Farscape, and Cutting to the Bone

Farscape, for those of you who don’t know (which could be almost all of you) was a Sci Fi show that ran in the US on the channel that used to have that name, from 1999-2003 (four seasons). It was a dual US/UK production, shot in Australia where most of the cast and crew were from, and as such I always thought it had a uniquely “blended” feel that made it stand out from other shows that might be all US, UK, or Australian creations. I was a big enough fan to buy DVD’s as they became available, and it’s still one of my favorite shows of its kind.

Because the first season originally ran on Australian television as well (and, I believe aired there a bit before they did in the US), the “hour-long” episodes of that season were actually about 4 to 6 minutes longer in their original incarnation. Yes, my fellow Americans, the rest of the world *is* actually less inundated with commercials than we are. On the first DVD season, the episodes ran at their original length, as opposed to with “Deleted scenes” appended at the end. Watching the DVDs for the first time was thus a different experience from seeing them as they had played out in the manner they originally aired in the US, after the cuts.

In general, I found that I liked the unedited versions a good deal better. Of course I may have been a bit biased, seeing as how I had liked them at the length at which I had first seen them to buy the series. It would be expected that I would like more of something I already liked even more than I liked less of it. But really, there was a bit more to it than that.

The cuts between the Australian and US versions were largely of two types. Obviously no major plot points were going to get snipped out of an episode, so the stuff that went were largely things that did not impede the narrative by their absence. First were the sort of “connective tissue” bits between more important scenes. For example, if half the crew goes from the ship (Moya) to a planet, and the audience knows from earlier episodes that the only way down is via a shuttle craft (transport pod), you can lose the scene where Aeryn and Ka D’Argo actually fly down, and go right to where they show up on the planet to save Crichton from whatever mess into which he has wittily blundered. The audience can fill that bit in for themselves without having their collective hand held, and those scenes don’t add much either to an episode, or to the show as a whole.

The other sort of scenes that got the editorial axe for the sake of time, however, were what I will term “character scenes.” They were mostly quieter moments with two or more characters talking; either adding a bit of (Gasp! The horror!) exposition around the edges of the episode (“You know, that planet down there wasn’t always like this…”) or else the characters revealing more about themselves, either through their decision-making or with something touching on their backstories. Sometimes things were brought up that had absolutely no bearing on a given episode, yet they returned subsequently to inform later episodes or even later seasons. Even if some of those seeds weren’t planted for US audiences, they plainly had been for the writers and actors involved.

Just to repeat, I enjoyed Farscape enough even without those scenes which had been excised to buy it on DVD, as I knew it was the kind of thing I would watch again. I was a fan, even before discovering that there had been more to some of the episodes than I had known when originally watching them. But I did, every time, like them more after seeing what I had missed. For me, the characters were richer, the stories were fuller, and the over-all “world” of the whole show was expanded.

An awful lot of the writing advice delivered by the self-proclaimed experts involves cutting down everything not absolutely critical to advancing the story. Keep it moving, keep it simple, cut to the chase, so forth and so on. That’s fine, and to tell you the truth, it’s probably good advice to make your book more accessible to a wider number of people, as let’s face it: Not every reader (or writer) is a rocket scientist. And not even every rocket scientist picks up a book every time looking for anything more than entertainment or diversion. The cultural attention span seems to shrink by the millisecond, and giving people less may be a good way to avoid boring some of them. That is the heart and soul of aiming for mass consumption – speak to the least common denominator in all of us.

But let me ask you this. Think about your favorite book of all time, or maybe your ever-revolving list of the top ten or so. How many of them do you love because they were just so slick and action-packed? Because they just floored it from page one and never let up? Because reading them was, which so often seems to be the goal, just like watching a movie? Are all your favorites like that? Or, did some of them stay with you because there was something more to them? Did they speak to you, like the author was inside your head or your life, even for just a moment? When people talk about reading books that changed their lives, they usually aren’t talking about the novelization of Transformers XII.

No, I am not saying that every book needs to strive to be a classic, nor that every author nor reader needs to take every little thing so serious that reading and writing becomes some agonizing intellectual exercise for everyone involved. But I am saying that, for me, I sure hope that some writers in all fields continue to strive to create something more than just a “good read” or a “decent watch” every time. I can’t think of a single book, TV show, or movie that I love, of which I wish there was less.


As always in closing, another real one-star review of a real book, by a real reader.

“I’ve read War and Peace, but I can’t remember anything about it execpt it was, to me, dry and dull.” (sic)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Author: M. Edward McNally

Epic fantasy author M. Edward McNally is a North Carolinian of Irish/Mexican extraction. He has a Masters in English Lit from ISU and Russian/East European History from ASU. He grew up mostly in the Midwest along I-35 northbound (KS, IA, MN), and now resides in the scrub brush surrounding Phoenix AZ, where the scorpions and javelinas play. Learn more about Ed at his blog, and his Amazon author page.

8 thoughts on “Farscape, and Cutting to the Bone”

  1. Great post, Ed. I love those “small” moments. Most of my favorite books are HUGE and wide-ranging tomes that Hollywood has shredded in the making of the movie or TV show. Sometimes, sure, a story wants to be tighter, more intense, but you know what they say about variety and life and stuff. I hope future creative pursuits will not all cut to the chase!

  2. Very good points you make there, Ed. I agree with you that visciously cutting every line that doesn’t advance the plot may not always be the right thing that a story needs. Well done for arguing the case so well.

  3. I loved this post Ed. That ‘something more’ is what I’m forever looking for in both books and movies but then I’m one of those weird people who watch favourite movies again and again and can re-read a favourite book once a year until eternity or death, whichever comes first.

    Finding something ‘more’ in my favourites is what we gamers call replay value. Sadly that concept seems to be dying out in other areas. Everything is designed with planned obsolescence in mind so that we are forced to go out and buy something new.

    It seems so wrong that books are heading down that path as well.:(

  4. Excellent post- and yes, I like Farscape too. I fully understand about the cutting part- recently I adapted my book Space Junk into a screenplay. I thought I did a pretty good job. It wasn’t easy incising out all those lovely “character” moments, but I knew they weren’t a needed part of the main storyline. After sending my script off to coverage, I was surprised to only find a couple notes about other scenes (which I thought were relevant to the storyline) needed to be hacked. They want just the facts, Jack.

    Wow, and Hollywood is brutal! Case in point: we saw the new Dredd movie last night and that was a flick pretty much cut to the bone. There were slow-motion scenes designed to depict what it was like on the slo-mo drug, and actually I thought those were rather outlandish and somewhat overdone and slowed the pace of the movie. But to each his (or her) own. Personally, I would have liked to known the characters a bit more- especially if there will be a sequel- so I know who I’m cheering for.

    There will never be a happy medium, and I continue on my journey of exploring what is writing and creation. And I have loads of sci-fi in the Netflix queue!

  5. Great post. I am also a Farscape fan, for the record, and agree with your assessment. One of the biggest losses was the scene from A Human Reaction. I don’t think I need to elaborate.

    At any rate, one of my favorite books is “The Stand.” I read the originally published material, wherein King had left about 300 pages on the cutting room floor at the request of his publisher. I then read the full version that was re-released in the 1990s or so.

    What a world of difference. So much of the detail that I’d wanted–Fran’s reaction to the world falling apart, for exampled, what that world looked like, all the stuff that would scare the bejeebus out of me as civilization collapses…That was the missing from the original. Yeah, maybe the already long story was more streamlined the first time, but the addition just enriched the experience…

    …much like those missing Farscape scenes…

    I’ve been trying to excise a lot of yakkety-yak from my current story. Maybe that’s a necessary thing but it kind of hurts to let go of some of those character moments.

  6. Excellent post. Yes, the season 1 Farscape eps were made in 2 versions because they ran on BBC with no commercials at all, so BBC wanted about 50 min of program vs Sci Fi wanting about 44.

    To minimize the expense of shooting that much additional footage, the “extra” scenes were usually designed as simple two-character conversations–never crucial to the plot, of course–that could be filmed very quickly.

    Sometimes they were pure filler–but sometimes, as you note, they did provide a pleasant break in the action and a worthwhile character moment.

    Still, they were a PITA all round, and for season 2+, BBC agreed to accept shorter eps, and that ended the “extra” scenes; s2+ eps had the same length everywhere.

    I agree that the “if it can be cut, it SHOULD be cut” philosophy isn’t the best idea in every instance; sometimes a “breather” scene not vital to the plot is just what the doctor ordered…

    ..but OTOH, particularly in movies these days, I find myself reacting “That could’ve easily been shorter” MUCH more often than “Gee, that was too short.”

    And 95% of the time when I watch the deleted scenes on a dvd, I wind up agreeing with the cuts.

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