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Futurama: Bender's Big Score! (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/27/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/12/2007

It's an odd thought, but even the worst television show has fans. And when TV shows (good or bad) get cancelled, the fans do things to try and save their beloved programs, such as on-line petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and sending peanuts to the network. (In case you weren't aware, that last one is actually true for a certain show.) But, there seems to a sure-fire way to save a show: have it air on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. It worked for Family Guy, as that shows ratings on Adult Swim, combined with its DVD sales, caused Fox to renew it. And now, another Fox show has been saved with help from Adult Swim. The animated sci-fi comedy Futurama will one day return to Fox, but for now, we have a series of direct-to-DVD movies, starting with Futurama: Bender's Big Score.

In case you never caught Futurama when it was on, here's a brief primer. Philip Fry (voiced by Billy West) is a sad young man living in 1999. He's a pizza delivery boy, he's just been dumped by his girlfriend, and he's working on New Year's Eve. To make matters worse, he's just fallen for a fake order at a cryogenics lab. Fry falls into one of the freezers and awakens in the year 3000. He's able to locate a very distant relative, Professor Farnsworth (voiced by Billy West), who runs Planet Express, an interstellar delivery company. Fry takes a job with the company, along with his new friends, Leela (voiced by Katey Sagal), a one-eyed woman with purple hair, and Bender (voiced by John Di Maggio) an uncouth robot. Also working at the company are rich, spoiled intern Amy (voiced by Lauren Tom), Jamaican bureaucrat Hermes (voiced by Phil LaMarr) and the lobster-like Dr. Zoidberg (voiced by Billy West). While traveling through space, Fry learns a great deal about the future, and makes many, many mistakes.

As Futurama: Bender's Big Score opens, the staff of Planet Express, Fry, Bender, Leela, Professor Farnsworth, Amy, Zoidberg, and Hermes, are celebrating the fact that they are back in business after years of being "cancelled". Their first assignment is to make a delivery to the nude beach planet. Once there, they meet a group of aliens led by Nudar (voiced by David Herman), who claim to being collecting signatures and e-mails for a worthy cause. Once the Planet Express crew return to Earth, they find their e-mails full of Spam with all kinds of obvious scams. Being the goobers that they are, they fall for the scams, and Bender downloads a virus. Due to this, Nudar and his gang take control of Planet Express, and Bender, who is their slave due to the virus. They then learn that Fry has a tattoo on his butt which holds the key to time travel. (Don't ask.) The aliens use this to plunder the great treasures of history and use this wealth to take over the world. Unemployed, broke, and defeated, the Planet Express gang must find a way to save Earth.

I'm a long-time fan of The Simpsons and as Futurama is from the creator of that classic show, I was in from the beginning. I was immediately taken with the show's irreverent sense of humor. Being related to The Simpsons, I wasn't entirely surprised by this, but Futurama often takes things much further. Being set in a futuristic/sci-fi world, the show can really go to extremes with its humor, as the show's really confirm to logic or reality. But, even within this context, Futurama often targeted easily identifiable topics such as the media, organized religion, government, healthcare and relationships. The show taught us that everything will be just as screwed up in the future as it is now. The show also throws in a ton of references to well-known and obscure sci-fi movies and shows. This combination led to a show which was quite funny and entertaining, but may have been a bit too weird and referential for the general public.

We get most of that with Futurama: Bender's Big Score. The show was always introducing bizarre extraterrestrials and the naked aliens here certainly fit the bill. The story tackles the age-old time travel plot and goes one step further by introducing the idea of "paradox free" time travel. Fry is stupid and Bender is insulting. The movie has everything that made the show great, except for one thing: it isn't very funny. There were times while watching the TV show that I would be in tears from laughing (usually at something that Bender had said), but I rarely laughed out loud during Futurama: Bender's Big Score. That's not to say that the movie isn't humorous, but the jokes rarely match those found in the show. If anything, the movie is far too serious. Fans who remember episodes such as "The Luck of the Fryrish" and "Jurassic Bark" will immediately recognize the tone of the movie. These episodes really tugged at the heart-strings and showed that the weird comedy show could have heart. But, Futurama: Bender's Big Score takes this too far and the movie becomes downright depressing at times. The movie's biggest crime is that Bender simply isn't funny enough. The fact that he's a mindless drone robs him of his smart-ass nature, and he just doesn't have enough good lines.

Don't get me wrong, it's great to have Futurama back, but I'd be lying if I said that Futurama: Bender's Big Score wasn't a disappointment. The movie brings back all of the main characters and many familiar peripheral ones as well, and it has the same sarcastic tone as the television show. Yet, the humor doesn't live up to the standard set by the best episodes of the show and the movie is too dour for its own good. But, fear not fans, Futurama: Bender's Big Score is the first of four planned films, so maybe things will pick up with the next one.

Futurama: Bender's Big Score flies onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The movie is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the picture is quite sharp and clear. There is no grain and no defects from the source material. Futurama uses a mixture of hand-drawn and CGI animation, which gives the show a bit of a 3-D look at times, and this works well here. The colors are especially good, as the movie features very bright and vivid tones. I did detect some pixellation at times, but this may have been related to the preview DVD I was watching. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track has some nice stereo effects, as well as clear surround effects when the spaceships whizz by. These same ships provide some nice bass effects as well.

The DVD contains an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Billy West, Phil LaMarr, Claudia Katz, Dwayne Carey-Hill, and Ken Keeler. This is a very entertaining commentary as the group gives us a many jokes as it does facts about the show. They talk about the return of Futurama and the making of the movie, from the story down to the decision to make it 16 x 9 . They also insult one another and get in many great zingers. "Futurama Returns!" (9 minutes) features panels from a comic-book and audio of the cast performing the story. (As far as I can tell, this was recorded live at Comic-con.) "Everybody Loves Hypnotoad" (22 minutes) is a one-joke fake sit-com. Yes, that's the Hypnotoad O.K. The DVD contains three "Deleted Storyboard Scenes", which offer dialogue and sound effects with storyboards. "A Terrifying Message from Al Gore" (80 seconds) is a PSA-style clip with Gore and Bender. This can be also be viewed with a video commentary with Gore, Groening, and Cohen, which runs about 3 minutes. "Bite my Shiny Metal X" (26 minutes) has Dr. Sarah Greenwald of Appalachian State University discusses the mathematics used in and joked about in Futurama. "3D Models/3D Turnarounds" (1 minute) gives us views of some specific objects from the movie. Viewers can read the original first draft of the script for "Bender's Big Score". "New Character/Design Sketches" is a still gallery of concept drawings. "Original 5-minute Comic-con Promo" (5 minutes) is just what it sounds like, a long trailer.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long