Futurama: Bender's Big Score!Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/29/07 15:04:11
(Worth A Look)
Good news, everyone!After years of wild speculation and painful impatience, “Futurama” has finally become the latest in a short but sweet line of Fox programs to rise from the ashes of their own dimwitted cancellations. “Family Guy” set the standard with a successful return to broadcast, “Firefly” fans got to see a movie spin-off hit theaters, and now “Futurama” - a much sharper animated comedy than “Family Guy” and a far more rewarding geek experience than “Firefly” - springs from the grave with a set of four made-for-DVD movies that, word has it, will also be adapted for half-hour broadcasts on Comedy Central in the coming months.
The first such project is “Bender’s Big Score!”, and it’s worth stating right away that not only is it funny enough and smart enough to be worthy of the franchise, but it actually works as a movie. Too many projects of this ilk come across as awkwardly random and disjointed: the direct-to-video special “Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story” suffered from being nothing more than three episodes crudely pasted together; “The Simpsons Movie” came off as a passable but unimpressive overlong extended episode; “Serenity” played so much as a series finale of sorts that it never bothered to open itself up to non-fan viewers.
But “Big Score” avoids such pitfalls by being a solid, entertaining standalone movie first. While admittedly episodic (to the point of near-chaotic), the story (screenplay by series co-producer Ken Keeler, story by Keeler and series co-creator David X. Cohen) fits together quite nicely, serving up an overstuffed adventure that actually deserves a ninety-minute running time. The script does toss in an abundance of in-jokes and self-referential moments that only hardcore fans will appreciate (or even understand), but these are incidental to most of the story and its humor, which will be satisfying to any rookie viewer. And while we do end on a cliffhanger of sorts, it’s presented in such a jokey manner that the ending can be seen as one last joke and not necessarily the set-up for any future tales.
Of course, I’m not sure how the producers could have handled a story like this without allowing for the longer run time - there’s just too much going on, and it takes a full movie to straighten it all out. (Or, as the foul-mouthed robot Bender puts it, “Things are going to get a lot more complicated.”) Following the obligatory jab at Fox (in this case, the cast discusses being cancelled by the “asinine morons” of the Box Network, who have since been killed and turned into Fresh Ground Executive), our heroes find themselves on a nude beach planet, tricked by interplanetary email scammers, and in possession of a self-correcting, paradox-avoiding time travel code, which they find tattooed on Fry’s bare rump. Somewhere in there, Hermes gets his head chopped off, Leela falls in love, Bender becomes a slave of those nudist scammers, and Santa Bot, Richard Nixon’s head, and Al Gore pop by for some fun.
The “lot more complicated” angle fully arrives when Fry escapes back to the 21st Century. From here, we get multiple Benders chasing a duplicate Fry with enough head-spinning time travel insanity to throw even the geekiest sci-fi freak for a loop or two. Things get a little too cluttered for their own good at times, especially when zipping back and forth between centuries, but even though the plot tends to drift far off course, it always manages to recollect itself at the right moments.
(Side note: Diehard fans have already started their internet rumblings, suggesting some of Fry’s flashback adventures disrupts the continuity of the television series, but considering the silliness that’s tacked onto much of the time travel notions, and the genuine emotion that comes from portions of the story that follow, these complaints come off as a bit of reading too much into things.)When compared to the series, “Big Score” holds up very well - the jokes are strong (the script goes for the intellectual zinger and the lowbrow sight gag with equal verve), the animation stronger (the show, itself a wonder of cartooning, has never looked this amazing), the characterization strongest. One of the sharpest points about “Futurama” is how much care it put into its characters, and here, that emotional connection pays off greatly. “Big Score” is a terrific present for series fans, and a giddy bit of sci-fi spoofery that even newcomers can enjoy.
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