Good news, everyone! The Planet Express crew is back in business and they’re better than ever. With the direct-to-DVD release of Futurama - Bender’s Big Score, fans have four completely new episodes that have been combined into one glorious full-length feature presentation. Unlike the common approach of using clumsy bridging sequences to tie episodes together into one narrative, the new DVD episodes really feel like one cohesive project that can best be enjoyed as a feature-length movie. The episodes will eventually be split for airing on TV, but the DVD is clearly the optimal viewing choice, especially considering the wealth of bonus material included.
The new feature starts off with some ruthless jabs at Fox management, similar to the Family Guy rebirth that famously had them rattling off the names of all the dozens of crappy shows Fox had launched and cancelled since their original demise. In Futurama’s case, they’ve been shut down by the idiotic Box Network (with some faulty wiring in their neon “B” sign) shipping conglomerate but get a second chance when a new group of morons take control of the company. On their first new mission, they fall prey to some crafty alien e-mail spammers who take over Planet Express and launch a virus in Bender that places him under their control. When the aliens subsequently discover the secret to time travel from the unwitting Fry, they plot to steal and amass all of the world’s greatest treasures with the assistance of Bender. This sets off some amusing and increasingly mind-bending misadventures in time travel that temporarily send Fry back to the year 2000, a nice nod to the original series premiere episode. Along the way, there are some romantic sparks between Fry and Leela, some thwarted heroics by Nibbler and friends, and a subplot that finds Hermes decapitated and sloppily reassembled while he fights to keep his wife. In short, there’s never a dull moment on this funny ride through the future and past.
The original creators returned for the new DVD, with Matt Groening and David X. Cohen heading the production and all of the original vocal cast back on board. The animation quality is just as good if not better than before, and it’s presented in a widescreen format to further the movie feel. There are cameos a-plenty, most prominently by Al Gore returning to the show yet again. As if there wasn’t already enough entertainment value packed in, the characters even break out into song during a couple of musical numbers. Those unremarkable songs and the limited screen time for Zapp Brannigan are the only minor hiccups in an otherwise wildly entertaining final product.
In addition to the feature commentary track by creators and stars, the DVD is packed with varied bonus features. The most bizarre and memorable is a full episode of “Everybody Loves Hypnotoad”, literally 22 minutes of the completely immobile toad with hypnotizing eyes casting his spell on viewers, presented with only limited fake commercial interruptions. Also included is a math lecture that finds the creative staff in a classroom with a professor discussing the brainy use of math and cryptography in the original series. Comic-Con extras also made the cut, with both a full cast reading of an issue of the Futurama comic book series as well as the five-minute promo reel for this DVD that was screened for attendees this summer. But wait, there’s more: animatics for a few deleted scenes, character design sketches, and even the hand-drawn timeline tracking for the complex time travel round out this comprehensive and robust package.
The bar has been set astronomically high with this first of four new DVD movies. With the wit and charm of the original series firmly back in place as well as its wealth of extras, the new series is off to a rousing start and will be highly anticipated for its upcoming releases.