Futurama: Bender's Game (UK - BD RA/B)
Scott McKenzie takes a look at the first Futurama release in high definition...
Bender’s Game begins with our favourite foul-mouthed robot committed to an insane asylum when he exercises his newly-found imagination too much after learning to play Dungeons & Dragons. At the same time fuel prices are rising, so Fry, Leela and the crew attempt to get to the bottom of Mom’s stranglehold on dark matter. This leads to the crew falling into a world created by Bender’s imagination, inspired by his new favourite game and bearing more than a little resemblance to Middle Earth…
I’d rate myself as a pretty big fan of Futurama from day one and while I’ve watched all four seasons endlessly on DVD, I haven’t felt compelled to re-watch the first two of the four feature-length movies. It may be due to the low rate of laugh-out-loud moments compared with the regular-length episodes, but I think it’s mainly due to the fact that the structure of the stories has suffered slightly because of the change in format. In theory the stories are separated into four episode-length sections but these movies work best as a whole.
In my opinion the best episodes of Futurama are those that have a simple setup. ‘Leela sleeps with Zapp Brannigan’, ‘Fry’s dog is brought back from the dead’ and ‘the crew sells alien babies as fast food’ are one-liners to describe some of my favourites, but it’s difficult to sum up any of the three movies in one sentence. This leads me on to Bender’s Game. ‘Planet Express in Dungeons & Dragons’ is a neat summary, but it only sums up the final act. It takes about an hour to get to the scenes that are promised on the cover and we’ve got a complicated set of events to deal with before we get there.
Like Bender’s Big Score and The Beast with a Billion Backs, the story feels like it is in two parts rather than a cohesive whole. The two early storylines of Bender in the asylum and the crew on their dark matter mission feel completely unrelated and the editing was obviously difficult to join the two storylines together. Don’t get me wrong though – there are some good Futurama moments here. The early demolition derby is a highlight and it’s good to see appearances of Sal, Mom and another episode of ‘The Scary Door’. There’s also a great link back to season one that ties in well with what has gone before with the Niblonians.
There are references to the usual targets, plus The Shining, Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons most of all. In fact, to someone who has never crossed paths with the D&D world before, the commentary and other extras enhanced my appreciation of the obvious love the makers (David X Cohen in particular) have for the game. Bender’s Game is entertaining but again it has left me feeling that the effort going into these movies in unbalanced. Too much time is being spent on creating a complicated story that works over a long running time, and not enough effort is being put into doing what Futurama is supposed to do—make us laugh our asses off.
This is the first high definition release for Futurama and before I loaded the disc in the drive I was wondering just how improved the picture could be over the DVD releases. I remember hearing the crew discuss the detail they put into some scenes on one of the early DVD commentaries (I think it’s for Love’s Labour Lost in Space from season one) where they mention that Zapp Brannigan’s ship had too much detail to show on TV/DVD resolution. I was hoping that scenes like this might allow for more detail that DVD wouldn’t allow.
Unfortunately I didn’t notice one scene where I thought I was getting more depth or detail from the Futurama world than I would expect on DVD, but that’s not to say the picture didn’t look good. The picture is predictably bright and colourful, with no obvious compression artefacts or edge enhancement. This is obvious when there are colour gradients on screen, for example where the Planet Express ship is in the background. The transition from dark green to light green along the side of the ship is where I would have expected some kind of interference to be found on DVD but here it looks pretty much perfect.
Bender’s Game comes with the sole choice of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (English only) and while I can’t say there are any problems with the quality, I wasn’t blown away as much as I hoped I would be. The movie is quite heavy on dialogue, probably more than most episodes so most of the time you’re just getting dialogue through the front speakers. There are decent moments of action, with effects coming through the surround channels and while these uses of directional sound are very well-mixed, they don’t come along too often, which is more a complaint about the movie itself than the transfer.
As expected, the commentary track is a lively one with producer David X Cohen leading the charge and the voice actors along with Matt Groening pitching in from time to time. The conversations focus on Dungeons & Dragons and panic movies from the 1980s warning parents against the game, which inspired key moments in the movie. The best part of the Futurama commentaries is the fact that they’re always entertaining, occasionally more so than the episodes and this one is worth checking out just to hear Billy West riffing as a Spanish Doctor Zoidberg. For higher-profiled players, this is also available as a video commentary.
There is a storyboard animatic of the first twenty-two minutes of the movie that has been put together using rough storyboards, but a lot of the sound is missing so this is really for interest rather than entertainment purposes. The ‘Genetics Lab’ allows you to pick two characters and see what they would look like if they were joined together. ‘D&D&F’ is a featurette that allows David X Cohen to reminisce about Dungeons & Dragons and we also get a compilation of D&D-inspired moments from the whole series. ‘How to Draw Futurama’ does exactly what it says—the animators show us how to draw Doctor Zoidberg, Leela and Bender.
Heading into filler territory, we have a five-minute featurette showing us 3D models of some of the spaceships from the episode along with audio commentary from the team about the work that went into creating them. There is the rough draft of one deleted (well, extended really) scene that is little more than one extra gag. ‘Blooperama’ is two minutes of the voice actors recording and messing up their lines and shows them having lots of fun together in the studio. ‘Bender’s Anti-Piracy Warning’ is a parody of the ‘You wouldn’t steal…’ warnings on DVDs. There are also two Easter eggs—one which contains outtakes and the other is a brief chat with David X Cohen about his favourite dodecahedrons. Seriously.
Bender’s Game is another entertaining movie that fits in well with the Futurama canon, but it doesn’t threaten to reach the heights of the best episodes from the series. The Planet Express crew’s first high definition release does justice to the movie and there is even an exclusive video commentary. Fans are bound to pick this title up and it’ll be interesting to see if all the old titles including the original seasons also get Blu-ray releases.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 3rd November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: Englihs, Spanish, French, Cantonese
Extras: Cast and Crew Audio/Video Commentary, Animatic, Futurama Genetics Lab, D&D&F, How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps, Deleted Scene, Blooperama, Bender's Anti-Piracy Notice
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dwayne Carey-Hill
Cast: John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Billy West, Phil LaMarr, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche
Genre: Animation, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 87 minutes
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