Futurama: Bender's Game (US - DVD R1)
Our Gabe's faith in Futurama is slowly returning, but the magic is still missing
With fuel prices skyrocketing, the Planet Express crew is sent on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the world's only dark-matter mine, after wasting valuable ounces of spaceship fuel during a spaceship demolition derby. When they arrive at the mine they discover evil industrialist Mom’s even more evil than usual plan, and take drastic measures to fix the problem.
These Futurama movies have been quite the rollercoaster ride. First came Bender’s Big Score, which started off really slowly, but eventually built to an emotionally satisfying conclusion, seemingly for the entire series. Then The Beast with a Billion Backs pretended none of the emotionally satisfying elements happened, and awkwardly tried to assert a different poignant finale. The trailer for the third film in the series, Bender’s Game, didn’t inspire a lot of enthusiasm for the continuing quality of the series, and was packed with terrible jokes and dated Lord of the Rings references. I assumed the worst, to the point that I almost didn’t even want to see the film.
Bender’s Game is basically one pretty good episode stretched into two with one really bad regular length episode stuck in there towards the end. There aren’t any ‘big idea’ attempts at tear-jerking, or really any drama at all, but the scenes that take place in the normal Futurama universe are possibly the funniest since the original series was cancelled. The good section isn’t up to the laugh out loud standards of the best the series had to offer, but if it had been shortened up a bit and stuck in a season set I’m pretty sure fans wouldn’t consider it one of the lesser episodes. Even better, the good bits are kind of original to the series, though they surely explore some very familiar themes.
But that bad bit they crammed towards the end is just awful, easily the worst thing I’ve ever seen out of this creative team. This section, which is crammed in just before the climax of the final act, consists of almost all the stuff seen in those early teaser trailers. Thematically it has almost no place in the narrative, and the creative team acknowledges this, as if it’s a great joke, but the whole section is such an unfunny slog that it feels more like an elongated deleted scene.
I complain about Fox’s single layered burned discs every time they send them, but this one is the worst I’ve ever seen. The compression noise is almost blinding, especially during fast movements. The blocking is so brutal that the blocks have their own blocks. It’s almost like watching a blown up version of the film as viewed on YouTube. I assume that the regular release DVD looks fine, and that the Blu-ray looks even better, but you know what they say about assumptions.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio isn’t nearly as gutted as the video, but is of a lower overall volume than I’m used to, so I assume the burned disc isn’t a very good example of the kind of sound I was meant to hear. Bender’s Game features fewer musical moments than the previous films, which I think is another reason to consider it more of a long episode than a feature presentation. There are a few moments of impressive action mixing, but generally fewer than we heard in the other two movies, especially Bender’s Big Score, which featured that memorable space battle.
Bender’s Game has some slightly larger than average shoes to fill after the previous two Futurama movie releases managed to roll out some novel and entertaining extras. As per the norm for the series as a whole, everything starts with an immensely entertaining group commentary track. Producer/writer David X Cohen is once again the ruler of the factoids, explaining the ins and outs of the movie’s production, the hidden mathematics jokes, the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, and other nerdy subjects of interest. The actors (Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille) are a little less overbearing than on previous tracks, and add a nice flavour to the mix. Producer/creator Matt Groening’s presence is negligible at best, unfortunately. One can also watch the first fourth of the film as a storyboard animatic, if one were so inclined. Features screen one also features a ‘Futurama Genetics Lab’ mix and match game.
Our featurettes begin with ‘D&D&F’, a seven minute chat with the writing staff’s two biggest D&D freaks, David X Cohen and Eric Kaplan, and one writer who has zero interest in the game, Mike Rowe. Cohen and Kaplan share personal stories while Rowe acts bored. It’s quite cute. ‘How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps’ is an eight minute visit with some of the show’s animators, who show us how to draw some of the characters (Zoidberg, Leela and Bender), in what they hope is an entertaining manner (it really isn’t, but good try). The featurettes are finished out with a series of 3D model turn-arounds with animator commentary.
Under the disc’s final extras screen is a solitary deleted scene, presented in the form of rough pencils, and running about thirty seconds, ‘Blooperama 2’ (which is not a blooper reel, but a reel of the voice actors at work), ‘Bender’s Anti-Piracy Warning’ (a spoof of those lame ‘You Wouldn’t Steal a Movie’ PSAs), and a sneak preview of the next and final (?) Futurama movie— Into the Wild Green Yonder.
With Bender’s Game the Futurama staff plays it safe, much safer than they did with the last two films, possible because The Beast with a Billion Backs was a little too experimental, but what they lack in balls they mostly make up for in laughs. Minus the lame trip to fantasy land the movie is very funny, maybe the funniest of the movie series overall. Generally speaking, this is an amusing time, and had Fox not sent me a burned, single layer disc, it might’ve looked good too.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th November 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentary, Animatic, Futurama Genetics Lab, D&D&F, How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps, Deleted Scene, Blooperama, Bender's Anti-Piracy Notice, 'Into the Wild Green Yonder' Sneak Peek
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dwayne Carey-Hill
Cast: John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Billy West, Brittany Murphy, Dan Castellaneta, David Cross, Phil LaMarr
Genre: Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 88 minutes
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