Sunday, January 06, 2008

Random Movie Report #40: Futurama: Bender's Big Score

So, FUTURAMA is back. Technically they’ve been back for a while, as this direct-to-DVD feature was released last November, and to a lesser extent it doesn’t feel like it’s been gone too long since the reruns have been on long enough for me to see just about each episode three times over (with the exception of “Jurassic Bark”, and everybody knows why.) This is the first new content we’ve gotten in years, though; BENDER’S BIG SCORE marks the start of a series of four direct-to-DVD FUTURAMA movies (to be broken up into about 16 episodes for TV airing later), and if they do well we may see a lot more. So, apart from it being great to have all the characters back, how’s the show? Er, movie? Whatever?
Pretty good. Not great, there’s a bit of rust, but the intelligence and earnestness of the show is still there, as are some good laughs. As other critics point out, the movie does engage in a hefty amount of backslapping over the return of the Planet Express crew, and your enjoyment of this will vary depending on whether or not you’re actually a fan, but despite this and a wealth of references to episodes past, the show/movie/etc. does settle down to tell a strangely compelling tale of time travel, interstellar invasion, and nudity.

After Hermes Conrad is injured in a horrific limbo-related accident, the Planet Express crew is dispatched to the Nude Beach Planet to make a delivery, and while there end up on an e-mail list run by a group of scammer aliens, who quickly phish the entire company out of house and home. A tattoo of Bender is found mysteriously located on Fry’s rear end, and is found to contain a binary code which, when spoken aloud, creates a portal in time. The aliens want to exploit this to steal Earth’s treasures, but it only goes backwards- so Bender, under their control thanks to a computer virus, goes back, steals whatever they ask for, and simply waits out the ages. All of this upsets Nibbler, who is convinced that continued use of the time sphere will eventually destroy the universe. Meanwhile, Fry is heartbroken by the fact that Leela is dating Lars, a Head Museum technician who’s mature, responsible, and just about everything he isn’t. The inevitable complications of time travel arise, duplicate bodies and all, and when the aliens sic Bender on Fry, it only gets worse.

Because this film is designed to be broken up for TV airing later, the story is broken down into four fairly discernible “acts”, which gives it an unusual structure. It’s kind of slow to start off, arriving at its plot in the kind of rambling way familiar to viewers of THE SIMPSONS, and I do confess I expected it to more quickly leap into epic mode. The first quarter also understandably has most of the return-of-the-show jokes, starting off with a fairly amusing riff concerning the unfortunate fates of the “Box Network” executives who canceled Planet Express’ shipping license (not that Professor Farnsworth bothered to tell anyone.) This leads to a nice running gag that appears in all four segments, and I have to say, as a fan of the series, I enjoyed the in-jokes. As the time travel moves in and weirds things up, the structure gets more complex, and there’s some fine use of parallel action in the last quarter. What’s interesting is that as complex as the time stuff is, it actually holds together- there are a number of duplicates to keep track of, but as far as I can tell there’s only one true paradox, and that seems almost deliberate (especially given the TERMINATOR references elsewhere in the picture.) A lot of thought was put into this for such a silly film.

The balance between plot and gags has always been one of FUTURAMA’s strengths. Even when the humor tends towards the corny, the show is carried along by the bond it creates between us and its characters. It’s not afraid to be beautiful, even poetic at times, and the central relationship between Fry and Leela is handled believably enough to make it a draw as well. BENDER’S BIG SCORE is no exception, and the film builds plenty of romantic tension alongside the big stupid action and cameos from countless supporting characters. The resolutions feels like a cop out, but thinking back it has a lot of implications for the future of our favorite not-yet-couple.

The animation here is superb, and the voice acting strong as ever, with a number of surprise cameos. The epic-ness I was longing for does finally kick in after a while, and there’s a climactic space battle that’s both funny and dazzling. It’s a very slick production, and really all that seems to have changed is that Zoidberg sounds a little different. It’s a very good return for the show, and makes one eager to see what the crew will run into next.

The DVD also includes a full-length episode of “Everybody Loves Hypnotoad”, but I feel like I MUST WATCH IT NOW. GOODBYE.

Developed by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen
Story by David X. Cohen and Ken Keeler
Teleplay by Ken Keeler

Directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill

Grade: B+


No comments: