The home video resurrection of Futurama certainly made a legion of fans happy, but the two features released so far were greeted with mixed reviews. Personally, I enjoyed Bender's Big Score and Beast with a Billon Backs. That doesn't mean I thought they were flawless additions to the series by any means though. The first 'film' was loaded with references only a hardcore fan could appreciate, and the pace was a little overwhelming at times. The second feature slowed its pace down to mimic the original formula of the show, and unfortunately this seemed to make the feature drag. Each feature represented the extremes that reside at each end of the spectrum.
When a great show is given an opportunity at revival, some of the high expectations that come along with it are incredibly unrealistic. Despite the apparent flaws in the first two features, I think people expected way too much from the new Futurama. That being said, I went into Bender's Game expecting something that rang true to the show, instead of being something that would steadily transcend to an unreachable perfection. Fortunately, I found Bender's Game to be highly entertaining while addressing the pacing issues the first two features had, as well as being more accessible to fans that aren't necessarily familiar with every episode of the series.
Bender has always been a friend to the human race, even if he won't admit it. However, he still takes great pride in believing that he's better than everyone on the planet. His pride is in danger when he fears he can't emulate the common human activity of having an imagination. Professor Farnsworth's kid and friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons, and Bender is intrigued. He joins in on their fun, and eventually his microchip brain starts to get the gist of 'imagining' things. Bender becomes so engrossed in the game he loses his identity, and his 'mind' along with it. He roams the streets looking to destroy treacherous monsters, inadvertently wreaking havoc every step of the way.
In the meantime, the rest of the Planet Express crew is dealing with a much bigger crisis. Undoubtedly an attempt to mock our own real world energy crisis, robot mastermind creator Mom has monopolized the dark matter fuel industry. Prices have risen to absurd heights, and Professor Farnsworth has the key to end the price gauging once and for all.
Both stories slam together creatively, sucking everyone into a fantasy world that's filled with both dungeons, and dragons. I know, you never saw it coming, right? It's a nice little twist that comes at about fifty minutes in, and fortunately this change-up does a great job at keeping the third Futurama feature moving at a nice pace. Futurama still feels like it would be much more watchable in its thirty minute comfort zone, but this is the first time I didn't feel bogged down in the middle somewhere.
Another contributing factor to making Bender's Game feel a bit more like the show we know and love, is that it doesn't spend a lot of time throwing out cameo's or inside gags just to appease certain fans. Sure, they're around, but the references aren't anywhere near as constant or gratuitous as they were in the first two features. Another thing that helps, is that you don't have to be a Dungeons and Dragons fan to get what's going on. In fact, plenty of the fantasy storyline mimics Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers. This is truly a feature that can finally reach out to a broader audience than its two predecessors.
Although I found this to be the most enjoyable Futurama feature to date, it leaves me saddened after all is said and done because it's the closest translation to the original series to date. Futurama is clever and brilliant in so many ways, to think the next feature could possibly be the end is truly sad. Back in August I read an interview that stated these features would be a benchmark, a selling platform to see if Futurama would be popular enough to return to television with the 'series' title once more. As I've said, a lot of people had incredibly high expectations for these straight to DVD releases, so I wouldn't want those expectations to hurt the DVD sales. I wouldn't go into Bender's Game expecting a masterpiece or anything, but it's certainly the best translation of the format to date.
Well, FOX has a pretty silly screener policy, so I can't give you an accurate representation of what this is going to look like in its final retail form. There were blocky artifacts everywhere, to the point where this was almost unwatchable. However, the screener copy showed what can be expected from a Futurama release. The colors were saturated extremely well. I'm not sure how much better this is going to look on Blu-ray, but the DVD I guarantee is going to look mighty impressive in its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, as per usual.
The sound never really suffers on a FOX screener copy, so I'm happy to report that the Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds great. The voices sound crisp and clean without any clipping or distortion. The music and action sequences kick every channel into gear, engulfing you in what's going on. There are times where the soundtrack can sound somewhat punchy, but there's never really a heavy dose of bass to rattle the room like a motion picture would.
Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French.
Audio Commentary with Matt Groening, David Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Dwayne Carey-Hill, Mike Rowe, and Claudia Katz - Yeah, it's certainly a mouthful! I've heard commentaries that loaded on the talent in large numbers, but seemed to somehow miss the mark. Groening and company have always been at the top of the game though when it comes to their content, and Bender's Game is no exception. Unless it's for a review, I normally skip over audio commentaries. I'll listen to a select few, and anything that was done by Matt Groening happens to be one of the exceptions. Even if you're just a semi-casual Futurama fan, you're going to find this commentary to be a good time.
Story Animatic - This is a full length episode for the first part of Bender's Game that's presented via storyboard. And yes, by full length episode, I mean it's in the normal half hour format that we're used to. It's been known since the news broke out of Futurama getting some direct to DVD treatment, that the features would eventually be broken up to air on television as half hour long episodes. In order to get this to work however, some minor tweaks in dialogue and editing would have to take place, so it's going to be extremely interesting to see if this is the product we get on television sometime later on.
Futurama Genetics Lab - I don't think Futurama is a show that's dominated by little kids for its viewing audience, so it's curious to see such a basic 'mix and match the character' activity on this release. It's cool to play around with for a couple of minutes, but I don't really see anyone going back to this after they've already experimented with it once.
Dungeons and Dragons and Futurama - David Cohen, Mike Kaplan, and Mike Rowe sit down to discuss their early childhood memories of playing the game of geekdom that inspired this Futurama release. This could wouldn't seem like it would appeal to anyone who wasn't a fan of the game, but it's actually a dynamic discussion considering not everyone discussing the game is actually a fan of it!
How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps - Oh, only 83 easy steps you say? That's why you guys get paid the big bucks. I'm not going to remember 83 steps for drawing Futurama my friends! It's sort of fun in a way to see certain characters getting drawn from scratch on paper before your very eyes, but it's not really as informative as the name of this extra suggests.
3D Model Gallery - Of course, Futurama isn't all hand drawn animation. Much of it is obviously computer animated to provide some depth to the buildings and ships. This feature specifically shows many of the ships that were used during the demolition derby sequence.
Deleted Scene - Cup or Nozzle? - This short scene is still in the rough stages of development, so it's more along the lines of an animatic than the final product we're used to seeing. It's not a really interesting deleted scene though, but I guess that's why it was deleted, right?
Blooperama 2 - Also short, this is about two minutes worth of the voice actors screwing up their lines. I'm a sucker for blooper material, so this was definitely well worth the two minutes of my life it took to watch!
Anti-Piracy Warning - This is a parody that takes old Bender clips from the series itself, with some new Bender dialogue placed over it, in order to warn us all just how bad piracy is. FOX, we get it. We know you hate piracy. It's quite clear when you send screeners to reviewers that are intentionally crap quality. A lot of people who look at reviews mainly want to know how the video holds up, yet we can't do that because you're so scared of piracy! Is the WB still in business? Yeah? OK, just checking.
Into the Wild Green Yonder Preview - This doesn't really lay any of the cards out on the table, so it's extremely difficult to judge if the next feature is going to be any good or not. I have to admit, I was fairly skeptical of Bender's Game from the preview I had seen on the last release, and this one turned out to be pretty darn good!
I can't comment on the packaging, as FOX screeners come in a nice little envelope instead of the packaging they're going to be sold in for retail. With the recent atrocity that was The Simpsons Season 11's packaging, as well as the prior Futurama feature packaging before, I'm sure we're going to get an environment friendly hunk of cardboard. If I'm wrong on this, I'll correct at a later date.
Bender's Game doesn't go out on a limb as much as Bender's Big Score did, and it didn't seem to crawl at a snail's pace much like Beast with a Billion Backs did. If you've been waiting for a Futurama feature that's closer to the formula of the show, then this is the feature you've been waiting for. It's not a brilliant masterpiece, and there's still the lingering feeling with me that it's still not exactly up to snuff with the original series itself, but it's certainly not a feature you're going to want to ignore as a fan. As we've come to expect from the brilliant minds behind Futurama, there's a terrific blend of jokes, adventure, discovery, revelation, all wrapped up into a multi-layered story that never seems to get too complicated for its own good.
The features aren't mind blowing on this release either, but it's more than I would expect for a straight to DVD release. I highly recommend this to anyone that's ever enjoyed the show, and especially to those that have been waiting for something that wasn't going over the top just for the sake of some inside jokes. Look on the bright side, even if you don't agree with me, your purchase just may in fact help bring the series back to television in the format it's most comfortable in!