FUTURAMA - BENDER'S BIG SCORE
Region 1 (US) Edition
voices of: Billy West, John Di Maggio, Katey Sagal, Lauren Tom
Review by Matt West
It’s hard to believe it’s been four years
since Futurama was cancelled. Its presence on DVD was a revelation
to a lot of people who assumed it had been cancelled after just one
season. Such was its treatment on UK TV that you really had to put
monumental effort in to even find it in the schedules. These days Sky show
it at least twice a day, but back when it was new it had the most
appalling slots to cope with. It always seemed to be considered as the
gibbering second-cousin of The Simpsons, and best not mentioned.
This of course is entirely unjustified but
part of the reason it didn’t have as big a global appeal as The
Simpsons is because this was The Simpsons for nerds. The jokes
aren’t as broad and in most cases would be lost on a non sci-fi loving
Ever since that cancellation there have
been near-constant rumours of the series coming back in one form or
another, and the idea of a straight-to-DVD film was hinted at barely six
months after the cancellation. However suddenly things have picked up and
the first of four films - or, as is pointed out on the commentary,
“feature-length episodes” - has just been released on R1 DVD from Fox.
So how have things changed? Well thankfully
they haven’t. A couple of the voices are a little different but this may
be due to my only previously owning R2 discs and the slight speed-up would
account for these differences. But essentially this is good old
Futurama, just with more 3D sequences. In some cases, a few more than
It’s not all good though. The first twenty
minutes are incredibly confused and it seems to take forever to get into
its stride. It feels like a contemporary episode of The Simpsons
where the first ten minutes bear no relation to the last ten minutes and
the jokes seem a little too self-aware to be particularly funny.
Thankfully this wears off quite quickly, and the only other minor niggle
is the excessive resurrection of past favourite Futurama supporting
characters. While it’s great to see The Hypnotoad and Hedonismbot again,
it probably wasn’t necessary to have all of them in this first film. They
could’ve spread things out a little and neither character is even relevant
to the plot.
There’s a definite epic feel to all this.
The plot, in as much as I can tell it without a spoiler is thus:
Having fallen foul of an email scam, the crew have not only lost their
jobs but also the business. Through a series of quirks they uncover a time
travelling ability which is used by the scammers to steal treasures from
the past. I really can’t go into any more detail than that. Needless to
say this is actually a rather clever time travel-based story which revels
in the clichés that come with the territory – but then you’d expect
nothing less from the Futurama team.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect is what
worked best in Futurama: the emotional subplot. You’re a
cold-hearted soul if you’ve never shed a tear at Jurassic Bark or
Luck of the Fryfish. Be prepared for similar schmaltz here; it’s
all good though.
If you liked the series, you should like
this. Some of the jokes could’ve been tightened up a little bit though. It
seems the need to extend the running time means that once-or-twice we need
to cut away to something else but instead linger on it a little too long.
I’m sure this will improve as the next films come out.
Presented for the first time in glorious
16:9 format, I had high hopes for this disc but actually the picture isn’t
as perfect as the previous season DVD sets. Not wishing to cry
“conspiracy” but this is a Fox disc and much mention is made on the
commentary of it being created in HD specifically for the HD market. So
why, then, is it only available in SD? And in a none-too-pleasant SD disc?
It’s not awful, it’s just not perfect. There’s some horizontal smearing
which at first I thought may be my TV but I tried it on a couple of other
systems and it’s visible there too. Anyway, the bitrate averages out at a
rather low 5.4Mbps which is not exactly ideal for such busy animation.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is more than
satisfactory while the actual mix occasionally seems a little hollow, as
though some sequences were completed in a hurry. A few of Fry’s lines
toward the very end sound as though they were recorded in someone’s front
room! Very strange, but again not awful and really barely noticeable
unless, like me, your head is right next to a rear speaker.
The audio commentary is terrific fun as
usual. The commentaries on the original Futurama discs were among
the few I ever listened to. A fun, geeky crowd loving what they do for a
living. Who could ask for anything more? It is a little crowded though
with Billy West, Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr,
Claudia Katz, Dwayne Carey-Hill and Ken Keeler.
The rest of the extras are fairly
uninspiring. Everybody Loves Hypnotoad is a joke which incredibly
really does play out for a full 22 minutes. One joke though. One feels
that the inclusion of this, regardless how basic it was, did have a
knock-on affect in terms of bitrate available to the main feature.
The Live Comic Book Reading is a
little pointless since even on my 32” screen I couldn’t read the actual
comic book anyway – in spite of it being read to me by the cast. This is a
rather self-congratulatory piece from a comics convention which falls
rather flat, even to the smugly chuckling audience.
Character Designs and sketches are also
included, same as the original DVDs and the Simpsons discs - so you
know what to expect there.
The five-minute promo from the Comic-Con is
best watched after the main feature as it kills several jokes dead
otherwise. It’s unlikely you haven’t already seen this if you’ve been
keeping an eye on this project – so avoid viewing it again until you’ve
watched the main feature.
The deleted scenes, all three of them,
aren’t particularly special. Seems odd that they were removed at all – but
it does at least show some restraint when it comes to supporting
characters like the Robot Mafia, who were ultimately chopped out. They are
presented as storyboards.
There’s also the original draft script for
the episode which, rather than being presented as a PDF, is instead
presented as half A4 screens that you skip through using the DVD remote.
This is outstandingly tedious and a throwback to the laserdisc days. I
can’t see anyone actually taking the time to read the script in this
The strangest but most appealing feature is
Bite My Shiny Metal X which takes the form of a mathematical
lecture regarding Futurama by Dr Sarah J Greenwald. It also
features Groening and David X Cohen and various cast and crew. At
twenty-four minutes, it’s a little long for what it is. The the weblink
they give you for more information is unregistered, and takes you to a
placeholder smothered in pop-ups! You have been warned.
Finally, a lovely daft feature is a
Terrifying Video Message From Al Gore, which, at one minute, is more
than welcome and gets plenty of chuckles. There’s an optional video
commentary on this as well which would’ve been welcome on the main
In closing the only other downside with
this set is the dreadful packaging. You’d think Fox would’ve learnt by now
that cardboard sleeves are incredibly unwelcome. From the after-thought
bonus discs in The X Files sets, to the original Buffy
releases people have been complaining about these for years – and this
disc is no exception. Dazzled though you are by the retro-holographic
style cover, inside the disc is just plopped into a cardboard slot and as
such mine is not only scuffed quite badly on the reverse but it’s
impossible to extract it without getting thumb prints on the disc. These
are absolute basics of packaging design and Fox are showing nothing but
contempt for their customers by avoiding them. A simple spider would’ve
done fine stuck to the inside sleeve. They cost 16p each.
Great to have Futurama back, shame
about the presentation.
This article has since been bought to my
Quite simply – the packaging damages the
disc. Regardless of whether it reduces carbon emissions or not there is no
point in releasing a product in substandard packaging just to relieve some
corporate guilt on the part of Newscorp / Fox.
The fact the disc has a multi-layered
plastic hologram cover with an unrelated flyer inside is testament to the
fact they could’ve made this disc MORE carbon neutral than they did.
Having a laminated cardboard cover is even worse. No effort has been made
to make this packaging carbon neutral ... it’s just coincidence it turned
out that way.
To claim that the damaged discs are
benefiting the environment, I still maintain, shows contempt for the