“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 happen: “Futurama” got funny - really funny. 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: this direct-to-DVD movie, “Bender’s Big Score”. The movie opened with a not-so-subtle dig at the network that cancelled the series, as Professor Farnsworth informs the group that they were fired two years ago when the Box Network (parts of the B in the sign flicker) cancelled their delivery license.
"Beast With a Billion Backs" starts up directly after the cliffhanger of "Bender's Big Score", where the events tore a rip in the fabric of the universe. However...nothing has happened, leading to residents becoming exhausted of being frightened of what might appear from the tear and scientists baffled. Meanwhile, Kif and Amy have decided to get hitched, but Fry isn't exactly pleased when he finds out that new girlfriend Colleen has an uncomfortable situation going on.
Farnsworth and a competitor eventually learn more about the tear in the universe and - despite their protests - a ship is sent up (piloted, of course, by Zapp Brannigan) to destroy it because humans don't want to actually have to deal with what might be on the other side. Things don't go as planned and a creature named Yivo (David Cross) with many tentacles starts to reach through the tear and grab everyone, hypnotizing them into becoming followers of "The Tentacle".
After the strength of the clever "Bender's Big Score", I guess I was hoping for more out of the follow-up. There are definitely some great gags scattered throughout the story, but the story itself seems like an average episode stretched out to feature length. There's not enough to the main story of Yivo, and even Bender's subplot - he becomes a member of the secretive League of Robots - never really goes anywhere particularly interesting. Despite these fairly sizable issues, I still found the feature at least mildly entertaining. The core of the series - the great characters - still works, and despite the average story, the feature's fast pace and fun gags do make-up - at least to a point - for the picture's faults.
VIDEO: "Beast With a Billion Backs" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered perfectly fine image quality, with the only concern being some slight shimmering. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy will likely offer differing (and hopefully better) image quality.
SOUND: The film is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is generally a straightforward effort, with some surround usage here-and-there for effects. However, the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: creator Matt Groening, voice actors Billy West, John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche, co-writer Mike Rowe and producers Claudia Katz and Lee Supercinski, director Peter Avanzino, executive producer David X. Cohen offer an audio commentary for the film. As with the audio commentary offered for the prior adventure, the participants seem happy to be back and offer an entertaining chat about the making of the film, offering some interesting production tidbits and amusing jokes.
"Futurama: The Lost Episode" is the footage from the "Futurama" game, tied together into a whole. The animation for the game is rather basic, but it is presented decently here, with audio commentary. We also get a storyboard presentation of the first chunk of the movie, bloopers, a short featurette with actor David Cross, deleted scenes, gallery, "A Brief History of Deathball" featurette and a preview for "Bender's Game", the next feature in the new "Futurama" series.
Final Thoughts: "Beast With a Billion Backs" is a little disappointing in comparison with "Bender's Big Score", but the feature still does provide quite a few jokes and gags that work and it's still great to see these characters off on another adventure. Recommended.