I never expected to be as big a Futurama fan as I am, especially since I avoided the series like the plague for the first season, thanks, mostly, to the “from the creators of The Simpsons” hype machine that built up to the series’ launch, and inevitably lead to my disappointment and disillusionment after being thoroughly underwhelmed by the premier episode. I didn’t even think the show would last an entire season, let alone the four years it aired on Fox. By the time I’d finally reconnected with the show, it was already a staple of The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up, which had already given Family Guy a second lease on life (or was it a third?) when Fox chose to “uncancel” that series, and return it to its primetime Sunday slot. For awhile, it looked like Futurama would be given a similar reprieve, but, ultimately, the choice was made to bring back the series in the form of “movies” that could also serve as standalone episodes.
And I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
This new approach to the series resulted in more focused writing, more “adult” themes, and even better production values, and nowhere is that more evident than with 2008’s “Bender’s Game”, the third Futurama movie.
In this installment, Bender (voiced by John DiMaggio) stumbles in on a game of Dungeons and Dragons being played by the Professor and Herme’s boys, who then tease Bender about his lack of imagination. The robot takes it to heart, and, in an attempt to humanize himself, overloads his circuits when he forces himself to create an alter ego for the game – Titanius Anglesmith! Soon, Bender’s loses himself in a fantasy world of his own creation, while the real-world Bender embarks on a spree of destruction in the name of his imaginary kingdom. In order to save Bender, Fry (Billy West), Leela (Katey Segal), Hermes (Phil LeMarr), and the rest are thrust into an alternate universe, where they become fantasy versions of themselves (ie; Frydo, Leelagos, Hermaphrodite, etc.). While this is the “main” storyline that ties the four parts of the film together, there are a few subplots to help make each part work as a standalone episode, including one in which the Professor concocts a fuel crisis to try and put the evil conglomerate, MOM, out of business. Another side story sees Leela forced into dealing with her anger issues after entering the Planet Express ship into a demolition derby to get back at a pair of ignorant space hicks.
Futurama is always at its best when skewering contemporary issues and pop culture icons and, with Bender’s Game, we have that in spades. From its hilarious riffs on the fantasy genre (Lord of the Rings, in particular) to a tacit attack on the American oil industry, Futurama is as hilarious, intelligent, and...well...hilariously intelligent as ever.
I wasn’t expecting much from Futurama in terms of video quality, but, boy howdy, am I ever impressed! This is a scrumptious visual feast, with ultra-vibrant colors, amazing clarity, and excellent detail. While the characters, themselves, are fairly “simple” line-drawn creations, the backgrounds of Futurama have always been very detailed canvases upon which the characters interact. The city streets, for example, are teeming with activity, funny signs, and little sight gags, and that really pops out here. While I’ve only watched a handful of animated features on Blu-ray, this is easily one of the liveliest and most stimulating examples I’ve seen yet.
Equally impressive is the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. This is an immensely powerful track, with very robust bass, crisp and crystal clear highs, and truly immersive surround effects. The demolition derby sequence is an all-out sonic assault that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with even the beefiest of action movie soundtracks, made all the more impressive considering this is a direct-to-video animated comedy feature.
All in all, I was completely blown away by how good Bender’s Game looked and sounded, especially given my low expectations going into it.
Fox loads up Bender’s Game with a host of great extras, including a howlingly funny and very insightful PiP commentary track featuring the likes of David X. Cohen, Matt Groening, John DiMaggio, and others. Also featured are animatics for the first “episode” of the film; a Genetics Lab feature in which you can mix and match bits and pieces from your favorite characters and create your own mutations; D & D & F (Dungeons & Dragons & Futurerama) featurette; How to draw Futurerama in 83 Easy Steps featurette; 3-D models animator discussion; Deleted scene; Blooperama 2: Outtakes from Bender's game; Bender's Anti-piracy warning; and a trailer for the next Futurama film, “Into the Wild Green Yonder”.
Futurama probably doesn’t belong on network television. It’s too smart, too funny, and often features storylines and moments that transcend the de rigueur slapstick and gross-out tactics of most animated series (much like the excellent and equally underrated “King of the Hill”). It seems that, with this new model of direct-to-video films, the creative team behind the series has really hit its stride, and it’s just a blast to behold this reinvigorated show take on a whole new medium. The Blu-ray debut of Futurama is one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises to come across my desk in a while, as the quality and content served up here was well beyond my expectations. Fans of this series and newcomers alike shouldn’t hesitate to add this one to their collection