Home video used to be the place where certain entertainment properties went to die. Now, it's an opportune marketplace that has the potential to bring those beloved properties back to life. FOX is no stranger to this, as their premature cancellation of the popular show Family Guy was reconsidered after strong DVD sales were making the company a mint. With numerous seasons and a Star Wars Trilogy parody since, I think it's safe to assume that FOX believes they made the right decision by reviving the show. Of course, Family Guy wasn't the only franchise that met an untimely end due to poor marketing and horrid time slot placement. No, Matt Groening's Futurama also got the axe, leaving yet another legion of fans wondering how such a witty piece of work could go the way of the dodo. Futurama's four season run was eventually released on DVD, and thanks to fans and newcomers alike showing FOX that there was still a strong interest in the show, plans were set in motion to bring Matt Groening's futuristic classic back to life... sort of. Four direct-to-DVD Futurama flicks were released - Bender's Big Score, The Beast With A Billion Backs, Bender's Game, and Into the Wild Green Yonder - with plans to eventually air them in 30 minute chunks on Comedy Central. The money brought in by these four 'movies' once again got some attention by some studio executives, and before we had a chance to kiss Bender's shiny metal ass goodbye forever (again), Futurama was back on the air with another full season!
"Yes, it's sort of a 'comedy central' channel... and we're on it now!" - Professor Farnsworth
Admittedly, I'm a huge fan of the show, but that didn't stop me from being extremely skeptical about what the new season would bring. After all, it had been years since the writers worked in a comfortable rhythm of whipping up episodes for a 30 minute time slot, and when they did come back from their unpaid vacation courtesy of FOX, they were working with a 90 minute format instead. Honestly, I wasn't sure they'd be able to switch back to the old format without a little awkward pacing in at least the first few episodes. To a lesser extent, I wondered if the show would still have the same vibe that it used to, or if the new season on Comedy Central would feel like Futurama 2.0 instead. Not only that, but the ending of Into the Wild Green Yonder was pretty final, and I didn't want the sour taste of mismanaged continuity in my mouth. Much to my surprise however, the first episode in this latest batch, Rebirth, was able to explain how the Planet Express crew had been permitted to return to Earth with ease, and it was able to do so in the first couple of minutes. The rest of the episode felt like the same old Futurama I had fell in love with years ago. It was almost as if the show never had a break at all.
For those of you unfamiliar with Futurama, it takes place in the city of New New York (yes, you read that correctly) in the year 3000. Philip J. Fry, a character who comes from our time, accidentally freezes himself cryogenically during a routine pizza delivery run. Thawed out 1,000 years later, Philip experiences a world where robots and aliens aren't considered to be second class citizens, and the most popular soft drink around comes from the butt of a giant slug monster. In an effort to find any sort of living relative, Philip is able to hunt down his great (x28) grandson, the kooky mad scientist, Professor Farnsworth. The Professor owns an interplanetary delivery business as well, and has Fry delivering packages with his new friends in no time. Flying across the universe with a purple haired Cyclops, a wise-cracking robot, a horny rich girl, a lobster-like alien, and a Jamaican accountant, danger and hilarity lurk around every star port.
Futurama gets most of its episodic ideas from modern day society, using the fads and hot button topics of today for clever, futuristic satire. This is a big part of what gives the show so much charm, but I couldn't help but feel like the writers were reaching a bit with the episode, Attack of the Killer App, where everyone on Earth is enjoying the latest 'eyePhone'. Don't get me wrong, the episode itself isn't bad. As a matter of fact, it's absolutely hilarious, and possibly my favorite episode of the sixth season thus far. I mean, an episode like this practically writes itself:
"There's only one carrier, the phone gets lousy reception, and the battery can't take a charge."
"SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!"
Or better yet:
"Did you know these eyePhones are phones, too?!"
My only concern about overloading the audience with so many pop-culture spoofs in a single sitting, is that a great episode could end up feeling severely outdated in a matter of years. Technology is ever changing, as well as the social networking brands that the majority of people prefer to use (Twitter is spoofed here as Twitcher). In the end, a potentially classic episode could eventually turn into a forgotten relic, never to be appreciated as was intended by the up and coming generation. On the bright side, for those of us that are currently fans of the show, such 'outdated' episodes will be celebrated once again by providing that glorious feeling of nostalgia.
I'm sure the only question most of you really have, is, "Was the wait worth it?" I have no reservations in saying that yes, the wait was indeed worth it. Despite the fact these 13 episodes are slightly inferior to the first four seasons of Futurama, the difference is practically negligible. This is most definitely the Futurama we've been watching since the beginning, and the cast and crew deserve a lot of respect for kicking off another season without some kind of stutter step. The only serious complaint I have about Futurama - Volume 5, is that these 13 episodes are only the first half of season 6. I know Comedy Central has a habit of running some of their most popular shows a half a season at a time, but the MSRP is kind of steep for 13 episodes that were designed to fill a 30 minute time slot. Perhaps FOX should shoulder the blame for this? After all, FOX is responsible for releasing these episodes to home video, and since the first four seasons they released on DVD were labeled as 'volumes' instead of 'seasons', there's nothing to stop them from releasing these half-season sets. They're probably figuring that the die-hard fans of the show will buy this set no matter what... and curse them for being right! The fans brought these '13 all new episodes back by popular harassment' (as it says on the back of the packaging), so why wouldn't they eat up a half-empty release? Especially considering this is the comeback everyone has been waiting for. Not just in name, but in quality, as well.
Good news, nobodies! Futurama - Volume 5 looks absolutely brilliant on Blu-ray! If you've seen Bender's Game or Into the Wild Green Yonder on the format though, this should come as no surprise. Encoded at a resolution of 1080p using AVC (1.78:1), there really isn't anything negative I can say about this release. The edges are sharp and show no signs of edge enhancement, contrast is excellent, blacks are deep and inky (except during the brief 'commercial' breaks and end credits, but who cares about that anyway), and the colors are as vibrant as can be. Futurama has never looked better, and never will. If you want the definitive experience at home with one of your favorite shows, believe me, this is it. Don't even contemplate buying the DVD version if you have a Blu-ray player at home.
This release has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and although it's not the most impressive thing I've ever heard, let's be real - This is a television show, and the mix that's been presented is perfectly suited for what it is. The dialogue is always crisp and clean, and that's what counts. There are some sound effects that will make adequate use of the surround field at times, as well as the LFE, but they never overpower any of the important dialogue, or come off sounding loud just to be loud. Simply put, this is the best representation of Futurama I've ever heard in my home theater (with the exception of the two films that have been released on Blu-ray, of course), and I anticipate the only time it could ever sound better, is if Matt Groening and Co. make a real theatrical feature someday.
First, it should be noted that the packaging for this release is pretty awful. Each disc sits inside a cardboard sleeve on each page of the foldable insert, and although I can appreciate the effort of those that work on Futurama to be eco-friendly, it needs to be taken into consideration that people are spending their hard earned money to buy this set. People who opt for the DVD collection are sure to find discs with scratches or abrasions, but for those of you who want the Blu-ray discs, the resistant coating exclusive to the format should soften the blow of the horrible packaging quite a bit. This set has a fairly high MSRP for the amount of episodes that are available (at least, for this reviewer's money), so it would have been nice if something a little more, oh, longer lasting was available in place of this.
Full Length Audio Commentaries on All Episodes - Cast, crew, and friends of both alike, make appearances behind the mic on every episode, and the result is good. There's plenty of great background information about bringing the show back from the grave, as well as a lot of shared laughs between everyone involved. Matt Groening and the crew he works with have never disappointed in an audio commentary before, as there's always been a friendly and fun atmosphere between everyone, while never traveling too far off base to bore the fans. These commentaries are no different, and I recommend casual viewers and fans of the show alike to listen to these as soon as they've seen the season in its entirety.
The Adventures of Delivery Boy Man - As described on the back of the packaging, this is 'an original video comic book scribbled and performed by Philip J. Fry'. Those familiar with the episode Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences should be familiar with this. The reading combined with the comic book visuals are a real treat to view. It's corny and a little over-the-top, but that's exactly what this is supposed to be. Recommended for all to see at least once!
Bend It Like Bender - Bender's First, Best, and Only Music Video! - This is a music video that features a bunch of clips from Futurama both old and new alike, with the footage being edited over a little ditty by The Devin Townsend Project. This may not be everyone's cup of tea musically, but it's a fun little video nonetheless.
Behind the Fungus: Makin' a Hit Song - This supplement features voice actor Billy West recording a song for the series.
Previously on Futurama - Simply a bunch of very brief clips of main characters saying, "Previously, on Futurama..." Feel free to skip this one. There's nothing really creative or funny about these.
"The Prisoner of Benda" - Live Table Read - Ouch. How do you take a live table read, and not show any of the actors doing the character voices? The audio from the table read has been placed over early storyboard animatics, which is all well and good, but it's still a disappointment not to see the cast do what they do best, au natural. The upside? This is a bit different than what ended up in the final product, so fans of the show should at least appreciate that.
Deleted Scenes - Some of these scenes are finished, and some are in storyboard format. However, the clips range from mediocre to quite good, and there's over 10 minutes worth to take in.
The supplemental package isn't anything mind-blowing, but fans should find a good chunk of this material to be worth their time, especially the audio commentaries featuring Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, and more.
Futurama is back, and although I can't say that 'it's better than ever', the 13 episodes offered in this collection certainly won't disappoint. It's a shame there's only a half a season in this release, but the real tragedy comes in the form of eco-friendly cardboard packaging. Thankfully, the Blu-ray discs can withstand the contact they make with the material underneath, but I feel sorry for anyone who's picked up the DVD's... although with such an outstanding technical presentation, in both video and audio, I'm not sure why anyone would opt for the DVD's. The supplemental package is decent enough, but for such a monumental return to television, I though there could have been a little more added to sweeten the deal, especially considering the high MSRP. Regardless, it's the episodes themselves on this release that matter the most, and based on the quality of those alone, this release comes highly recommended.