Futurama: Bender's Big Score (R2 DVD)

Do you people know how hard it was to resist starting this review with the words: "Good news, everyone!" Well, do you? Very hard indeed. What ultimately held me back was the fact that almost every other review this week will start that way, and the fact that I have a whole swag of other Futurama cliches up my sleeve, ready to pull out at a moment's notice.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Futurama. Remember that? It was this wonderful animated comedy, from the creator of The Simpsons, that aired for four seasons way back at the start of this century, before the brainless drones who run the Fox TV network cancelled it. And I know for a fact that they are brainless drones — because Professor Farnsworth told me so, right at the start of this new straight-to-DVD movie. But after Futurama was cancelled, a funny thing happened — it became very, very popular on DVD, and in reruns on the US [adult swim] cable network. And made lots and lots of mony for the Fox executives — who, as we know, are brainless drones. But they're GREEDY brainless drones. So Futurama was reborn, as a series of four DVD movies that will later be cut up into 16 episodes and aired on the US Comedy Central cable TV network. It just won't stay dead!

For those who've never seen Futurama, it's about a slightly stupid (OK, incredibly stupid) pizza delivery boy named Philip J Fry who is accidentally frozen on New Year's Eve 1999 and wakes up to find himself in the year 3000. With his new friends — a gorgeous cyclops named Leela and a foul-mouthed, self-centred robot named Bender — he ends up working for a delivery company owned by his great-great-great-great-great-etc nephew, Professor Farnsworth. Who also happens to be a 140-year-old mad scientist. All clear now? Good. So, on to Bender's Big Score, which immediately settles into the old Futurama groove so well it's almost as though the show hasn't been away at all. I'm not going to go into the plot too much — to do so would give too much away, and ruin many of the twists, turns, surprises and gags. But in a nutshell, the film opens with the crew of Planet Express back in business after being "cancelled". Their first job is to deliver a package of bar-stool softener to the Nude Beach planet. Cue lots of nakedness and jokes about Fry's weiner. While there, the crew meet some aliens who claim to be collecting signatures for a variety of causes, but turn out to be a bunch of evil intergalactic spammers. Who somehow manage to take control of Earth (those dumb humans fall for scams so easily). Oh, and they infect Bender with a virus, making him their slave. So it's up to the Planet Express gang to save the Earth.

The rest of the story involves a tattoo of Bender on Fry's butt, paradox-free time travel and Fry's unrequited love for Leela (awwww). Many of our favourite characters return — Nibbler, Zapp Brannigan, Kif, Fry's dog Seymour, Robot Santa, Mr Pannuci, Morbo and Clamps. And the long-time fans are rewarded with little nods back to earlier episodes. Remember in the pilot, when Fry was frozen? And we see time passing outside the window of the cryogenics lab, and a fleet of spaceships blows up New York? Well, that gets explained, as do a lot of other events from the first four seasons of the show. Which means this movie is not the best entry point for people who are unfamiliar with Futurama. But for the rest of us? It's manna from heaven. Futurama is back, and it was worth the wait. But the big question: is it funny? You bet it is — it's actually funnier than the recent Simpsons Movie (sorry, Matt, but it's true). Sight gags, wordplay, lots of digs at Fox and the general zaniness of the characters we all love — this is Futurama at its best. An even bigger question, though is this: why is the UK edition being released almost SIX MONTHS after the DVD came out in the US? Hmmm, not a very clever move, Fox.

EXTRAS **** A galaxy of goodies for meatbags to enjoy. There's a commentary with Matt Groening, David X Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, Claudia Katz, Dwayne Carey-Hill and Ken Keeler; a Futurama Returns featurette, which is a live comic book reading by the cast; deleted storyboard scenes; a message from Al Gore; a Futurama maths lecture; the first draft of the script; Everybody Loves Hypnotoad, a full-length episode of "the future's most popular TV program"; and more — including a preview of the next movie, The Beast With a Billion Backs.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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