Futurama: The Complete Season 5 (UK - BD RB)
Futurama is back on Blu-ray and Chris has taken a look at the latest season...
You asked for more... and the Planet Express crew is delivering! Welcome back to Futurama, the light-years-ahead-of-its-time animated series from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Jon Fry, Bender, Leela and the rest of the gang for 13 hilarious new episodes that tackle some of the most controversial subjects in the galaxy... including evolution, mind exchange, feline intelligence and robosexual marriage. Hey, it could happen! (Taken from the official synopsis.)
As a programme on the Fox network, Futurama was almost guaranteed to be cut down in its prime. Although it was (apparently) never officially cancelled, the network decided not to buy any new episodes of the show in 2003 and it went out of production. Thankfully Comedy Central stepped into the breach, acquiring syndication rights and later commissioning four feature-length episodes of the show, the first of which aired in 2007. The movies were relatively well received and would have served as a fitting finale had things ended there, but thankfully Comedy Central decided to order a new season of twenty-six episodes, which aired in 2010. (As Bender puts it, 'cancelled by idiots and then brought back by bigger idiots.') Although referred to as 'season five' on the Blu-ray artwork, the truth is actually a little more complicated. If you take the four movies as the fifth season (which some do), this is actually season six, or more accurately half of it. Yes ladies and gents, it's another one of those 'let's cut the season in half so we can sell it to the punters twice' affairs.
Putting aside Fox's money-grabbing antics, this is a great 'volume' of Futurama featuring some very strong episodes. The opening 'Rebirth' does a great job of reintroducing the Planet Express crew after the events of 'Into the Wild Green Yonder', with every major character back for the ride. I loved catching up with old favourites like the eternally dumb Fry, tough, no-nonsense Leela, sociopathic kleptomaniac Bender, spoilt rich girl Amy, dithering genius Professor Farnsworth, stuffy bureaucrat Hermes and the disgusting Doctor Ziodberg, not to mention supporting characters like Mom, Scruffy the janitor and spot-on Shatner parody Zapp Brannigan and his downtrodden sidekick Kiff. As usual the episodes are stuffed to the gills with pithy one-liners, sight gags and pop-culture references, with scenarios raging from time travel to robot rights. There are frequent references to genre shows, particularly Star Trek - with one episode, 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela', putting a side-splitting spin on the events of The Motion Picture - and films like The Da Vinci Code (again amusingly spoofed). There's also a not-so-subtle dig at Apple's marketing strategy in an episode that revolves around the must-have new gadget, the 'eyePhone'.
However, it's not a perfect run by any means. While there are no bad episodes per se, a few are noticeably inferior to the best in the set, but I guess that's almost inevitable. The characters' relationships and motivations are also a little uneven, particularly the ever-changing Fry/Leela situation, which sees them seemingly in a happy relationship one minute and 'just friends' the next. Even so, the good far outweighs the bad and as a fan I'm just happy to have one of my favourite shows back in any form.
There's really not much to say about the 1.78:1 widescreen (1080/24p AVC) encoded episodes found in this set. The show's simplistic cell-shaded animation isn't the most complex you'll ever see, but it does look great in high-definition. The image clarity is outstanding, with razor-sharp delineation, while the vibrant colour palette all-but leaps off of the screen. If there were any compression issues I didn't spot them during normal viewing, and there was no obvious bleed, posterisation, or other visual anomalies to report. If you're one of those people who doubts the benefits of watching 'simplistic' animation on Blu-ray, Futurama could very well change your mind. I think the images on this page say more than I ever could (or indeed should) about the quality.
Every episode is accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that is, to put it simply, pretty fantastic. The voice acting is the star of the show, so it's with great relief that I can report that there are absolutely no issues with dialogue reproduction (it's always clear and well-prioritised). While the discrete channels aren't active for the entirety of each episode there are still plenty of neat effects to be found, be it laser blasts, flying saucers, or other 30th century goings-on. Bass is relatively potent at times, mainly when reinforcing explosions or music, and the show's music is nicely balanced in the mix. While you wouldn't mistake it for big-budget blockbuster audio, Futurama still manages to impress sonically.
Each episode features audio commentary by the cast and crew, and if you've ever listed to one of the previous Futurama chat tracks you'll know how entertaining they are. Matt Groening and David X. Cohen are the constants, with the rest of the participants rotating episode by episode. A bunch of deleted scenes (10:19 HD) are also included and some of them are actually quite amusing. With that said it's easy to see why they were cut for pacing reasons. Next up is 'Behind the Fungus: Makin' a Hit Song' (04:59 HD) in which Billy West (Fry) hits the studio to record his hit song, 'Shut Up and Love Me'. Apparently rarely-seen, the 'Previously on Futurama' (01:21 HD) openings preceded the four TV movies, while 'The Adventures of Delivery-Boy Man' (07:14 HD) is an original animated comic book by Philip J. Fry, with optional commentary from Groening and Cohen. 'Bend it Like Bender' (02:42 HD) is a music video starring everyone's favourite robot, and 'The Prisoner of Benda: Live Table Read (35:10 HD) is basically the Futurama cast going through their first round-table performance of the script set to early storyboard animatics (I'd have preferred video of the voice actors). BD-Live features are also advertised, although they didn't work for me.
It might not be the best season of Futurama but I still enjoyed the hell out of it, and episodes like 'The Late Philip J. Fry' more than make up for the fillers. The Blu-ray's technical qualities are impressive, especially the fantastic visuals, and while the extras aren't terribly plentiful they are at least enjoyable (particularly the commentaries). I'm still peeved that we only get half of a season, but the US was similarly screwed over so it's not just a case of Fox picking on UK consumers. Regardless, this is still a must-have release for Futurama fans.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 26th December 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Deleted Scenes, Table Read, Music Videos, Animated Comic Book
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Lauren Tom
Genre: Animation, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 280 minutes
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