“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: a series of direct-to-dvd movies, which started with “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.
The second film, "Beast With a Billion Backs", started 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".
The third film is "Bender's Game", the show's take on "Dungeons and Dragons"-style sword and sorcery. The film doesn't continue from where the second film left off, instead starting on its own plot. While Bender makes fun of a few dorky kids playing a D & D-like game, he secretly wants to play, too. After displaying a few unexpected moments of imagination, the kids let Bender in. Meanwhile, as punishment for wasting dark matter fuel (Mom, the head of the dark matter empire, claims a "shortage" as the cause of higher prices), Leila gets fitted for a shock collar that goes off any time she gets angry.
Meanwhile, Professor Farnsworth, having had enough of the rising fuel prices, hatches a plan to take down Mom's dark matter empire, and he has enough first-hand knowledge of dark matter to do it. While Farnsworth, Fry and Leila try to save humanity from high oil prices, Bender has begun to lose his mind from playing "Dungeons and Dragons", which - as the characters inform us - slowly makes one lose their mind. While Bender is thought to be crazy, there's an unexpected twist in the second half of the film.
As welcome as more "Futurama" is, "Bender's Game" didn't appeal to me as much as the prior two films did. Despite attempts to play up current events (well, at least last Summer's event of higher oil prices), the plot isn't as clever (I have no clue about "Dungeons and Dragons", but I didn't feel like the filmmakers mined much humor out of it here) or imaginative as "Bender's Big Score" or, to a lesser degree, "Beast With a Billion Backs". Additionally, "Bender's Big Score" had a plot that flowed smoothly from one plot point and twist to another, but "Bender's Game" feels more fractured (and, at least in the middle, a little draggy.)
"Bender's Game" has a few flashes of the kind of great laughs that the series is capable of, and the return of these characters is still quite welcome. Still, the plot feels weaker than the prior two efforts and hopefully, the fourth film in the series will be a solid close to these features and a return to form.
VIDEO: "Bender's Game" 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, director Dwayne Carey-Hill, producer Claudia Katz, actors John DiMaggio, Billy West and Tress MacNeille, as well as co-executive producers David X. Cohen and Michael Rowe provide an audio commentary for the feature. The bunch provide an energetic chat, laughing about some smaller details and references in the movie, as well as chatting about Dungeons and Dragons, as apparently more than one of the participants were fans as kids.
"Storyboard Animatic" provides a storyboard version of the first part (25 minutes or so) of the film. "Futurama Genetics Lab" allows viewers to combine two of the characters to form a new one. "Dungeons and Dragons and Futurama" provides a brief discussion by members of the crew of the game's influence. "Bloopers" offers a few minutes of bloopers from the recording session. "Bender's Anti-Piracy Promo" is a spoof of the irritating anti-piracy ads that often play before DVDs. "How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps" interviews the animators, who discuss their favorite characters to animate and how they go about drawing them.
We also get 3-D models with animator discussion, a deleted scene and a trailer for the fourth "Futurama" film. There's also a couple of easter eggs, as well.
Final Thoughts: "Bender's Game" certainly has a few flashes of the kind of great laughs that the series is capable of, and the return of these characters is still welcome. However, the plot feels weaker than the prior two features and hopefully, the fourth film in the series will be a return to form Rent it.