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Futurama: Bender's Big Score

(2007) *** 1/2 Pg
88 min. Fox Home Entertainment.

Since Futurama's unfortunate cancellation in 2003, fans of the animated FOX sitcom created by Matt Groening (The Simpsons) have been jonesin' for more just like Slurm addicts (don't ask, neophytes). Thanks to a deal cut between the show's producers and Fox Home Entertainment, Futurama has a new lease on life. Four direct-to-video films—designed specially to be repurposed as sixteen more episodes for the syndication package—are on the way. Based on the first of the flock, Bender's Big Score, fervent fans will find Futurama freshly in fine fettle.

Newcomers may be briefly disoriented by the fast-paced antics, but the film begins by reintroducing the characters. Philip J. Fry (voice of Billy West), a year 2000 delivery boy now living in 3007 thanks to a cryogenic mishap, works with a motley crew at the Planet Express delivery company: Leela (Katey Segal), his no-nonsense, one-eyed, unrequited-love interest; Bender (John DiMaggio), a profane, dissolute, criminal-minded robot; Professor Farnsworth (West again), Fry's ancestral nephew; the lobster-like alien Dr. Zoidberg (West); Chinese debutante Amy Wong (Lauren Tom); and Jamaican bureaucrat Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr).

Writer-producers David X. Cohen and and Ken Keeler proceed to mock their cancellation by having the characters find their business cancelled. Soon, the true plot unfolds: a madcap war between humanity and internet-scamming alien nudists. Their nefarious plans to take over the universe involve brainwashing Bender to travel through time stealing its greatest treasures. The plot exploits the steel-trap minds of Cohen and Keeler as they boldly construct time-knotting complications; though the big reveal at plot's end is easy to predict, it's no less fun enjoying how the writers get us there. Science-fiction nerds will be in hog heaven with this feature-length indulgence of time travel, and the customary Futurama gag humor rarely disappoints.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 11/27/2007

Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

It's a tradition on Futurama and Simpsons releases to have a freewheeling, screen-specific audio commentary, and this DVD doesn't disappoint. Creator Matt Groening, director Dwayne Carey-Hill, writers David X. Cohen & Ken Keeler, producer Claudia Katz, and cast members Billy West, John DiMaggio and Phil LaMarr participate in a fun-loving and informative feature-length chat. The arguable highlight of the track is DiMaggio and West's giddy inability to stop turning every comment into an excuse to do Sopranos voices and dialogue. As usual, Cohen brings his nerdy detail to bear on the film, pointing out the references and explaining the writing process.

The "Futurama Returns! Live Comic Book Reading" (8:51) is a recording of the portion of a Comic-Con panel during which the voice cast read aloud a promotional comic heralding the show's return. It's a witty comic, and it's fun to hear the actors goof around (and mess up their lines). The screener copy sent out is poorly synched and hard to read; hopefully those issues are fixed on the final release. Apparently as a result of "popular demand," the Futurama staff cooked up a full-length episode of "Everybody Loves Hypno-Toad" (22:03). It's a conceptually funny bit that might send you to your fast-forward button, but it's worth slogging through for the clever variations on the central (and satirical) theme of the sitcom as a pulsating hypnotic toad.

"Deleted Storyboard Scenes" (totalling 3:36) include "Monte Carlo" (mentioned as a writer favorite in the commentary), "Robot Mafia," and "Limbo Contest." The clips are presented in their black-and-white storyboard sketch format, and are definitely worth a look for their gags and insight into the writing and editing process. "A Terrifying Message from Al Gore" (1:24) is a short video produced as an internet promo for An Inconvenient Truth. This nice inclusion gets a video commentary from Cohen, Groening, and Gore—watching the clip in this format extends the run time a tad, with Gore getting a chance not only to recall his experience working on the promo, but also to share a soundbite-sized plea to fight global warming.

"Bite My Shiny Metal X" (26:03) is the niftiest special feature: a math lecture by Dr. Sarah Greenwald of Appalachian State University. It's a version of a lecture Greenwald gives to her students—y'know, to make math seem like fun. Mission accomplished (though the goofy cutaways to Futurama staffers weren't necessary): Greenwald takes us through the mathematical allusions and in-jokes buried in the show and Bender's Big Score, including the languages created by writer Jeff Westbrook. Rounding out the bonus features are "3-D Model Galleries" of spacecraft, a "First Draft of the Script" for Bender's Big Score, and a series of "Character Design Sketches."

Futurama TM and © 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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