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Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (DTV)

(2009) ** 1/2 Unrated
90 min. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

/content/films/3351/1.jpgFrom “30th Century Fox” comes the last installment in a series of four Futurama movies. Like its three predecessors, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder is designed to sustain interest over 90 minutes, but also to function as four regular-sized episodes when diced into syndication-size slices. The result is an ungainly narrative, saddled with the added burden of perhaps being the last-ever Futurama adventure. For a variety of reasons, that scenario seems unlikely, but all the same, executive producers Matt Groening and David X. Cohen and longtime screenwriter Ken Keeler do their darndest to pull out whatever stops are left. Groening’s notoriously prickly fanbase may well overlook the inclusion of nearly the entire extended universe of Futurama characters and focus on the negative: the warmed-over story and jokes.

Keeler and company have always made room for self-deprecating self-reference, but it’s never seemed more apt. When space-Jamaican bureaucrat Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr) asks, “Bender, are you crazy?”, and Bender (John DiMaggio) replies, “Nooo! It's Fry who's crazy in this one,” it’s a winking acknowledgment of creative exhaustion at the end of four seasons and four movies. “This one” begins with the Planet Express crew partying in Mars Vegas, which Leo Wong (Billy West) is poised to demolish to make room for New Vegas. Wong’s wanton destruction, including bulldozing 12% of galaxy to be bulldozed for a giant miniature golf course, raises environmental red flags, with one-eyed feminist Leela Turanga (Katey Sagal) and her new friends in the Greenorita Eco-Feminist Collective.

When a protest mishap turns Philip J. Fry (West again) psychic, he decides to enter the 3009 Universal Poker Championship, hosted by The Wong Hotel and Casino and emceed by Vegas stalwarts Penn & Teller (if the “massive head” of mouthy Penn Jillette makes an ideal voice-over guest star, the silent Teller is one by way of Samuel Beckett). Bender, too, signs up for the tournament. His new girlfriend Fanny—wife of the Donbot, head of the Robot Mafia—has sawed off her husband’s foot for Bender, and as we all know, a robot’s foot is good luck. It’s science.

Matters only get crazier from there, with Fry learning to deal with the voices in his head by joining The Ancient Legion of Madfellows and donning their traditional tinfoil hat. The Madfellows await the apocalyptic arrival of “the Dark One,” who could come in any form. The plot allows for all sorts of shenanigans, but it also feels pretty shapeless with its hurry-up-and-wait multiple climaxes. As usual, plenty of allusions from science-fiction (Star Trek, Dune) and pop culture (Circuit Du Soleil, um, the Supreme Court) crop up, and the guest star roster also includes singin' Family Guy multi-millionaire Seth MacFarlane and Snoop Dogg as the chief justice (or should I say “head” justice?) of the Supreme Court.

The 3D/2D-hybrid animation is still winningly colorful and energetic, and it’s nice to see old favorites like Shatner-esque lamebrain Zapp Brannigan (West yet again) and Kif (the versatile Maurice LaMarche), chef Elzar (DiMaggio), and robot gangster Clamps still roaming around the universe. And Groening still has Nixon to kick around, along with the headless body of Spiro Agnew. But where it counts, in the laugh-to-clunker ratio, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder is so often leaden that the spread-out good jokes aren’t allowed a chance to shine. Next time—and I do hope there’ll be a next time—let’s make sure the anti-gravity field is in working order.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/24/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

On Blu-ray, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder could hardly look any better: vibrant color and razor-sharp 2D and 3D imagery is completely free of digital artifacts, which makes sense given the high-def source. The stellar tech credits extend to a masterful DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack; dialogue is certainly clear, and there are some notably dynamic sound effects to show off the surrounds a bit.

As always, Matt Groening and company serve up a very special special edition. The centerpiece here is a Picture-In-Picture (BonusView) video commentary (also available audio only) by Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Patric M. Verrone, Michael Rowe, Lee Supercinski and Peter Avanzino. These are always must-listens: as always on the Futurama tracks, Cohen takes the lead, but there's never a quiet moment, with everyone pitching in (often to needle the nerdy Cohen).

Animation buffs will particularly enjoy the "Storyboard Animatic: 'Into the Wild Green Yonder, Part 1'" (22:26, SD), which includes some trims not found in the final version.

The most entertaining of the featurettes is "Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama So Good" (5:09, HD), "the real fake story of Futurama" as shot around the production offices and studio. "'Louder! Louder!': The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette" (2:07, HD) gives us a coupla minutes in the studio with Penn (sans partner Teller).

"Golden Stinkers: A Treasury of Deleted Scenes" (2:52, HD) features five trims. "Matt Groening and David X. Cohen in Space!" (4:23, SD) details the duo's zero-G weightless experience.

"How To Draw Futurama In 10 Very Difficult Steps" (11:10, HD) allows animators to demonstrate the sketching of the major characters. "3D Models with Animator Discussion" (4:19, HD) asks director of computer graphics Scott Vanzo and Avanzino to show off and narrate 3D models, such as that of the asteroid.

"Bender's Movie Theater Etiquette" (1:16, HD) and "Zapp Brannigan's Guide to Making Love at a Woman" (2:49, HD) are not terribly funny montages of clips from the series, but there's also a charming and easily discovered Easter Egg: "another fine toilet paper animation by Bill Morrison" (:37, HD)

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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