Interview - Farscape

FARSCAPE CREATOR

Ben Browder as John Crichton, Farscape's far-off astronaut

An interview with Rockne S O’Bannon, the man behind the offbeat SF television hit Farscape

by David Bassom

  Selected from Starburst #267

After building Alien Nation and launching seaQuest DSV, Rockne S O’Bannon has opened a wormhole to the biggest critical and commercial success of his career with his latest TV series creation, Farscape. A wildly entertaining blend of drama, adventure, comedy and eye-popping Jim Henson Company-designed aliens, Farscape has rapidly emerged as one of the boldest, brightest and most refreshing genre offerings of recent years.

Farscape is the third television series that I’ve created, and it’s the first one that’s taken off this well from the start,” notes O’Bannon. “It’s also the best-made one. It’s very exciting to be a part of a project where every aspect seems to gel, from the acting to the writing to the production side to all that. It doesn’t happen that often. Well, it hasn’t happened to me before,” he admits with a chuckle, “and it’s really exciting that it has.”

Although Farscape only made its début on the US Sci-Fi Channel in March 1999, O’Bannon has actually been working on the series for the best part of a decade. He was originally charged with the task of creating the series in 1993, following a meeting with The Henson Company’s then-newly installed President, Brian Henson.

“Brian wanted to do a show that wasn’t a Muppet show or wasn’t a family show,” recalls O’Bannon. “He wanted to do something that would show all the facets of what their company was capable of in terms of animatronic creatures. They were also just getting into computer-generated creatures, and they were interested in that. Plus Brian’s a young guy, his interests are not just family-orientated. I think he wanted to have a show that would put his imprimatur on the company; I believe he’d only taken over from his father [the late Muppet creator, Jim Henson] a couple of years earlier.

A ship show

“They wanted to do a ship show: that was the thought. Essentially, I think as the CAA people [O’Bannon and The Jim Henson Company’s agents] put it, they wanted to do the Star Wars (Cantina) bar as a weekly series. And so I went away and thought about it and came back with the seeds of what was then called Space Chase before it became Farscape.”

Armed with the key parameters, O’Bannon came up with the show’s simple yet brilliant central premise. Set in the present day, Farscape follows the adventures of an American astronaut and scientist, Commander John Crichton (Ben Browder), who finds himself propelled into a distant alien galaxy. Once there, Crichton reluctantly joins forces with a group of escaped prisoners aboard a living ship, Moya.

“I think the thing that truly does distinguish the show is the notion of a man from our time dropped into this alien universe,” says O’Bannon. “It isn’t Buck Rogers: it isn’t someone who falls asleep and wakes up centuries later in the future. It isn’t Star Trek, which takes place hundreds of years in the future. It isn’t Star Wars, which takes place in a galaxy far, far away. This is today. And the fellow at the centre of our show is one of us – he represents you or me or any member of the audience. He’s seen all the same movies that we have and he’s got all the same cultural references, but the poor guy’s essentially dropped into a galaxy innumerable light years away. It gives us that wonderful, fascinating touchstone that we can all identify with..."

O'Bannon on Delvian culture

Zh'aan's fellow Delvian priestess from Rhapsody in Blue

O'Bannon had the firm intention of playing with viewers' perceptions of Farscape's regular aliens as the series developed.

“For the central notion of the piece to work, I felt the characters initially had to be – in their own ways – kind of icons of aliens we’ve seen in other places, with everything from Worf to Obi-Wan Kenobi to Wizard of Oz analogies.

“That aspect of it was very much by design. The other half of that design was to steer away from the iconographic nature of the characters from the first moment. I think we did that in the Première episode.”

O’Bannon uses the character of Zhaan (Virginia Hey) to illustrate his point. “She’s a priest, but is a very sensual being. We normally think of priests as ones who hold experience at arm’s length; they aren’t particularly sensual individuals.

"But in the Delvian culture, the way one becomes one with the universe is to embrace contact and embrace interaction. So the fact that Zhaan is referred to as a priest in the Première episode but is a very sexual, sensual being starts to turn that [stereotype] on its ear.”

These are just excerpts. For the full five-page feature covering O'Bannon's thoughts on Seasons One and Two, read on by getting Starburst #267

Starburst #267

External Links:
Official Site (Henson)

BBC Cult TV

Kieriahn's Farscape Starcharts
(best fan site for news)

See also these Farscape cover features:
Starburst Special #43 (Virginia Hey interview)
Cult Times #57 (Ben Browder interview)
TV Zone #129 (Claudia Black interview)

Images © The Henson Company

Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction