Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
So here we are then, the last of the four much heralded Futurama DVD movies is finally with us. The films so far have been something of a mixed bag, not helped by the awkward demands placed on them to work both as self-contained movies and also split apart as four individual episodes. While the first release, Bender’s Big Score arguably managed to do this, both The Beast with a Billion Backs and Bender’s Game suffered from the structural difficulties this imposed upon them, not helped by the fact neither had an especially strong script to help paper over the cracks. While Beast was a mediocre entry I was even more disappointed with BG, simply for squandering a decent premise and feeling at times almost lazy in its treatment of Lord of the Rings. When in the past Futurama has based an entire episode on a particular subject, such as in Fry and the Slurm Factory or Where No Fan Has Gone Before it has always come with a plethora of good jokes both mocking and paying tribute to its target, but aside from the Morks there was little sign of that wit in a sequence which seemed content to plonk Fry and co into the setting and just let them get on with it.
The good news is that Into the Wild Green Yonder is considerably better. It’s not by any means perfect, but it ends the movies on a more positive note, being the second strongest of the four movies after BBS, and makes for a very enjoyable hour and a half. At the risk of spoilers I’m not going to go into many details about the plot, suffice to say that the suggestion from the title that there’s a heavy ecological bent is borne out and that there is a grand cosmic happening under threat from someone close to one of the Planet Express crew. The structuring problems that have afflicted the three previous movies are less jarringly present here, with the major exception of an opening twenty minutes that have very little connection with anything that follows – indeed, Bender’s story in that segment is promptly forgotten about once the "real" story kicks in. However, the good news is that while set apart from the rest, this in essence prologue makes for a very strong start, featuring a “Capitol City”-esque opening number sung rather well by Seth MacFarlane, an amusing story and a role for the Robot Mafia’s Don which sees him as funny as he’s ever been. Unfortunately, the story then dips a little bit once we leave this opener and get into the plot proper, but to compensate for that there’s a very high hit rate for the jokes, both verbal and sight. Fry’s unique interview technique, the TV adverts, Bender’s jail escape, "the evolutionary arms race" and many more scenes help to cover the fact that the story itself is rather slim.
Which is as well because that’s the film’s only major issue. Over the past week I’ve watched the film three times and I still struggle to remember exactly how the sixty-odd minutes comprising the main plot are filled up, other than with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. It’s also regrettable that many of the main characters are relegated to the sidelines – the Professor, Hermes and Zoidberg all play a very peripheral role in the action, while even Bender has to be somewhat clumsily crowbarred in, although of course once he is he makes the most of his turn in the spotlight. The villains aren’t especially strong characters – King of the Hill does a far better version of the chief mover - and their major aim, like the script’s occasional jibes at Celine Dion, look a little dated. A year, eighteen months ago, there was a very similar environmental issue played out across the papers here in Britain but in these more economically straitened times there are a lot of other things to be more preoccupied about, sad to say.
But it doesn’t really matter too much as there's enough amusement to be had to distract from the slight plot and mildly clumsy backstory. Unsurprisingly given this is the last of the film, it’s also noticeable that there is a feeling of bookending to the show, with elements harking back to Futurama’s very early days. There’s a joke about the until-now forgotten career chips, and that Number 9 guy who was always popping up has a major part to play, albeit very different from that for which he was originally conceived. The grand finale, while not especially thrilling, also features a big crowd which includes cameos from many of the show’s secondary characters, while the actual final scene would make for a suitably apt curtain closer (even if it includes one extremely uncomfortable and somewhat forced moment that didn’t work at all for me). Matt Groening has already said that he would like Futurama to continue in some form, but should this be the last we see of Fry and co it wouldn’t be a bad way to see them go.
The film is available on both Blu-ray and SD, this review covering the latter release. The only difference between the two in terms of extras is that the Blu-ray features the Commentary track "in-vision" so you can see Matt et al. as they chat away. The layout of the DVD is in all major regards identical to that of the previous three movies in the series. After getting past that anti-piracy ad we arrive at a main menu overlaid with clips from the movie. The film and all extras (including the commentary) are subtitled.
There are a fair few compression artefacts in the Video which means the image’s definition is not always as good as it could be, as well as sharply jagged lines. However, the transfer hardly looks terrible, with colours coming across nice and vividly, it’s just that the image is not always as crisp as it could be. The Audio is fine however, with the five channels being used well in the chase sequence and other shots in outer space, although those set in the caves and in general on a planet aren’t anything to write home about.
Across the movie DVDs there have been a range of regular Extras which this last one dutifully includes. There’s another featurette covering 3D Models ( 4:19) in which two animators talk over shots of the CG ships and other effects they used. The most revealing of which here is that of the wormhole which shows that it was actually far more three-dimensional than comes across in the film. The usual Storyboard Animatic (22:26) for episode one is included; I can’t say that I find these early versions of episodes very interesting to watch, but there you go. The five deleted scenes from Golden Stinkers (2:32) are little more than individual jokes that have been snipped for time – there’s a good Zapp gag amongst those here but the rest are no great shakes. Finally for the “regulars” there’s the obligatory group Commentary which, true to form, sees David X Cohen talking informatively right through the movie, Matt Groening hardly saying a word, and various other actors and makers providing a chorus. Director Peter Avanzino is included here but not co-writer Ken Keeler which is a shame, and while John DiMaggio is not his usual ebullient self and rather quiet this is still as enjoyable as any of the Futurama commentary tracks.
Those extras which are more unique to this DVD are a little mixed. I’m not certain but Bender’s Movie Theatre Etiquette (1:16) appears to be a collection of clips taken from past episodes of Bender at the cinema artfully edited together to illustrate an extended “Please turn off your mobiles” message. Zapp Brannigan’s Guide to Making Love at a Woman (2:48) is similar, being simply a collection of clips of Zapp’s various conquests through the series complete with a voiceover in which the dashing romeo enlightens us with the secrets of his success in the bedroom and, while both are not unamusing, they do smack somewhat of filler. Equally, Penn Jilette Mania (2:08) is a disposable piece of footage of Penn recording his lines in studio (no sign of Teller) and expounding on his lack of talent in the voice acting sphere. You’ll like it, but not a lot. However, others are better. How We Make Futurama So Good (5:09) is a spoof Making-Of made up basically of one joke, but it’s a fun one and manages to sustain the featurette throughout its brief running time. How To Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps (11:10) is pretty much exactly what it sounds, with several of Futurama’s chief artists quickly sketching out a character while describing the process. As someone who can’t draw for toffee I find there’s also a fascination in watching people effortlessly create something on the page so this is good, although hardly likely to enable artistic klutzes like me to apply for a job at the Futurama Comic. There’s also a slight problem in that a couple of times lights shining on their drawing pads are so bright, and the pencil lines so faint, that it’s a little difficult to see what’s going on, but overall nice, if again something of a filler piece.
Perhaps the most enjoyable featurette, however, is Matt and David in Space (4:23) which details the day the two producers went on the Zero-G plane, complete with footage of them floating around and a commentary overlaid. Not especially related to this movie but a nice inclusion nonetheless. There are also two Easter Eggs which I’ve found, one of which is a simple animation on a rather unusual medium (0:38) while the other reveals the truth behind what Zapp is saying in his speech at the end of the film (2:41). There are also weblinks for Fox should you be in a particularly masochistic mood.
None of the Futurama films have been sparse when it comes to extras but there's a slight whiff of padding in some of those here, so it's fortunate that the main feature is strong enough to make this worth your time.