Futurama is one of my favorite cartoon shows. When it was cancelled a few years back, I went ahead and collected the four fine dvd season sets and proceeded to watch them whenever I had time. Truth is, if you are a nerd like me, Futurama is much funnier than the Simpsons and deserved much more than seventy two episodes. Somebody listened. The people at Fox decided there was more life to Futurama and ordered up four straight to dvd movies which will be cut up among sixteen episodes for a fifth season. The first one is titled: Bender’s Big Score. Here is hoping that the plot isn’t Bender getting involved with a larger female robot (I think he already did that in a previous episode).
The story starts out where the series kinda left off. It’s been two years since the executives at the Box Network have cancelled Planet Express’s contract. The executives who made the decision were fired and hence Planet Express was back in business. After a short party where Hermes is decapitated (his head is naturally placed in a jar while his body gets repaired), the crew embarks on a mission to a nude beach planet. The crew decides to take a break and participate in some sun-bathing (au natural of course). There they meet three scammer aliens who convince the crew to sign some petitions and get their email addresses.
Upon their return to earth, the Planet Express crew realize that all of their email is clogged with spam & various offers that have to do with Nigerian princes & lottery prizes. After Bender gets a virus & Professor Farnsworth falls for a Spanish Lottery email where he has to give his bank information, the cast realizes that Planet Express has been taken over by the three alien scammers. Once the spammers move in, they discover that Fry’s rear end has a very special tattoo of Bender. The tattoo upon further examination reveals a secret code to paradox correcting time travel. The scammers then use the code and send Bender (who is under control from the virus) to secure various items from the past. This starts a large series of misadventures for Bender & the crew of Planet Express and leads to a giant finale with a most unfortunate aftermath.
The harsh reality is that Bender’s Big Score is merely an average Futurama outing. The jokes start off very funny and keep coming but somewhere after the first 30-45 minutes, they have worn out their welcome. There are positives like the countless references to past episodes and bringing back some of my favorite non-main characters such as Nibbler, Zapp Brannigan & Scruffy. But the story is so bloody confusing unless you have a PHD in time-travel & cryptic formulas. I don’t have any real problem with time-travel stories, I just like them to make more sense. We won’t even get into the ending in the time we have here, but suffice to say if you can follow the plot points and come to the same conclusion, then my friends, you should probably receive a PHD yourself.
Furthermore, the villains of the movie are some of the most disgusting I’ve ever seen. If there were awards for beings to never be seen naked, they would win it hands down. Now, that would be fine, except they are also highly annoying to boot. However, that aside there are positives to the experience. If you are a Bender, Leela, Zoidberg or Amy Wong fan; you will love their roles in the proceedings. Add to that, new characters such as Lars Fillmore are well planned out and are welcome additions to the evolving plot line. I left out Fry from the above list, because his character probably becomes the most disturbing. He is still a love-sick puppy for Leela (though I still think he be a better match for Amy), but some of the lengths and ideals that he develops are left to be desired.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. I always thought Futurama was one of the best visual cartoons I’ve ever seen and they surely do not disappoint in their new format here. The computer animation is awesome and suffice to say it is a noticeable improvement over the series. In the same breath, it stays true to the series and should be always commended for looking as fantastic as it does.
The audio is mixed in 5.1 English Dolby Digital. Futurama first foray into the 5 speaker set-up is a good one. The surrounds are used well with sounds off-screen and brought into action at a regular pace. Dialog is clear and no character suffered from too much cartoon accent, so that we couldn’t understand them. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly more than adequate. Subtitles are also provided in English, Spanish, and French.
- Audio Commentary with Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, Claudia Katz, Dwayne Carey-Hill and Ken Keeler: This answer the proverbial question: How many people does it take to elaborate on a full length Futurama movie? Apparently a lot. The commentary is fantastic though, John DiMaggio is a riot and everybody else provides plenty of laughs while watching the show. Honestly, more fun than the movie itself; very entertaining & interesting.
- Futurama Returns 8:50: A fun comic read from Comic-Con by the actual voices. Always a fan of comic reads, this one is no different.
- Everybody Loves Hypnotoad 22:00: Hypnotoad is funny for a good minute. However, if you watch Hypnotoad for the full 22 minutes, you might need some counseling (don’t worry, I need some anyhow). The made up commercials are very funny but you can get the point of this cartoon after a few short minutes.
- Deleted Storyboard Scenes: Three of them, Monte Carlo, Robot Mafia & Limbo Contest. Not bad, Limbo Contest could have fit in nicely and it is always good to see what’s left on the cutting room floor.
- A Terrifying Message from Al Gore (w/commentary) 3:09: Al, Al, Al. *sigh* As you might have noticed the dvd comes in environmentally friendly packaging, which is very cool but Mr. Gore is to be desired. I’m not going to go into my views, but suffice to say if you can’t stand Al, this won’t change your view very much. However, the actual short is very fun and Bender is not reserved at all.
- Bite My Shiny Metal X 26:04: Did you know that 3-14 is Pi day? Probably not unless you are a math teacher like Sarah Greenwald. In this featurette, she leads a class that takes on all Futurama math-related subjects. From Alien Language to Bender Hangman to the significance of 1729, is explained here. The information is vast but plays out like the reason I slept through most of college. Booooring. It only really picks up when Matt Groening to asked to draw Bender for the hangman game.
- 3d Models/3d Turnarounds 1:12: Fun renders from the people down at 3d Design. My favorite had to be the Chanukah Zombie ship.
- Bender’s Big Score : This is the first draft of the script. It contains some differences as you page through it.
- New Character/Design Sketches: Drawings and models of the new characters like Lars Fillmore.
- Original 5-minute Comic-Con Promo 4:56: As it says, very much a show-off piece for the convention rather than an effective trailer or teaser.
It is with a heavy heart that I give Futurama’s first big movie a score less than what I would score any of the four seasons on dvd. The actual dvd is great as always with wonderful extras and fantastic video and sound. However, the story weans half-way through and becomes mostly a very long and average episode. Perhaps this show is best served in 22 minute chunks. Hopefully with re-edits and dabbling it out into smaller bites as a pseudo 5th season, it will work better. I do hope they re-release the four movies as one “5th season” box-set. Regardless of what I say, a lot of fans will watch this and will not be disappointed one bit. Speaking from the heart, I will always love the characters but think they could have done much better. Hopefully, it will improve in Beast with A Billion Backs. We shall see in the next review.