O-Deckers, I have been waitinig for this moment since I started doing this column. Now it’s arrived. I can finally start doing Midweek Trivia for Farscape episodes!

Advertisement

Farscape is one of my favorite sci-fi shows of all time. Depending on my mood at the moment, it and B5 can jump between one and two. It is certainly up as one of my favorite shows overall. What puts it over other shows I love like Babylon 5 or ST:Deep Space Nine, was that while those shows were good, you knew for the most part what you were getting. There may be aliens but they would be humanoid and be something relatable. Most of the time they would fall into the Planet Of Hats trope. Farscape was different. It was made for the Jim Henson Company to have a chance to show off what they could do on a week by week basis with a television budget. The first episode, “Premiere” first aired March 19th, 1999, so that is what we are gong to dig into.


The idea for the show dates back to 1992. Brian Henson discussed the origins.

Rockne S. O’Bannon came on in 1993 and pitches the idea of an American astronaut who was stranded in another galaxy as the lead character.[1][2]


The producers wanted to make sure that time was spent establishing Crichton’s life on Earth since it would be a long time before the show went back there and they wanted to set up relationships that would resonate throughout the show. The role of John’s father Jack was originally going to be cast in Australia but when no one was found David Kemper made a call to a friend, American actor Kent McCord and McCord was on a place to Sydney in 24 hours. It was important to have that scene with Crichton and his father to set up the relationship, of Crichton being the son of a famous astronaut who was now trying to get out of his father’s shadow and make a name for himself [1]

Advertisement

O’Bannon: We were very lucky to get Kent McCord to come on board. We were trying to cast the role in Australia, just could not find anyone to do it, and David Kemper - the executive producer of the series - said “Look, I’m a friend of Kent’s, if you ... let me call, I don’t know what he’s doing, I don’t know if he’s available...” and we said “Well call because we need him down here in a couple of days!”

Henson: It was literally a couple of days before we needed him.

Advertisement

Sponsored

O’Bannon: Yeah, I know, Kent was on a plane like within 24 hours. And I think really gives the show ... it’s nice to have a familiar face, essentially the only familiar face you know in the series, and obviously met with a lot of TV history and weight. So, great way to start off the series.

Browder: Yeah, he looks like a hero and he reminds the audience that ... they all feel like they know him and they feel like they know the astronaut so he plays the hero role very well and actually gives Crichton there something to live up to.

[John and Jack Crichton walking the halls of IASA together]

Jack: I mean the guys in button-down collars and the neckties, they got to use their brains. Only thing I ever got to use was the...

John: Guts.

Advertisement

O’Bannon: This scene to me was one that was very, very important..

.Henson: Enormously important this scene was...

Advertisement

O’Bannon: Yeah. The idea, you know, of trying to live in the shadow of a well-known father and having to be concerned about living up to his image and the notion of being a hero not in a con-... yes in the way you expect to be a hero. yes All of us - I feel - need to be prepared because you ... as Kent says here ... you never know how you’re going to be called upon to be the hero in your life whether it’s being a good parent or a good Spouse, or whatever it is. It’s something you have to be prepared for and you don’t know when it’s going to come about. And as I watch the series, the subsequent episodes, every single one, and I see what’s thrown at John Crichton, it always resonates back to this scene for me.

The scene with Jack, John’s father and DK, his partner on the experiment and friend in Mission Control after the module is sucked into the wormhole was not there initially. Rockne discussed how that scene was added later to keep people from thinking that the asteroid field the module ends up in was a destroyed Earth. [1][3]


John Crichton and his father Jack are astronauts with the International Aeronautics and Space Administration. The writers wanted to make them NASA employees but NASA required script approval before use of the logo was allowed. Thusly, the fictional agency was created. [3]

Advertisement

The Space Shuttle Collaroy is what brings up the module. It’s a suburb of Sydney, Australia [1].

Browder Yeah, and one of the things the audience usually misses when they see that shuttle, because it was specially built, if you look closely on the side - run that tape back - it says “Collaroy.” It’s the Shuttle Collaroy. Look very closely and uh ... because it launched from Australia. [Brian and Rockne laughing] Collaroy is a suburb of Northern Beaches and Sydney Australia. I think it’s where Andrew Prowse directed the {outsiders} is from. It’s a fantastic little detail. It’s threaded through Farscape.

Casting for the roles of Ka D’argo and Zhan had been cut down to three candidates on each list. They were brought in to do reads together. When Anthony Simcoe got paired with Virginia Hey, O’Bannon turned to producer Matt Carroll and said “If we had a 35mm camera here we could start shooting the show.”[1]

Advertisement

Advertisement

Looking for D’argo and Zhaan in particular we had whittled the list down to I think three candidates for each of the roles. And I went down to Australia and we got all six of them in a studio and just started to pair them up. We had some sides, some scenes for them to play, a Zhaan-D’argo scene that was written just for the audition process, and we got there and started to pair them up. And the minute we got Anthony and Virginia together I turned to Matt Carroll, the Australian producer of the series, and said, “If we had a 35mm camera here we could start shooting the show.”” They were that clearly the choices for those two roles.

Browder: yes Then Brian said, “No, no. I want to put some prosthetics and some blue paint on them first.”

[all laughing]

Advertisement

Henson: On Anthony, yeah, we had to. He looked way too much like a person. But I think Virginia was one of those that ... boy, she walked in and she was the part! Anthony, when you first meet him, he doesn’t actually seem to you ... he doesn’t actually come across as D’argo. He’s the one ... he does an enormous shift when he gets into that character, he shifts so far out of his own personality it’s really quite cool to watch what he does. Virginia, was just a natural. She walked in and that was, she was Zhaan.

O’Bannon: yes We were so anxious for Zhaan because she’s a priest and that usually carries the baggage of being someone who keeps experience at arm’s length and we didn’t want that for Zhaan. We wanted Zhaan to be someone who felt the way to become one with the universe was not to hold experience at arm’s length but to embrace it.

Henson: And suck the marrow out of life!

Advertisement

Advertisement

O’Bannon: yes Yes! But truly, that is Virginia!


An effort was made to distinguish between the design of Moya, the living Leviathan and the Peacekeeper military ships. Ricky Eyers, the production designer, based the look of Moya on the work of Spanish artist Gaudi, while the Peacekeepers were based on early 29th century Russian industrial design [1]



Depending on the scene there could be anywhere from two to five puppeteers controlling Rygel at any given time.[1]

Advertisement

Henson: Well, there’s actually five but it’s effectively a character that can kind of be worked by four. John Eccleston is working the head with his hand up inside the head and he’s doing the lip-sync with his other hand with a cable control on his belt. Then there’s another puppeteer doing the expressions on his face and the eye movements, and then there’s one puppeteer on each hand. Sometimes on the face they put two on and that’s why sometimes it becomes five puppeteers. Sometimes one puppeteer will just do the pupils to make sure they’re maintaining the right ... correct eye lines. Because if a character misses its eye lines then it really feels dead.

One major advantage live puppets on sets had versus CGI was that the actors could interact with them, which helped with the performance. Ben Browder went into further details on that[1]

O’Bannon: Talk a little bit about what you discovered in terms of the interaction with the puppets.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Browder: Well, you know, the interaction with the puppets ... see the advantage to the puppets is twofold. One is because they’re not CGI you can get your hands on them. You can play with them, you can interact with them right then and there. You can hit them, they can hit you. You can, you know, you can have a scene right there on the day. And the other advantage to the puppets is that you have performers behind them which is live and so you have another creative element which comes onto the floor to help bring the words to life and to bring the images to life. And I guess they’re also quicker as well. But it’s just awesome what these guys do with it. And you know, g and Pilot are state of the art animatronics. They’re actually worth more than me, I think they’re actually paid more than me. [All laughing] Is that true?

Henson: They might be more expensive than you to get on the screen.

Browder: I tell you, it cost much a lot more to get Rygel through college than it did me. What I found to be a revelation and is probably one of the secrets of working with puppets is that I discovered I think in episode four is getting your hands on them. You know, a puppeteer comes out of a long line of punch and Judy and you know that the physicality of puppets is what makes them funny, is what makes them work. And if you get your hands on them, it makes them real and it makes you react to them and all this actory stuff that you know is probably not interesting to anybody...

Advertisement

Henson: No, it’s an action-reaction. If you touch a puppet it pushes back at you.

Browder: Yeah, but it does, it makes it real and it forces ... but it forces the puppeteer to do something as well. Sometimes they don’t like it. The first time I actually hit Rygel ... [laughing] ... can you imagine, you know? Cause you know, Rygel costs like twenty million dollars [O’Bannon and Henson laugh], and if he breaks a cervo we lose a day of working. The puppeteers, they were ... Johnny Eccleston is underneath and he was like, cool. He was diggin’ it cause you know ... but the guys in charge of keeping Rygel in one piece were going nuts because John and I didn’t tell them. We didn’t tell them it was gonna happen and then they saw ... we just sort of rehearsed it and the first time I did it, I give Rygel a nice clock on the back of the head and he hits his face on the edge of a counter and he comes up choking and gagging. “Cut!” Like, 12 people from ... “No, man! Is the puppet ok? Is the puppet ok?” But it’s actually fine, you can actually manhandle them and you can work them and you can do stunts with these guys and you know, it’s a fantastic interaction that they give us and that’s one of the great things that the show has going for it.

According to the commentary Pilot was a large puppet that stood between six and eight feet tall from his waste. His head was three feet deep and two feet wide. It was the most sophisticated puppet made by Hendon’s Creatue Shop at the time. The entire puppet was controlled by a computer system which allowe control by a single puppeteer [1] the episode contained more CGI shots than the entire movie Independence Day. [4]. Last but not least, the characters are Crichton, Aryen, D’Argo Rygel, Pilot and Jack are the only characters to appear in the Premiere and the finale “Bad Timing”


Well folks, there you have it. Some fascinating insight into the making of one of Sci-Fi’s greatest productions. There is a lot more I didn’t touch on, such as the music and the casting of Claudia Black. I encourage you to check out the commentary transcript, it’s a fascinating look at the making of this unique show. I hope you all enjoyed this trip down the trivia rabbit hole and I will see you all on the next Midweek Trivia.


Resources:

1. DVD Commentary, “Premiere”

Advertisement

Advertisement

2. “Farscape Chronicles” -Starburst Edition DVD v1.1

3. “Cool Farscape Facts” - Starburst Edition DVD v1.1

4. (Farscape: The Illustrated Companion)