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Futurama: Bender's Game(2008)
With fuel prices skyrocketing, the Planet Express crew sets off on a dangerous mission: to infiltrate the world's only dark-matter mine, source of all spaceship fuel. But deep beneath the surface lies a far stranger place... a medieval land of dragons and sorcery and intoxicated knights who look suspiciously like Bender. So park your hover-car and saddle up your unicorn Futurama's grandest adventure yet: Bender's Game!
For more about Futurama: Bender's Game and the Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray release, see Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray Review published by Lindsay Mayer on November 13, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Writer: David X. Cohen
Starring: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Phil LaMarr
» See full cast & crew
Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray Review
Matt Groening's 'Simpsons' successor debuts on Blu-ray
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, November 13, 2008
Never underestimate the power of cable networks. At times they have a most interesting ability to resurrect television series long abandoned by broadcast channels. It is a peculiar phenomenon in the United States, as the majority of shows exist only to perpetuate their good ratings, and often not to tell a cohesive story. One of the better known cases of this testament to the power of fandom is Family Guy, which sputtered over two seasons on the FOX channel before being canceled. Much of the show's eventual (and still current) success resulted from the existing episodes airing on the Adult Swim block of programming on the Cartoon Network cable channel. Drumming up interest in the series, it led to impressive DVD sales which convinced FOX to renew production.
But I digress. Adult Swim had a similar effect on Futurama. The series, a cynical parody of life 1000 years into the future, was the brainchild of cartoonist Matt Groening, a man known far and wide as the creator of The Simpsons. The massively successful show gave him a bit of creative clout at FOX, and thus production on Futurama was greenlit. Though its broadcast lasted a wee bit longer than Family Guy's original run, it too was pulled after 4 years of frustratingly sporadic airings, in 2003. Finding a home on Cartoon Network, Futurama production was finally revived in 2007, in the form of four announced direct-to-video features, which would then be broken into sixteen episodes to form a fifth season on television.
Bender's Game is the third of those four feature films. Fantasy and role playing games are the subject of ridicule in this latest installment. The long-suffering, dysfunctional crew of Planet Express find themselves strewn into a sort of parallel world, populated by myriad creatures of myth and legend (Earth legend, naturally). But this bizarre circumstance comes about rather late in the film's overall arc. True to its television roots, Bender's Game is told in a roundabout fashion which makes time enough for four episodes. Driving the plot is, ironically, a fuel shortage. Riffing on the current trend of rising prices in gasoline in the U.S., the crew are perturbed by the exorbitant cost of dark matter, which is apparently the successor to fossil fuels in the world of Futurama.
Many a subplot interweave within the film, including Leela's attempts at mastering her anger issues and Professor Farnsworth's relationship with the villainous corporate honcho Mom. The through line, as previously mentioned, is the shortage of dark matter, which is highly suspicious given that MomCorp controls the only known dark matter mine. When it is revealed that Mom's monopoly on the substance is due solely to an invention of Professor Farnsworth, the crew are dedicated to stopping her despotic grip on society. Farnsworth informs the crew that his invention has an antidote - an "anti-backwards crystal" that will reverse the potent effect of Mom's synthesized crystal, neutralizing it and rendering dark matter into useless material once again, as it always had been until a mere few decades before.
So where does all the fantasy come into play? Well, while the more fleshy members of the Planet Express crew deal with these (dark) matters of great circumstance, the lewd robot Bender has discovered the wonders of the role play game Dungeons & Dragons. Little does Professor Farnsworth know that his anti-backwards crystal is being used as a dodecahedral die within this game. It strikes me as quite ironic that 1000 years into the future, fantasy RPGs seem to have reverted back to board form, no longer the behemoth interconnected personal computer games of old. Bender finds his new ability of "imagination" so enchanting that his circuits very promptly overload, and he begins to confuse reality with his fantasy world of Cornwood, in which he is the gallant Titanius Anglesmith. He proves such a danger that he is sent to the HAL Institute, an insane asylum for robots. When his crew mates infiltrate Mom's dark matter mine, they find it to be an intensive farming establishment, where the alien Nibblonian race have been captured and force fed to produce vast quantities of dark matter, which is merely their waste product. In an epic effort to foil Mom, the two crystals cause a freak occurrence in all existing dark matter. Bender's main cavity is full of the stuff, and the power of his imagination combined with the hyperactive dark matter sends everyone into an alternate, fantastic dimension.
From here, the Futurama cast form a loose parody of The Lord of the Rings. In this world, the anti-backwards crystal is the "Die of Power," forged eons ago by the evil Momon. One roll gives the bearer total control over a conflict; the other party is helpless against the die's decree. Like Tolkien's familiar tome, the die can only be destroyed in the fires of Momon's volcano. Fry is the humble Frydo, nearly succumbing to the die's power if not for the efforts of his friends and allies like Leegola and Hermaphrodites the centaurs, Greyfarn the wizard, and Titanius Anglesmith himself. But will a victory in the mythic world mean the same in the real one?
Futurama has never really been my cup of tea, though I am an avid Simpsons fan. The former is often just too mean-spirited, and finds a closer kinship with Family Guy than its Groening predecessor. Still, it has proved to be a popular series with many. So how does Bender's Game stack up? Well, it frankly suffers from a duplicity between television's short format and that of a feature film. The number of subplots and side stories is just a few too many overall, as well. While the film may work somewhat better in parts on television, as a single film it meanders far too much. Even a few of the jokes, like a parody of an infomercial, drag on far past the point of amusement, and overstay their welcome. The setup for the characters' fantasy quest takes up a large swath of time, and the "epic journey" itself, as well as the denouement, are too rushed and feel sloppy. With all of its pratfalls, however, the film has a good amount of clever dialogue, and contains some good laughs here and there. It is unfortunate the whole was not equal to the sum of its parts.
Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray, Video Quality
Coming to Blu-ray in a high bitrate AVC encoding that averages about 35 to 40 Mbps, Bender's Game looks spectacular in high definition. Characters and line art are clean-cut and well delineated, and colors are solid and bright without banding issues. It's almost a pity that much of the film is set in run-down warehouses, factories, slums, or laboratories - most of which offer understandably drab and sterile palettes. The considerably more colorful world of Bender's Cornwood is a visual relief, displaying more creative use of color that shines on Blu. The bold, animé-like hair of Fry and Leela, especially, tend to draw one's eye. Black tones and shadow detail are rich and deep, never becoming muddy or too gray. The same can be applied to whites, which are bright and clear. Not much nuance or artistic flourish is to be found in a production like Futurama, which is strictly a small screen production animated chiefly in Korea, without greater purpose than to be a cartoon sitcom. Regardless, the animation looks great in its own right; I was particularly impressed at the prominent use of centaurs in the film, as horse anatomy is notoriously difficult to animate. No perceivable artifacts or compression issues were apparent on this release, and the transfer is lovely overall.
Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Blu-ray release of Bender's Game is provided solely with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and it's admittedly surreal having characters that one is used to hearing in flat tones aurally coming to life on this great audio presentation. Although it a known fact that sound cannot travel in the void of space, the zoom and whoosh of spacecraft and other gargantuan vehicles is very well mixed and balanced in this track. The rears make themselves known, to impressive effect. Likewise, LFE rumbles with authority during the more action-packed sequences. Dialogue is kept mostly to the center, and is clear and distinguishable... save for when a joke is deliberately made about garbled speech. Fronts flesh out the soundscape with scoring, effects, and the occasional following of a moving character. The bizarre song "Rocket Ship" early in the feature is particularly effective, and oddly unnerving. Giving a boost to the overall presentation, this audio serves as a more than adequate mix to immerse the viewer on Planet Express' comic misadventures.
Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Bender's Game is supplied with a good amount of extra features, balancing between material that will interest the casual viewer and that which avid fans will thoroughly enjoy. First up is the Commentary with Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress Macneille, Michael Rowe, Claudia Katz and Dwayne Carey-Hill. Audio commentary is the standard, but BonusView capable BD players have the option of a picture-in-picture video commentary with the cast and crew sitting round table-like in the recording studio.
The majority of the featurettes on this disc are encoded in high definition AVC, though there are a few standard definition bits here and there. One of these exceptions is the Storyboard Animatic of Bender's Game Part I, a full 22 minute episode in its storyboard phase, complete with a "rough draft" script in which a fair amount of lines or jokes are different from their final form. The Futurama Genetics Lab is a set top game that merges any two of seven characters; Fry, Leela, Professor Farnsworth, Bender, Dr. Zoidberg, news anchor Morbo, and the Hypnotoad. I couldn't help but recall Conan O'Brien's long running skit, "If They Mated." Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama is the first of the several behind-the-scenes bits in high def AVC, and the only one in Dolby Digital 5.1 - the rest being 2.0. A 7 minute piece with producer David X. Cohen and writers Eric Caplan and Mike Rowe, the three make a brief overview of how the Dungeons & Dragons game has influenced Futurama up until today. How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps is an 8 minute, light-hearted featurette that depicts the design process for the three characters of Dr. Zoidberg, Leela, and Bender. 3D Models with Animator Discussion features animators from Rough Draft Studios as they discuss the CG, cel-shaded ship models designed for the demolition derby seen early in the film..
The single Deleted Scene: Cup Or Nozzle is more precisely an alternate scene; lasting a mere minute, two of the young D&D players face off in a "he who smelt it, dealt it" war of words. Blooperama 2 is another standard def exception, this time showing two minutes of the circle of Futurama voice actors flubbing lines. Bender's Anti-Piracy Warning, oddly in AVC and Dolby Digital 5.1, is a two minute send-up of the familiar movie piracy ad campaign. Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, a high defintion trailer, promotes the next Futurama direct-to-BD and DVD release in spring of 2009. Two Easter Eggs can be easily accessed by highlighting hidden icons on the right margins of the second and third extra features menu screens. The Geysers of Gygax icon takes the viewer to a 1˝ minute standard definition clip of actor Billy West consistently garbling the line "wedgie it on in there!" (don't ask). The 7-Elven icon on the next menu screen is a 1 minute snippet in AVC in which producer David X. Cohen proudly shows the viewer his collection of dodecahedrons, including a naturally occurring crystal form of pyrite.
Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Futurama has had an odd journey in the near decade since it has been on the air. This Blu-ray release is a testament to how popular it has proved to be, with the help of cable re-runs to increase its visibility. It simply would not have existed if fans had not made enough noise to see new episodes. As a standalone feature, Bender's Game has several hits and misses, suffering from the demands of television's bite-size episode format as well as the need of a feature film to tell a well-paced, singular story. True to its established style, the film sports simplistic yet strangely endearing character design, which looks all the better in high definition. With an impressive lossless DTS track to boot, and a good helping of extras to round it out, Bender's Game on Blu-ray is worth checking out - and not just for fans of the series!
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Futurama: Bender's Game Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Bender's Game Blu-ray Specs Revealed - August 5, 2008
Fox Home Entertainment has announced the specs for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Futurama: Bender's Game', due to hit store shelves on November 4th, day-and-date with the DVD release. The animated feature will come on a BD-50 utilizing 1080p AVC video accompanied ...
• Futurama Going Blu-ray - July 28, 2008
At the recently concluded Comic Con in San Diego, Fox Home Entertainment revealed that they will bring the Futurama direct-to-video movie 'Bender's Game' to Blu-ray on November 4th, day-and-date with the DVD release. No supplemental features or technical specs ...
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