Reviews

Futurama: Bender's Game

Delightfully nerdy, but not quite as nerdy as the Star Trek-on-crack weirdness of the earlier shows.


Futurama

Distributor: Fox
Cast: Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, Maurice LaMarche
Network: Fox
First date: 1999
US Release Date: 2008-11-04
Amazon

Matt Groening's Futurama is just one of many recent, brilliant television shows canceled before their time (more often than not by the Fox network) -- only with a lucky streak exceeded only by the infinitely lamer (but bro-friendlier) Family Guy. Since returning to television sets via a series of direct-to-DVD series, Futurama has been able to take consistent, repeated advantage of longer-form storytelling, a format that usually involves epic, Hollywood-sized waiting periods to go along with those bigger budgets and longer running times (Family Guy gave it a try a few years ago, with Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, to little acclaim).

Though the features eventually air on television and can be broken up into four makeshift "episodes" apiece, their freewheeling, inventive exploration Futurama's thirtieth-century universe is clearly meant for marathon-length sitting. The movies haven't been as perfect as the best episodes -- but the comparison usually doesn't make much sense, either, like comparing an author's short stories and novels.

That said, Bender's Game, the third DVD in the series, feels more like a stretched-out episode than its predecessors, Bender's Big Score! and The Beast with a Billion Backs: more streamlined, but less enjoyably head-spinning. Score and Backs had almost unreasonably labyrinthine sci-fi plots -- too digression-happy for a typical feature film, but far more ambitious than 22 minutes could ever allow. While those movies explored time-travel, love, sex, and human conception of heaven, among others, Bender's Game features an extended riff on Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings. It's delightfully nerdy, yes, but not quite as nerdy as the Star Trek-on-crack weirdness of the earlier shows.

When we reunite with the Planet Express crew, dark-matter fuel prices are climbing, Leela is sentenced to collar-based anger management, and Bender wants desperately to activate his imagination chip and join in on Dungeons & Dragons games. The story threads converge neatly when dark matter amplifies Bender's delusions, throwing the characters into an alternate universe. Though bizarre worlds are common to Futurama, this one is more fantasy than the show's usual sci-fi, full of centaurs, magic, unicorns, and Morks (orc-like creatures that bear a striking resemblance to late-seventies Robin Williams).

This climactic section is more like one of the "Anthology of Interest" episodes from the original series, which were basically the Futurama versions of the annual Simpsons Halloween episodes: what-if scenarios unbound by regular continuity. Strangely, the set-up that precedes it is funnier -- indeed, some of the fall-down funniest material of the three DVDs to date. The fantasy sequences have some clever spoofery, especially when Fry begins to take on some Gollum-esque qualities, but they lack a strong conceptual or emotional center. Bender's fantasies no longer seem as deranged, Fry is off coveting a powerful twelve-sided die, and most of the other characters are reduced to shape-shifted cameos. The subplot about Leela's tendency to solve her problems using violence is smart, but it's an afterthought next to the character-repurposing and, of course, the jokes.

This being Futurama, those jokes -- even the silliest ones -- have their weird little complexities. The story takes its inspiration not just from D&D, but something markedly more obscure: in the commentary track, writer-producer David X. Cohen explains that Bender's gaming madness is a spoof of alarmist warnings in the eighties that suggested role-playing games might drive our nation's children to insanity.

Groening-related commentaries are always worthwhile even for casual fans, but in keeping with the movie's jovial tone, this one is a bit more manic than the best Futurama tracks, with too many talented voice actors laughing and joking with each other. More focused and informative is Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama, a short Cohen-hosted guide to D&D references not only in Game, but hidden in older episodes of the show (secret D&D references, of course, are level-five nerdy, while straightforward ones are merely level-three).

The rest of the extras are fairly routine: a negligible deleted scene, some welcome but too-fleeting footage of the voice actors in the studio, and behind-the-scenes material. If there's any disappointment with the disc it's that it's not as encyclopedically nerdy as you (and by "you," I mean "you who are as nerdy as I") might hope for a cult sci-fi cartoon paying homage to a role-playing game. Only in a universe as creatively fertile as Futurama's could an expansive fantasy land feel too limiting.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.