Futurama: Volume Five
Fox // Unrated // $29.98 // December 21, 2010
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted January 13, 2011
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
Back to the Futurama

The screen shots included with this review are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent the quality of the transfer.

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Sitcoms, Animation, The Simpsons
Likes: Futurama
Dislikes: Eco-packaging
Hates: When my favorite shows get cancelled

The Story So Far...
The story of a simple 20th-Century delivery boy named Fry and his pals, set in the 30th Century, Futurama was Fox' attempt to create a second franchise from the mind of The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, though it has nothing to do with Springfield's finest, outside of a shared art style (at the DNA level at least.) But thanks to a weak timeslot and odd scheduling, the show died an early death, only to be revived by syndication and DVD releases. After a series of DVD movies, the show was back on the air with new episodes on Comedy Central. There have been a number of DVD releases over the years, and DVDTalk has reviews of them all.

The Show
I really enjoyed Futurama when I used to watch it on Fox, when I could find it and when it wasn't pre-empted. I even bought all the DVD sets so I could revisit it, but when the series left the air, it became a case of out of site, out of mind. Even when the show made its return in the form of four DVD movies (which later aired on Comedy Central) and then a new run of episodes on that channel, I didn't watch. As with many things in my life, I got over it and moved on, finding other pursuits to occupy my time.

Well, looks like that was a mistake. After checking out the first 13 episodes of the sixth season, it's pretty obvious that Futurama came back strong, not missing a beat in the time it was on the sidelines. Jumping right back in without any dependence on the previous four seasons, and a cute re-introduction for long-time fans, the series showed all the smarts that earned it heaps of critical acclaim and the laughs that allowed it to make fans out of its sibling show's audience. My memories of the original run is a bit hazy, but there's no doubting that these episodes are consistently hysterical and frequently quite intelligent, with a healthy dose of heart tossed in for good measure.

The screen shots included with this review are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent the quality of the transfer.

Ostensibly, the show is about the deliveries Fry and his buddies at Planet Express make, but as the company's main administrator points out in one of the show's many meta gags, they don't do that very often. Instead, they seem to wander in the direction of whatever is going on in any of their lives, whether it's Amy Wong's struggle to earn her doctorate (getting held back by a race of evil cats) or Bender's attempts to legalize human-robot relationships.

Frequently though, the series focuses on Fry and Leela, his one-eyed mutant love interest. As they are the stars of the show, this connection is taken somewhat seriously, and results in several episodes that are practically melodramatic, like "The Late Philip J. Fry," where Fry is launched into the future, leaving Leela to think he's abandoned her, or "The Mutants are Revolting," which sees Fry turn himself into a mutant to better understand Leela's struggles. Even the hard-edged Bender gets a chance to be sentimental in "Lethal Inspection," as he searches for the inspector who declared him complete, despite missing a crucial part.

The show does have purpose beyond the group's foibles at times though, and when it does, it does a great job at satire, using its futuristic setting to poke fun at modern issues, including internet/gadget obsession, tolerance and evolution, with razor-sharp focus. "Attack of the Killer App" manages to skewer both the Cult of Apple fanboy behavior and the ego-centric world of Twitter and similar status-update mindsets perfectly, while "A Clockwork Origin" is a wonderful episode-length gag about the conflict between evolution and creationism.

But as good as the show is at making a point, it's even better at stupid little jokes, which are peppered throughout each episode, delivered with perfect pacing by one of the best voice casts on TV. The show surprises you with laughs, which makes them that much better, as shows with telegraphed laughs show so readily. When Hermes reveals he might be coming down with Circusitis, it shouldn't make me laughs so hard, but I'll be dammed if his sneeze made me laugh out loud, and his response to Leela's follow-up question was brilliantly funny. These quick hits are everywhere, resulting in more legitimate out-loud laughs than the vast majority of shows not airing as part of NBC's Thursday line-up.

The screen shots included with this review are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent the quality of the transfer.

The Blu-Ray Discs
This collection of 13 episodes arrives on a pair of Blu-Ray discs, which are packed in a nice-looking cardboard folder (packed in a thin slipcase), with die-cut slots for each disc, episode listings and a promotional insert. It's not the sturdiest of packages, though Blu-Ray doesn't require as great a deal of protection as DVDs. The discs offer up attractive animated menus with options to watch all the episodes, select shows, search bookmarks, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are included in English SDH, Spanish and French. One thing that struck me about this set though was

The Quality
The 1.78:1 transfers (1080p/AVC) look fantastic, with bright color, deep dark blacks and not a spot of concern. There's a limit to the amount of detail available to stand-out in most of the animation, as textures tend to be rare, but the computer animation integrated throughout looks truly gorgeous, as the colors really pop off the screen, especially any gradient fades. This is the ultimate Futurama presentation.

The audio is delivered via 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, and brings clear, crisp dialogue and strong music, while the special effects get nice placement in the side and rear speakers. You're not going to find any real dynamic mixing going on, but the atmospherics and boosted music are nice touches.

The Extras
Every episode has an audio commentary, featuring several participants, with a mix of producers, crew and cast, including Groening and West and DiMaggio, as well as a few guests, like the great Maurice LaMarche and Tracy Morgan (sort of.) Unsurprisingly for a group that has worked together for a lengthy amount of time, the feel is very light and friendly, and they keep a nice balance of goofing around and offering background on the episode at hand. The only negative is the difficulty in telling who's who, as there are so many voices in the room.

There are 10 minutes of deleted scenes (some in animatic form) found on the first disc (23 in all), each preceded by production details so you know where they were cut from. The vast majority are throwaway gags, but amusing nonetheless. If you're desiring more Futurama, here's your chance. The scenes are followed by a 5-minute featurette "Behind the Fungus: Makin' a Hit Song," which is focused almost purely on music, as West and guitarist Greg Lyon rip it up in the studio, recording the song "Shut Up and Love Me" from the episode "Proposition Infinity." Though it's about a song in the show, it couldn't be less connected to the series.

If you've got a spare 1:21, you can check out the "Previously on Futurama" lead-ins for the Futurama DVD movies, but you're not getting much out of them.

The final disc-based extra is a table read of "The Prisoner of Benda," where the first live read of the script is married to animatics for the episode. It would have been nice to actually see the table read at some point, as it's always fun to hear cartoon voices come out of real people, but as it is, you get to hear an alternate version of the show that actually aired. It's really for hardcore fans only though.

Also included is access to to an assortment of BD-Live content to download or stream, including clips from other Fox shows, movie trailers and bonus content from other Blu-Ray releases. It's made clear that none of this stuff is guaranteed to be available each time you load up your disc, so there's no point in getting into details of what's included, but currently it's a decent mix of material.

The screen shots included with this review are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent the quality of the transfer.

The Bottom Line
Having been away from the series for close to six years, it's great to dive back in and find it's still the show I enjoyed back then, and that it offers quite a few genuine laughs in each episode. Unless the HD-level of quality if a must though, there's not much of a reason to go Blu-Ray over DVD, as they both offer the same enjoyable, but somewhat limited extras (outside of the great commentaries.) If you missed Futurama, you definitely should check this out, and if you never caught the Futurama Fever, this set allows you to jump right in and enjoy.



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