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Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/24/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/5/2009
A brief history of Futurama. The show premiered in March, 1999 (on my birthday!) and was the product of some excitement, as it was co-created by Matt Groening, the man behind The Simpsons. However, the show never really found its niche. From 1999-2003, 72 episodes of the show were produced, but only the show's second season had what would be considered a normal schedule. The show aired on Sunday's at 7pm for most of its existence and was often pre-empted or bumped by NFL coverage. Also, it would appear that the show's mixture of science-fiction references and scathing political satire never caught on. Thus, the show was cancelled. But, as with Fox's Family Guy, DVD sales and re-runs proved that there was an audience for the show. So, beginning in 2007 withFuturama: Bender's Big Score!, Fox decided to revive Futurama via a series of feature-length, direct-to-DVD (and later, Blu-ray Disc) movies. The fourth release in this series, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, has just surfaced and it's implied that it will be the last one. Does it create a lasting legacy for the show?
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder opens on Mars, where our regular cast of characters -- Fry (voiced by Billy West), Leela (voiced by Katey Sagal), Bender (voiced by John DiMaggio), The Professor (voiced by Billy West), and Dr. Zoidberg (voiced by Billy West) -- are visiting Mars Vegas, which is run by Amy's (voiced by Lauren Tom) parents. A group of female protestors are attempting to stop the construction of a new Mars Vegas, and Fry is injured during the confrontation. Following this, he finds that he has the ability to read minds. Leela is intrigued by the protestors and soon learns that they want to protect the environment in any way possible. Meanwhile, Fry is recruited by psychic Hutch (voiced by Phil Hendrie) to stop Amy's Dad, Mr. Wong (voiced by Billy West), from destroying a violet dwarf star in order to complete his giant miniature-golf course. Soon, everyone is choosing sides in this battle and the Planet Express crew must decide what is more important -- their freedom, their friendship, miniature-golf, or a star.
One criticism which is easy to level at television shows is that they are underwritten. As shows only have 20-40 minutes to tell their story, they often choose simplistic plots with events every few minutes to keep the story moving along. Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder takes the opposite approach. Apparently feeling free from the shackles of a sit-com time constraint, the writers here throw in way too much plot. (As far as I can tell, this 89-minute feature was treated as a four-episode arc, as writers are created for "Parts 1-4".) Maybe it was because this may be the last Futurama project, but they throw in everything and the kitchen sink. We get eco-warriors, mind-reading, corporate greed, mini-golf, double-crosses, relationships, a courtroom scene, evil schemes, secret hideouts...and those are just the things that I can remember right off the top of my head. The whole time I kept thinking, "I really want to like this, but they are trying to hard."
The convoluted and overly complex story does hide a few good jokes. Futurama has always been funny, as it combines absurd, sometimes silly humor, with very poignant and smart observations about everyday life. And while Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder certainly doesn't represent the funniest thing to come form the Futurama team, I did find myself laughing at times. As usual, Bender had some great lines, and one can't help by smile at Fry's buffoonery. However, being a huge fan of miniature-golf, it was the jokes concerning silly mini-golf hazards which really got to me.
As noted above, the movie's finale hints that this is the end (for the time being) for Futurama. Did they go out on top? Hardly. In fact, I haven't been overwhelmed by any of the Futurama feature-length films. Can I only take it in small doses? No, I've watched the episode boxed sets for reviews and didn't tire of that. I think that the movies simply had a different vibe than the show, and while they were still intelligent and funny, they failed to re-capture the magic of those earlier episodes.
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder offers fun on the bun on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, as they are quite bold and are never oversaturated. Along those same lines, the black tones are realistic and deep. The image has a nice depth to it and shows particularly good detail. However, this detail does reveal some horizontal lines in the animation at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some very nice stereo effects here, which are nicely detailed and show good separation. Likewise, the surround sound effects are well-done, especially those which involve crowds or spaceships zipping past. The subwoofer effects are solid and the explosions in the film pack a punch.
The Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder Blu-ray Disc carries several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Executive Producer Matt Groening, Writer/Executive Producer David X. Cohen, voice actor John DiMaggio, voice actor Maurice Lamarche, Co-executive Producer Patric M. Verrone, Co-executive Producer Michael Rowe, Producer Lee Supercinski, and Director Peter Avanzino. This can also be viewed as a VIDEO COMMENTARY. "Storyboard Animatic" shows the rough, black and white version of the first 22 minutes of the movie done in limited animation. "Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama So Good" (5 minutes) is an odd little short showing actress Lauren Tom making the entire show by herself. "Louder, Louder!: The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette" (2 minutes) shows the actor discussing his role and we see how recording. "Golden Stinkers" (3 minutes) features five DELETED SCENES some of which are fully animated, while others are simply storyboards. There are a couple of OK jokes here. "Matt Groening and David X. Cohen in Space!" (4 minutes) has the show's creators experiencing weightlessness. "How to Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps" (11 minutes) gives us intstructions on how to draw The Professor, Nibbler, HypnoToad, and Fry. "3D Models with Animator Discussion" (4 minutes) has Scott Vanzo and Peter Avanzino discussing how CG models are used in the show. "Bender's Movie Theater Etiquette" (1 minute) and "Zapp Brannigan's Guide to Making Love at a Woman" (3 minutes) are two shorts which use footage from the show to create new material.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long