“Simpsons” creator Matt Groening’s “Futurama” started its run overshadowed by its creator’s immensely more popular creation, but after a while, a funny thing happened: “Futurama” got funny - hysterical, even. The characters developed and the writing became more inspired, turning “Futurama” into a cult hit. However, there was a problem - the series was often interrupted by football on Sundays, and the gaps between airings resulted in declining ratings. Not given enough support by the network, the series was eventually cancelled.
For those unfamiliar, "Futurama" focused on the adventures of Fry (Billy West), a former Pizza Boy accidentially frozen in time on December 31, 1999. In the pilot episode, Fry falls into a suspended animation machine, waking up a thousand years later. After he realizes where he's gone, he finds out that his new "life assignment" is to ... be a delivery boy, which he's too happy about. Fry escapes from Leela (Katey Sagal), to look for his great (times about 50) nephew Professor Farnsworth. Once he meets Farnsworth and gets things worked out, he and new friends robot Bender and Leela are hired for the intergalactic delivery service. Also working at the service are squid-like Dr. Zoidberg (Billy West), bureaucrat Hermes (Phil LaMarr), and Amy Wong (Lauren Tom).
However (yes, there’s another however), much like “Family Guy”, “Futurama” surprised executives by selling well on DVD, making it seem like another show cancelled too early. Unfortunately, the solution wasn’t bringing “Futurama” back on TV, but we do get the next best thing: a series of direct-to-dvd movies, which started with “Bender’s Big Score".
"Into the Wild Green Yonder" is the fourth in the series and possibly the last of the direct-to-video films. The film opens in Mars Vegas, which is being demolished so that a bigger, better Mars Vegas can be built - despite rare creatures that live on site and protests from environmental activists. On the construction site, Fry gets an injury that allows him to read minds.
Meanwhile, Bender falls for the wife of a mob boss and starts a dangerous romance, then finds himself in the midst of a high-stakes poker game versus Fry. Leila, horrified by the destruction that will be caused by Vegas developer Mr. Wong's attempts to build the world's biggest mini golf course, leads the group of eco-feminists in an attempt to stop it. Meanwhile, Fry learns that he's an important part of a plan to stop the "Dark One", and a group of homeless prophets guide him as he tries to go undercover to stop the destruction of an all-important star.
"Into the Wild Green Yonder" isn't the best of the four direct-to-video "Futurama" films (the first film, "Bender's Big Score" remains - at least in my opinion - the best of the bunch), suffering from a few of the problems that have plagued the other films to some degree (such as the fact that the films wind up as episodes, and "Into the Wild Green Yonder" feels like a series of episodes glued together) and pacing issues (the first half of this film drags at times, but the film improves immensely in the second half.)
Still, while there are some problems, the movie really kicks into gear nicely in the second half, as the jokes come more frequently (largely courtesy of Bender and beloved supporting character Zapp Brannigan) and the story turns into more of an adventure. The end of the film also ties up a few loose ends, yet also gives some fans hope for future episodes, leaving things open-ended. Hopefully the series can continue in some form, as while the films have never quite reached the quality of the original series, these memorable characters have yet to wear out their welcome.
VIDEO: "Futurama" has looked very good in previous DVD sets, but looks truly impressive on its Blu-Ray debut here. Presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) widescreen by Fox, the presentation appears crystal clear, with impressive clarity and detail. Although a tiny bit of noise and a couple of minor instances of edge enhancement appear, this is otherwise a sleek, smooth and pristine presentation. Colors appear rich and bold, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other concerns. Overall, this was a terrific presentation, and it's great to see the series in HD.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. Audio quality is terrific; while the film's sound mix certainly isn't aggressive, there are certainly some instances of surround use for various effects and ambience. Sound effects remained crisp and clean, while dialogue sounded well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Creator Matt Groening, executive producer David X. Cohen, co-writers Patric Verrone and Michael Rowe, voice actors John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche, producer Lee Supercinski and director Peter Avanzino offer an audio (or optional video) commentary. While the group notes that this is possibly the last "Futurama" commentary ever, they do say that they hope that that isn't the case, so that may give some hope to fans. The commentary is another amusing track, as the group has a lot of fun and fond memories to share about making the picture - we hear about the animation, story issues and quite a few production tidbits (such as how "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane was brought in to sing the opening song - this, despite the "rivalry" between "Family Guy" and "Simpsons".)
"Futurama: The Making Of...It" is a short spoof "making of" documentary featuring voice actress Lauren Tom (who voices Amy), which talks about how the production of "Futurama" is essentially a one-woman show run entirely by her. It's not something to be watched more than once, but it's an amusing goof.
"Louder, Louder" talks about Penn (of Penn/Teller fame)'s cameo performance, while "David and Matt in Space" shows the Zero-G flight that Matt Groening and David X. Cohen took recently, with commentary from the two over the footage and pictures. "Bender's Movie Theatre Etiquette" and "Zapp Brannigan's Guide to Making Love at a Woman" are joke PSA's featuring the two characters. "How to Draw Futurama in 10 Difficult Steps" is an animation tutorial discussing how to draw a few different characters from the show. Finally, we get the storyboard animatic for the first part of the movie, 5 deleted scenes and 3-D models with animator commentary.
Finally, there's easter eggs included if you look around on the menus. A few animation cards are also included in the case.
Final Thoughts: Although not the best of the "Futurama" direct-to-video offerings, "Into the Wild Green Yonder" still offers a mostly entertaining story, which gets into high gear in the second half of the film. Hopefully these direct-to-video offerings have been popular enough to see the series return in some form after "Yonder". The Blu-Ray edition boasts excellent audio/video quality and an enjoyable bunch of extras. Recommended.
Note: the film is also available on DVD.
The Film B