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Thursday, 04 April 2019 22:52

Retro Release Day: Farscape: Starburst Edition – 4-disc versions (2004)

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Today’s Retro Release Day title here at The Bits is one that caught the eye of more than a few of our readers in the background of photos I’ve posted of recent Retro Release Day titles. I’m speaking of ADV Films’ 4-disc Farscape: Starburst Edition DVDs!

Farscape, which celebrated its 20th anniversary on March 19, was a Sci-Fi Channel original series that debuted in 1999 from The Jim Henson Company and Hallmark Entertainment. An Australian-American production, the live action science fiction series was created by Rockne S. O’Bannon and starred Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, Paul Goddard, Lani Tupu, and Wayne Pygram.

The series was first released on DVD starting in 2001 by ADV Films in a regular DVD edition (with 2 episodes per set plus extras on one DVD-9 disc). This was followed in 2005 by an initial Starburst Edition release (with 6-7 episodes per set plus additional extras on 2 DVD-18 discs). Both releases presented the series in the original broadcast 1.33:1 (or 4x3) TV aspect ratio, save for Season Four which switched production to 1.78:1 (or 16x9). Audio was lossy Dolby Digital. [Read on here...]

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Here’s what the very first DVD release looked like (below left) and the first Starburst Edition release (below right)...

Farscape regular edition and Farscape: Starburst Edition (DVD)

Obviously, the Starburst Editions proved wildly popular, especially given that each set packed more content and more elaborate special features. But... there was a problem.

As longtime home theater and DVD fans will remember, early DVD-18 format discs (double-sided and double-layered on each side) were notoriously susceptible to replication errors, “layer” rot, and bonding problems. These problems were so widespread, in fact, that ADV stopped making them. Instead, the company went back and re-authored the initial Starburst Editions as 4-disc sets, with the exact same content but on 4 DVD-9s per package. They then proceeded to release the entire series in these 4-disc Starburst Editions. And here’s what they looked like...

Farscape: Starburst Edition (DVD)

Farscape: Starburst Edition (DVD)

There were 12 volumes in all (numbered 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3), containing all 88 episodes. Ironically, fans preferred these releases for still another reason: The thicker plastic cases reinforced the notion that you were getting more value. And, of course, the metallic foil cover artwork was attractive too.

Farscape: Starburst Edition (DVD)

But... there was once again a bit of a problem: Those later 4-disc Starburst Editions were released in smaller numbers. So assembling a complete set of the 4-disc Starburst Editions proved a challenge. I actually had to chase the last few volumes down on eBay myself.

Farscape: Starburst Edition (DVD)

As you can see in the image above, the Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars miniseries DVD packaging doesn’t match. That’s because the home video rights to the miniseries were owned by Lionsgate Entertainment, which distributed for Hallmark Entertainment. They released it on DVD separately, also in 2005.

For a few years, this was the best version of the series you could get on home video, until A&E and New Video obtained the distribution rights to the series in the US in 2009 and released a 26-disc Farscape: The Complete Series DVD box set. Unfortunately, the Starburst Edition video quality was better, many of its extras didn’t carry over, and again... the set did not include The Peacekeeper Wars. That was a bummer, because the miniseries is essentially the conclusion of the series, which ended in a Season 4 cliffhanger before Sci-Fi cancelled the show. Here’s what the A&E/New Video DVD set looked like...

Farscape: The Complete Series (DVD)

Then, with the advent of the Blu-ray format in 2006, fans began to wonder if the series was HD-ready. The answer, as you might be expecting by now, was complicated.

Though it was shot on 35mm photochemical film, post-production for Farscape was finished in SD resolution. But it was finished in PAL format (625-line/50-field interlaced at 25 frames per second, or 576i – 576 visible lines of resolution) vs. American NTSC SD (525-line/60-field interlaced at 30 frames per second, or 486i – 486 visible lines of resolution). That meant the PAL (international) DVD release offered approximately 20% more resolution. And that was good news, because the original 35mm film is (at least it was at the time) missing.

So the 576i/25 fps PAL master videotapes were used as the source material and the signal was upsampled to 1080p. The resulting Blu-ray edition was released by New Video in complete season sets starting in 2011, and eventually in a Complete Series box set in late 2013 in honor of the show’s 15th Anniversary. The Blu-rays also feature 4x3 for Seasons 1-3 and 16x9 for Season 4, plus lossless DTS-HD Master Audio sound mixes. Here’s what that final BD set looked like...

Farscape: The Complete Series (Blu-ray Disc)

And again... The Peacekeeper Wars was not included. In fact, the miniseries was only available on Blu-ray in Germany at the time (2011). Lionsgate, which still owned the US rights, didn’t bother releasing a Blu-ray in the States. To this day, there is still no US Blu-ray release of this miniseries, a high crime if ever there was one. There is, however, an Australian Blu-ray release that works in Region A and was released by Via Vision Entertainment in 2015. Here’s that...

Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (Australian Blu-ray Disc)

Today, of course, you can watch the entire series – including the miniseries – on Amazon Prime. And yet, the original Starburst Edition DVDs are still highly coveted. Why? Because many of the extras available on those DVD sets are available nowhere else. So if you’re a fan, keep ’em if you’ve got ’em!

Farscape: Starburst Edition (DVD)

That’s it for today’s Retro Release Day! Check back on Tuesday for the next installment, and if you share links to this column on social media, be sure to use tag #RetroReleaseDay.

Stay tuned...

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