2007; Director: Dwayne Carey-Hill; Writers: Ken Keeler, David X. Cohen
With the voices of Billy West, Katie Sagal, John Di Maggio, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Available Nov. 27, List Price $29.99
Futurama, the Sunday evening cartoon show that mastered time travel but couldn't conquer overruns of NFL games on Fox, was cancelled after 72 episodes. It seems, though, that you can't keep a good show down, especially when the video sibling of the network that bumped you off figures it can exploit the franchise by reviving it. The show that Matt Groening created out of his Simpsons cred may not have secured a theatrical release for its feature film, but it got a new life with this first of four direct-to-DVD Futuramas. As a title card on Bender's Big Score proclaims, "It Just Won't Stay Dead!"
Recall that Fry (West), a pizza delivery kid on Dec. 31, 1999, was blasted forward one millennium to see in the new year 3000. He joined a FedEx-type operation, Planet Express, exploring strange new worlds with his own odd Star Trek crew: the one-eyed, double-breasted babe Leena (Sagal), the sassy, clumsy robot Bender (Di Maggio), that squid-ish shtickmeister, Dr. Zoidberg (West again), the dweeby Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr) and Asian stereotype Amy Wong (Tom), all working for Fry's distant descendant, Professor Farnsworth (West yet again).
In their new adventure they are routed to the Nude Beach Planet ("You Must Be At Least This Naked to Enter"), whose inhabitants trick them with computer spam and fake petitions and take over the company, brainwashing Bender in the process. Fry has another problem: newcomer Lars, a rival for his lorn love of Leena. The resolution has a sneaky emotional heft. But the plot of the movie, like those of the show, is a skeleton fleshed out with some pretty smart zaniness. The gags, and the filigree work on the story, propel viewers smoothly through the 88 mins. If you're looking for hostile wit directed at the "Box network" (the B keeps short-circuiting into an F) and "the brain-dead drones who run" it, this is the place. The bosses who cancelled their show have been fired, spindled and mutilated, into a product called Fresh Ground Executive. The wounds came from the writers, biting the hand that fed them.
Since this DVD is out just a few weeks before Christmas, the Futurama team has invited some guests for the holiday season: Mark Hamill as a Hanukkah zombie, Coolio as a KwanzaBot and Al Gore as, more or less, the ghost of Presidents Past-Perfect. There's also the talking, cryogenically preserved head of Richard Nixon. The PG-13 movie has more penis humor than was permitted on a 7p.m. show; it's as if the writers saved all their Johnson jokes, let them breed in the dark, then took the wrapper off the petri dish here. When Hermes' head is severed, Farnsworth reattaches it to the man's naked body backward. "I thought you were happy," Farnsworth says. "Your tail was wagging."
Like a Brueghel painting or the splash panel of an old Mad comic book, Bender's Big Score rewards close viewing. We also recommend a dexterity with the DVD Pause button. Among the spam pitches that flit ever so briefly across the screen are these, which I list because they gave me giddy guilty pleasure: "Irregular Goats - 50% Off!" "Mom's Wrinkle Butter." "Discount Scrotums." "Naked Mole Rats!!!" "Used Erections." "!!FREE!! Nude Pictures of Yourself!" "No More Bowels." "Inject-o-Sleep." And "Watch Comedy Central" a free plug for the network that carries reruns of Futurama.
The copious extras begin with a commentary track by Groening and seven of his enterprising crew; since they're professional funny people, the asides manage to be both self-congratulatory and self-depreciating. Also: storyboards of scenes that didn't get into the film; the cast's reading of a Futurama comic book at Comic-Con; cartoon climate-change banter between Gore and Bender; a mathematician's lecture on the show's running gag of the pi symbol; and the reappearance of the movie's mesmerizing amphibian in a episode of the nonexistent TV series, Everybody Loves Hypnotoad. It's just the toad, blinking but otherwise immobile, for 22 mins., his gaze interrupted three times for credits and commercial breaks. For this one you press Fast Forward.