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Futurama: Bender's Game (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Release: 11/4/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/6/2008

It's probably happened to all of us -- you have an acquaintance, from school or work, whom you like in that setting. So, you decide to do something with them in a more social setting...and you discover that you liked them much better when you only saw them for brief periods of time. I have a similar relationship with Futurama. I always enjoyed the show, both when it was on the air and on DVD. And, when it was announced that the show would be revived as a series of feature-length movies, I was excited. But, I didn't enjoy either of the first two movies and quickly learned that I like Futurama in small doses. Will Futurama: Bender's Game buck that trend?

Just in case you aren't familiar with Futurama, here's a quick primer: The story opens on December 31, 1999, where Philip J. Fry (voiced by Billy West) is down on his luck. He works as a pizza delivery boy and his girlfriend has just dumped him. He delivers a pizza to a cryogenics lab, only to find that it was a prank. Overcome with despondency, he accidentally falls into a cryogenic freezer and awakens in the year 3000. Fry finds a world which is both familiar and utterly alien at the same time. He discovers a distant relative, Professor Hubert Farnsworth (voiced by West), a senile scientist, and agrees to work for the man in his delivery company, Planet Express. He is joined by Leela (voiced by Katey Sagal), a cyclops who is both insecure and quick-tempered, and Bender (voiced by John Di Maggio), a foul-mouthed robot who only looks out for himself. The other Planet Express employees are Hermes (voiced by Phil LaMarr), a Jamaican workaholic, Amy (voiced by Lauren Tom), a spoiled little rich girl, and Dr. Zoidberg (voiced by West), a lobster-like alien who is always broke and knows nothing about human anatomy.

As Futurama: Bender's Game opens, the Planet Express gang are experiencing a fuel shortage. Their ship runs on "dark matter" and their usual source, Leela's pet Nibbler, isn't enough, but the price at the pumps is killing them. The only supplier of "dark matter", other than Nibbler, is a conglomerate overseen by Mom (voiced by Tress MacNeille), who rules with an iron fist. Professor Farnsworth reveals that he once worked for Mom and helped to develop "dark matter" as a source of fuel. He states that he also discovered "anti dark matter", a substance which would put Mom out of business. The only problem is that the "anti dark matter", which is in the form of a small dodecahedron, is missing. Meanwhile, Bender has begun playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of children -- and they've been using the "anti dark matter" as a die! Afraid that he doesn't have an imagination, Bender becomes immersed in the game. This triggers the power of the "anti dark matter" and suddenly everyone is transported to a world where Dungeons & Dragons meets Lord of the Rings. The group must find a way to escape this strange land and still stop Mom.

During it's run on TV, Futurama was always an odd show. That is, odd in the fact that it didn't mind showing outlandish things and referencing obscure science-fiction movies. Odd in the sense that it knew it's core audience, and didn't seem confirmed with those who didn't get it. This isn't exactly the way to create a ratings winner, but it did create a loyal fan-base for the show.

Given that, Futurama: Bender's Game is just plain weird. In the past, I've noticed that when a half-hour sitcom offers a longer episode, the writing is divided -- Part 1 written by..., Part 2 written by... This is presumably done to lighten the load on writers who are used to only turning out 22-minutes of material. In the case of Futurama: Bender's Game, it feels as if two, maybe three, original 30-minute scripts were jammed together to create a whole. In short, the piece simply doesn't gel.

What starts as a biting satire on corporate America and our dependence on oil (keeping in mind that this was mind last year, the powers-that-be at Futurama appear to have impeccable timing), suddenly turns into a spoof of Lord of the Rings, complete with Fry turning into Frydo. This creates two immediate issues: First of all, the transition is so jarring that some viewers may not recover. I looked at the Disc cover, which shows a medieval theme and wondered when it would occur, but I never thought that the entire show would suddenly switch gears half-way through. Secondly, the change creates a gulf between the freshness of the material. The jabs at what is ostensibly big oil in the first half of the movie aren't necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but they are clever. But, when the movie is suddenly lampooning a film series whose last entry was released five years ago, the comedy becomes quite stale. I felt as if I'd heard all of these jokes before (with Clerks II closing the book on Lord of the Rings comedy).

So, Futurama: Bender's Game represents yet another disappointing Futurama feature-length release. Much of the same creative team behind the show work on these movies, but they simply aren't as funny as the older episodes. Maybe they're trying too hard...or not hard enough. Either way, while it's great to have all of the Futurama characters back, I would rather have solid new episodes than these mediocre movies.

Futurama: Bender's Game mixes genres on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are outstanding -- big and bold, they really draw the viewer in. The movie makes nice use of CG imagery on a 2-D background and this gives the image a nice amount of depth. The only drawback here is that the detail of the transfer creates some blurring in the animation at times. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very impressive track, as the stereo and surround effects are constant throughout the feature. These effects are highly detailed and show great stereo separation. There are many effective subwoofer effects as well.

The Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray Disc has several extra features. We begin with a COMMENTARY from Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Michael Rowe, Claudia Katz, and Dwayne Carey-Hill. This can be experienced as a traditional AUDIO COMMENTARY, or on picture-in-picture enabled players, one can watch it as a VIDEO COMMENTARY, and we can see the speakers as they chat. This is a fun commentary, as the group constantly joke with one another. They discuss the story, explain certain jokes, and identify voices of random characters. "Storyboard Animatic" (22 minutes) shows the first act of the film in storyboard form. This has dialogue, but no music and few sound effects. The "Genetics Lab" is an interactive feature in which you can combine two characters to see what they would look like. In "D & D & F (Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama)" (7 minutes) producer David X. Cohen, Mike Rowe, and Eric Kaplan discuss D & D references found in the show. "How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps" (8 minutes) has David Thompson drawing Zoidberg, Rich Moore & Crystal Chesney-Thompson drawing Leela, and Dwayne Carey-Hill drawing Bender. "3D Models with Animator Discussion" (5 minutes) shows wire-frame and then final models, which rotate in 3D, of spaceships from the movie. The Disc contains one DELETED SCENE which is one minute long and offers an animatic of a deleted moment from the film. "Blooperama 2" (2 minutes) allows a glimpse at the voice actors at work. "Bender's Anti-Piracy Warning" (1 minute) does a great job of spoofing Fox's famiilar DVD lead-in.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long