Region 1 (US) Edition

Director:  Dwayne Carey-Hill

Starring the 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 audience.

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 is necessary.

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 format.

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 feature.

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.

UPDATE 10/2/08:

This article has since been bought to my attention: http://www.newscorp.com/energy/futurama.html

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 consumer.

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