Futurama: Bender's Big Score!

When the both ahead of and behind its time animated series Futurama was cancelled by Fox in 2003, fans were outraged. Although it was never a real ratings bonanza, it did have a loyal following. Fox spent three years being pilloried by comic book nerds and sci-fi geeks before agreeing to produce four feature length Futurama DVD movies, starting with Bender’s Big Score!. Bender’s Big Score! picks up in the early 31st Century with the employees of the Planet Express delivery company. When owner Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (voiced by Billy West) tells the group that the morons responsible for the cancellation were replaced and then brutally murdered, the company (and the show) is back in business. For their first assignment, delivery boy Phillip J. Fry (also West), one-eyed pilot Turanga Leela (Katey Segal), and surly robot Bender (John DiMaggio) head to a nude resort planet with their co-workers.

While the planet allows us to see all of the Planet Express gang naked (with naughty bits strategically covered), it doesn’t work out so well for Fry and his pals. Email scammers, led by Nudar (David Herman), get everyone’s address and spam the intellectually challenged group, ultimately downloading a program which makes Bender their slave. This, eventually, leads to some time traveling and an inter-galactic battle for control of the earth. There are also appearances by Al Gore (playing himself), Santa Robot (DiMaggio), Zapp Brannigan (West again), and other well known characters from the series. This might be confuse anyone who hasn’t seen the show before, but this is clearly a fan’s movie, designed for those already in the club.

The plot, of course, is irrelevant to the fast and furious visual jokes and references that make this show a pop culture shish kabob. Current and past events are lampooned in the future with a witty one-liner. Even the show itself is made fun of when the time travel causes confusion. Bender tries to remember his mission in the past and says “this is pretty confusing.” Then, looking directly at the camera he adds, “and I bet it’s going to get even more confusing.” Futurama: Bender’s Big Score treats the plot as a mere jumping off point for more jokes. Like an animated Airplane! but at times less comprehensible.

That doesn’t mean it always works. Some of the jokes are less than timely. A Nobel Peace Prize for bringing together East and West coast rappers? The 2000 election count in Florida? This is cutting edge humor? Creator David X. Cohen and screenwriter Ken Keeler miss out on the possibilities of the longer format and really just cobble together barely related stories to feature length. That’s not a bad thing, but when something is called Bender’s Big Score it’s odd that the title character isn’t really the story’s focus for the last 30 minutes. The movie does gain a few points for tossing in two musical numbers, although only one is comprehensible and, therefore, funny.

Those are mere quibbles, though. This will satisfy the not huge, but certainly ravenous, hordes of Futurama fans who are sick of watching those same 73 episodes over and over again. Now they have three or maybe three and a half episodes to watch and re-watch until the next three DVD movies are released. If you already love the series, this DVD is just more of the same, only new. When you bring up the menu for Futurama: Bender’s Big Score!, the list of extras seems impressive. There appears to be a lengthy and varied list of items to keep fans busy for quite awhile. On closer look, though, you realize, as the old saying goes, there isn’t much there.

To their credit, the producers have included a commentary track and most of the heavy hitters are included. Creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, voices Billy West, John DiMaggio and Phil LaMarr, producer Claudia Katz, writer Ken Keeler, and director Dwane Carey-Hill all take part. The large number of participants makes it difficult to figure out who is saying what and I’ll again make a request that any DVD commentary with more than three participants identify onscreen who is talking in the commentary. Also, any person doing a commentary in character should be immediately shot, it’s the most annoying and stupid thing done. I’m looking at you Billy West and John DiMaggio.

Once you get past the commentary, which is fine, but not great, everything else is pretty mediocre. There are three deleted scenes. As with almost all animated movies, everything is deleted well before final animating stages, so these are shown in storyboard phase. All three combined last less than five minutes. They are mildly amusing but not long enough to be considered substantial.

One of the more entertaining extras is an animated commercial for the Internet done by the Futurama team for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. An animated (but getting grossly overexposed) Gore and Bender talk briefly about the film. This leads to Gore smashing Bender with a bat. There is also a five minute promo for the movie that was shown at the 2007 Comic-Con in San Diego to announce the return of the show in DVD form. It’s really an extended trailer and since everyone who watches it has just watched the entire movie, it’s not the most exciting extra.

The promo is much, much better than some of the rest of the extras, unfortunately. One documentary, called “Bite My Shiny Metal X” has a math professor give a lecture on the math used in Futurama. It’s not really funny or informative, and seems to be included just to show that the creators and viewers are brainier than all the rest of us. Even worse is a reading of a “Futurama Returns” comic book by the cast members at Comic-Con. The comic, which was prepared to make jokes about the cancellation and return of the show, is not shown close-up, so it’s hard to see the pictures that the voices go to.

There are some character and equipment sketches and a copy of the original script that you can flip through. Last, and least, is a 25 minute episode of “Everyone Loves Hypnotoad.” While probably seeming funny as anti-entertainment, the lengthy scenes of a toad with hypnotic eyes accompanied by rumbling static gets old quickly. Like in 10 or 15 seconds.

Unlike the show itself, Futurama: Bender’s Big Score is shown in widescreen, giving it a more cinematic look. The picture is clear and crisp and the animation looks pretty much the same as it does on the show. While the extras aren’t impressive, it is a funny movie and will please hardcore fans, although probably not anyone else.