Monday, April 28, 2008

Movie Review: Futurama: Bender's Big Score

Like so many other members of the ever-growing geek culture, I was stricken with sadness when Matt Groening's animated sci-fi satire Futurama was pulled from the airwaves. If there was one show that succeeded in mocking the absurdity of the genre while still honoring it, this was surely it.

So when I discovered that Groening was reviving the show in a series of direct-to-video releases, I was overjoyed at the prospect of watching the antics of Fry (a modern day human trapped in a futuristic world), Leela (the cycloptic but strong-willed alien woman), and Bender (the wisecracking, alchoholic robot) once again.

Unfortunately, the first feature-length release from the show, Bender's Big Score, proved to be somewhat of a let-down in my opinion. The premise (a group of nudist aliens plant a virus in Bender that compels him to travel through time and steal all of the most priceless artifacts in history) was interesting, but there have been countless episodes of the show that proved to be more entertaining and much more clever. Overall it appears that Futurama is still capable of producing an entertaining viewing experience, but its first experience with a feature length format showed considerable signs of growing pains. Some of the gags suffered from running far too long (with Bender's frequent travels through time being the primary example of this), and there were times that the story itself fell flat.

That is not to say that this was a poor film; in fact, most of the film was highly amusing. This series has amassed much of its audience by parodying science fiction while also honoring it, and that trend continued in this film. One of the best running gags in the film concerns a ridiculous product named "Torgo's Executive Powder" that is used for everything from seasoning to delousing to the care of patients who have undergone head transplants. This is an obvious reference to the infamous science fiction film Manos: The Hands of Fate, which is notoriously hailed as one of the worst feature films ever made (and having seen the picture, I must stand in agreement with this title). There are also a number of other homages to the genre, with perhaps my favorite being Bender's re-enactment of the first Terminator film as he attempts to locate and destroy Fry. But the film does not completely rely on these allusions, for it has a number of funny moments on its own original merits. The nudist aliens provide a number of comic moments, as does the always reliable cast of characters. While I certainly had issues with the film, and would certainly place Groening's recent attempt at a Simpsons movie high above it, the film still proves the series has a long and fruitful life ahead of it.

Does the film have its problems? Certainly. Is it a masterpiece of animated satirical cinema? Certainly not. But in the end, it is still Futurama. It still manages to provide much more comedy fodder than most of what is currently on television. And while I think Groening and the rest of the creative team were met with some difficulties when transferring to the longer format of direct-to-video film, I have faith that most of its flaws were a result of this transition. I look forward to the next feature, The Beast with a Billion Backs, with great anticipation.

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