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The best Farscape will likely ever look and sound.
on 18 December 2011
So Farscape finally makes its way to Blu-ray, but it definitely comes with a 'buyer beware'. I say this because, as you may already be aware, the 35mm negatives and prints used to create this landmark cult series have gone on an Australian 'walkabout'... they're nowhere to be found. This led A&E to source the highest quality versions of the episodes in existence, which happened to be PAL 720x576i master videotapes, and employing the use of state of the art upscaling algorithms and other digital trickery, they have created an upscaled 1080p 'HD' transfer. As a result, while you should not expect anything like a series of similar age sourced from original film negatives, the results are still impressive. There is a subtle overall increase in sharpness and detail in comparison to the DVD's, and a definite increase in quality as regards compression... or rather lack of it compared to the previous DVD sets. Contrast and colour have also been tweaked to show the details that were already there in a far better light. What you end up with is a 'psedudo HD', for want of a better description. Of course I'd have preferred real 1080p from 35mm film, but I absolutely love the set all the same. If you don't feel confident of purchasing the set based on what I have to say, seek out the interview online with New Video's Dan Kenny, and the accompanying before and after screenshot comparisons. You will see that the increase in detail is subtle to say the least, but it is there, and there is an overall sharper look to the characters features. Of course it still has a certain softness to it, but I guess that really couldn't be helped given what they had to work with.
This is for all the "it should have come in widescreen" brigade:
The first 3 seasons were SHOT in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. That's "full screen", or 4:3... i.e. NOT widescreen. Meaning on Blu-ray you have forced black borders at the sides of the screen on a widescreen TV. This is a GOOD thing. It respects the way the show was produced, and to have gotten a widescreen transfer from the source material they would have had to pan scan/zoom. Meaning faces cut off at the eyebrows, or chopping people's legs off. Too much top/bottom screen information is lost, and it looks *ridiculous*. I own a couple of series that got this treatment and it makes for horrible, claustrophobic viewing. Further, what detail was gained from the upscaling process would have been lost. I've added this paragraph to my review in answer to ill informed reviewers low scoring the set or other Blu-ray sets like it (Star Trek The Original Series, for example) for something that was unavoidable. Farscape Season 4 was shot in 1.78:1 widescreen, so that plays in widescreen... filling the entirety of your 16:9 TV.
Seeing as they couldn't give us an all singing, all dancing full HD picture, they have really gone to town on the audio. The DTS-HD MA track is a whole world away from all previous releases that used compression based formats. There are sounds here I have honestly never noticed before, and the sweeping title score really gets the ol' goosebumps tingling. Channel separation is amazing, and the rear speakers are respected as much as the central speaker's dialogue. It sounds amazing... and very punchy.
All the extras from the last DVD set have made the journey over, which will entertain fans for many hours. The audio commentaries from the previous set are also present and correct. Unlike the previous DVD release, we also have subtitles, if only in English. However, the real meat on the bones of the set's features is an exclusive, newly shot 36 minute full HD featurette, 'Memories of Moya', featuring the musings of the stars and production crew as they look back on their time making Farscape. As all the previous DVD extras were made some time ago, this new featurette gives fans a new and fresh perspective as regards the cast and crew's thoughts on Farscape.
Due to licensing issues, A&E were not at liberty to include The Peacekeeper Wars on the set, which is a great shame, but I have it on fairly good authority that the license owner is working on a Blu-ray of the mini-series. Of course a Peacekeeper Wars Blu-ray has already been released in Germany, but the transfer is poor and it apparently contains no extras.
Overall, I'm more than happy with the set. However, I knew what to expect. I'm not so sure impulse buyers or those expecting a crisp true HD picture quality will greet it as warmly. But if they come across my review I'd ask them to consider the future. If they ever buy a larger TV or 2k/4k screen, the DVD's can only ever get worse. This is the best Farscape will likely ever look, at least for many years, and with uncompressed audio it is certainly the best it will ever sound. For fans who already own the DVD set asking if they should upgrade, I'd say it depends on the individual. If you're the type who, like myself, will take that subtle increase in picture quality and be glad of it, of course. Same for those with very large screens, and those capable of decoding the amazing HD audio. This will no doubt leave a good deal of people who will be happy to save some money and keep their DVD sets, or at least hang around for a considerable price drop.