catch up.

That linear, interconnected, realistic nature is a huge part of what makes “Farscape” one of the very best pieces of science fiction, or drama in the history of television. It’s also probably the reason it failed so spectacularly. It’s hard to get into. It takes a big commitment to let it suck you in. It’s not “Joey”. You can’t tune in every once in awhile for a laugh. You’ve got to commit to being there every week to get the most out of it. Modern audiences are incapable of doing that.

So, with ratings sagging, and critical acclaim still pouring in, the Sci-Fi channel cancelled one of the best shows in the history of television to make room for more bad horror movies and re-runs of “Stargate SG-1”. Big mistake. Fans responded. The story had been cut off before the end. We needed an ending. Eventually, Sci-Fi caved and gave us one. Sort of. Enter “Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars”, a mini-series green-lighted specifically to appease angry fans who wanted to know how the story they’d invested so many years in turned out. “Peacekeeper Wars” picks right up where the television series left off… with Aeryn (Claudia Black) and Crichton (Ben Browder) dead. If you didn’t know they were dead, you aren’t a fan of “Farscape” and shouldn’t be watching this DVD anyway. Let’s make that clear right from the beginning: This is a movie specifically for “Farscape” fans. It exists solely to bring some sort of closure to the television series. If you haven’t seen at least a good portion of the show, then there’s no reason to see this. It won’t make any sense to you and you’ll have nothing invested in any of the characters. Stay away. I’m not going to bother to back track and explain the series to you, just go out and buy the Season One box set and get started. Trust me, you won’t regret paying that exorbitant price. Though really guys, come on, isn’t it time to lower the price on those things yet? Even hardcore fans like me have trouble managing that kind of ridiculously high purchase price. I’m still saving to buy Season 2.

So Aeryn and Crichton, having been blown to bits in the midst of a passionate kiss, are sort of dead. I say sort of, because obviously there must be an out in order for “Peacekeeper Wars” to exist. I’ll just confirm that yes there is, and leave it for you to see yourself. It’s not the dumbest way to resurrect characters that I’ve ever seen, nor is it the worst. Actually, there was a certain amount of beautifully sad, depressing poetry in the thought that the show would end with them obliterated in their first moment of real happiness… but I digress. It didn’t end that way, things went on, and here we are.

The romance between Aeryn Sun and John Crichton has always been the real heart of the show, even when it wasn’t so much a romance as it was a sequence of sweeping take-down kicks to John’s legs. Of course that only works because of the fantastic effort from Ben Browder and Claudia Black. Black isn’t your traditional hottie and as such brings something unique and powerful to the show. Browder is like the father figure of “Farscape”, his wry, sarcastic smile and confusing (to his shipmates) pop culture references providing humor, style, and depth to every moment of the show. Their relationship remains the center of the “Farscape” universe here, as our group struggles to survive in the midst of a growing galactic war. John, with the secrets to wormholes trapped in his head is the ultimate trump card for either side to win the war… and so they want him more than ever. To secure happiness for his wife (yes they get married) and his family (oh and Aeryn is pregnant), John decides that he MUST end it, one way or another.

Really, wormholes and the galactic war are just one aspect of this massively complicated mini-series as it tries desperately to cram what should have been a season’s worth of slowly developed, character driven “Farscape” episodes into a couple of hours. This isn’t just about John and Aeryn after all, but a big cast of amazing and beloved characters all brought together for one last bow. D’Argo, Chiana, Stark, Scorpius, Jool, Pilot, Braca, Grayza, everyone is here and “Peacekeeper Wars” tries desperately to bring their character arcs to fruition. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Zhaan somehow made a cameo from beyond the grave, but thankfully, beloved though she is, she’s left out of it.

That’s the only real problem with “Peacekeeper Wars”, there’s simply not enough time. “Farscape” has never been a high octane action show. Sure, there’s action in it, but it always develops at a very slow pace, taking time to pay attention to the minutia of character reaction. Director Brian Henson has no time for any of that now, forced to cram everything in for one last gasp, he does his best to make the most of the post-mortem gift he’s been given. The result is something that doesn’t always feel the same as the “Farscape” we’re used to, but manages still to remain satisfying.

Perhaps the biggest treat for “Farscape” fans is the improved effects, punched up with a larger, one-time budget. “Farscape” has always been one of the most visually creative and beautiful shows on television, now with more money to throw around it is positively glowing. Granted, I could have done without their attempts at an underwater, CGI Rigel, but the ship designs are massive and beautiful. Explosions blossom with spectacular color and battles take place on a scale never before dreamed of in the normal course of a regular television show. Even the already impressive costumes seem to have been taken up a notch, with the creature effects from the Jim Henson Company more eye-popping than ever. Puppets people! Use more puppets! “Farscape” has show how well that can be done. Muppets aren’t just for kids.

Heck, “Farscape” isn’t for kids. Though rushed and cramped, “Peacekeeper Wars” is a good wrap up of one of the most adult, intelligent, emotionally gripping pieces of science fiction ever conceived. It’s a shame the show didn’t get a proper goodbye, but for fans, this will do nicely. I do however, wish they’d used the show’s theme song. Those opening credits always gave me chills. Am I the only person who dug it? “Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars” is a mini-series strictly for fans, and caters to that audience admirably. If you aren’t already a fan, start buying the series DVDs. You’ll have to work your way up to this one. Since “Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars” is basically a goodbye to the show’s fans, you’d think the DVD would be loaded with features geared in that same direction. It isn’t, unless you call one thirty minute feature loaded. This is a two-disc set after all. The first disc contains the feature, the second disc the extras. It’s a waste of a second disc.

On disc two you’ll find one really wonderful making of documentary entitled XXX. It delves briefly in to just why “Farscape” got cancelled and why it’s back as a miniseries, as well as briefly following around the cast and crew during “Peacekeeper Wars’” production. It’s well done, and filled with a lot of tearful goodbyes and thank yous to the people who have supported this show. As the capper on a disc loaded with extras, this would be a wonderful documentary. As the only thing included on the second disc that isn’t a lame production art photo gallery, it’s a bit of a let down.

Yes, there’s some production art. Not very much of it. Some of it is pretty dumb too. They actually included pictures of old paint cans. I was excited when I saw something on the disc labeled “Ship Gallery”, but it’s also poorly done and includes only a few un-rendered images of ships with nothing to label them or point out anything interesting about them.

I guess I shouldn’t have expected much in the way of special features. I suppose I should be happy to have “Peacekeeper Wars” in a crisp, beautiful format. I am. I just wish they’d included enough material to justify a 2-disc set. After all, this is likely the last we’ll see of “Farscape”. During the brief documentary, several people mention a desire to move “Farscape” into feature films, but who knows if that’ll ever happen. I’m not sure it’d work very well on the silver screen if it did (though I'd love to see them try). “Farscape” will never have mass appeal, no matter how much I personally love it. That makes this quite likely a final adios for the show, and it would have been nice to see the thing allowed to say goodbye properly. It looks like that isn’t going to happen, so just be happy the people involved were allowed to say anything. “Farscape” will be dearly missed in my life, and no amount of cheesy “Stargate” spin-offs can possibly replace it. It joins a select group of amazing television science fiction, and should sit proudly on any shelf alongside “Star Trek” and “Babylon 5”.