Futurama: Into the Wild Green YonderOverview -
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
I can’t believe I’m going to say this but… maybe these Futurama movies were a bad idea.
Hear me out now (and keep in mind this is coming from someone who absolutely loves the series and has seen each episode multiple times). When Matt Groening’s Futurama finished its long but mostly uneventful run on Fox, it was established as a cult classic and a show that was cut short before its prime. Oh those boneheaded television executives, they robbed us of such glory! And then, of course, the DVD collections of the series sold like hotcakes and the reruns on cable proved even more popular. A resurrection occurred. Several direct-to-video movies were plotted.
This should have been the first warning sign.
Futurama works best in short bursts – for a show about ideas, it’s very easy for it to go off the rails. The twenty-two minute time constraint brings out all of Futurama’s craziness, focusing it and making sure it’s on time and on target. The movies (four times the normal length), make sure that every tangent can be explored, every side character spotlighted. This leads to excess, to fatty comedy that results in redundancy and plots strikingly similar to ones we’ve seen before.
So far, there have been three movies ('Bender’s Big Score,' 'The Beast with a Billion Backs,' and 'Bender’s Game') and three galaxy-sized disappointments. Sure, they’re beautiful little movies, and sure, there are a few good laughs in each, but they’re more a drag than a delight. And that’s a real shame.
Now the fourth and possibly final Futurama movie, 'Into the Wild Green Yonder,' has been released. And if this is the last we ever see of the beloved Planet Express crew, well, that’ll be lower than a snake under a sugar cane (and as Hermes reminds us, “it don’t get much lower”).
Considering that most of the time these movies seem like they’re just four episodes stitched together, let’s take a look at the four quadrants of the Wild Green Yonder:
Section 1 – Idiot delivery boy Fry, one-eyed ass-kicker Leela, and the rest of the demented Planet Express crew (including weird crab monster Dr. Zoideberg) visit Asian cutie Amy’s parents The Wongs on Mars, just as they’re razing Mars Vegas and getting ready to build a new Mars Vegas. Of course, given the environmental themes that have been sprinkled throughout Futurama’s history, there are some feminist environmentalists who are protesting the destruction of Mars and, somehow, a necklace with the “female sign” gets lodged in Fry’s brain, awarding him psychic powers.
Section 2 – This section focuses mostly on Bender the alcoholic, chain-smoking robot, and his affair with a robot gun moll. Also in this section Fry learns about a cult called the Mad Fellows, who also wear tin foil on their heads to block out “psychic” voices. They give him important, mythology-building information about the Dark Ones, the mysterious big bad in the movie. Also, I think this is the section with a big poker game.
Section 3 - Focuses on The Wongs’ giant interstellar golf course. It’s pretty ridiculous but visually interesting. Also, Leela gets involved with the feminist environmentalists. Fry continues to deal with his psychic powers.
Section 4 – It gets really bizarre, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but you will find out who the Dark One is and there’s a giant space manta-ray. Or something.
Overall, this one feels even more like a pointless retread of similar episodes (Fry’s plight, in particular, is very similar to this encounters with the brain aliens). If this really is the last bit of Futurama-y goodness to come from Groening and company, I’d be sad, but not too sad. But if they bring the show back as an actual, you know, show… Now we’re talking.
The video, which boasts a 16 x 9 AVC codec in 1080p is, for the most part, sharp and robust.
There’s a whole galaxy’s worth of colorful characters, objects, and ships in this Futurama installment and all are exhibited in top form. That means the nasty little leech’s got a deep olive green tone and Fry’s tin foil helmet looks metallic and crunchy to the touch.
Blacks are deep and bottomless (perfect for a movie set in space), the animation (both traditional and computer generated) practically pop off the screen.
There are some minor issues with edge enhancements, but you have to look close to notice them (jagged micro-lines around the characters). Overall things look solid.
Considering that the main considerations in terms of whether or not you’ll want to spend the extra money for the Blu Ray comes in the form of audio and video, I’m not sure that the slickness of the image is enough to splurge on the Blu Ray.
As for the audio, well…
…This is also quite solid, but again – I’m not sure if it warrants the upgrade.
'Into the Wild Green Yonder' is little more than a glorified television movie, and as such, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (3482 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3482 kbps) is decidedly front-loaded. There’s lots of emphasis on front speaker dialogue, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (because, well, the dialogue is where the jokes live).
I would describe the sound as “very good.” Sometimes the full range is utilized, with outer space vehicles zooming through your speakers from front to back (and back again!) There are also some powerful instances of ambience (like when the psychic whispers fill Fry’s head or a breeze blows through a decimated old Mars Vegas), with the entire spectrum being filled with crisp, full bodied noise and music.
But more often than not it’s either up front, or with sharp bursts of true surround sound. You can get almost everything in the first few minutes, when Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane sings a great theme song in the style of a certain Rat Packer while we zoom through Mars Vegas, getting an eye-and-earful of all of your favorite Futurama characters.
Like all previous Futurama releases, this one has an entire ship’s load of extras (except this time, some of them are in HD!) Here we go:
- Audio Commentary with creator Matt Groening, executive producer David X. Cohen, voice actors John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche, co-writers Patric Verrone and Mike Rowe, producer Lee Supercinski and director Peter Avanzino – This is like all the other commentaries you’ve probably listened to on the season sets of Futurama – extremely geeky, talky, and intellectual (not to mention side-splittingly funny and weird), with one glitzy new addition – video!
- Storyboard Animatic: Into the Wild Green Yonder, Part 1 (22:25) This is the first section of the movie, as described above, in rough animation format. This is only worth a look if you’re an animation super nerd, like myself. For everyone else, you can easily skip it.
- Featurette: Matt Groening and David X. Cohen in Space! (4:23) No, they’re not really in space. In this mercifully brief featurette (it’s more like a home movie), super nerdy executive producer David X. Cohen and creator Matt Groening take a ride in an airplane that simulates weightlessness. So if you’ve ever wanted to see the chubby creator of the Simpsons bopping around in zero G – your prayers have been answered. Everyone else will probably feel as I felt: that it’s a waste of time.
- Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama So Good (HD, 5:09) Amusing mockumentary about Futurama starring vocal talent Lauren Tom.
- Louder! Louder!: The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette (HD, 2:08) Brief documentary about Penn Jillette’s contribution to the movie and his love of Futurama cast member Billy West.
- Golden Stinkers: A Treasury of Deleted Scenes (HD, 2:52) Deleted for a reason.
- How To Draw Futurama In 10 Very Difficult Steps (HD, 11:10) These steps are very difficult and very long and I kind of checked out. However, if you want to impress your beloved by drawing his or her favorite Futurama freak, this is the doc for you.
- 3D Models With Animator Discussion (HD, 4:19) This is a neat, if too brief, discussion of the 3D computer animation that goes into the Futurama movie. It actually makes the movie seem more impressive once you learn which things they cooked up in the computer, like much of the Mars Vegas golf course (if you don’t love that towering putt-putt-like gorilla, there’s no hope for you).
- Bender's Movie-Theater Etiquette (HD, 1:16) A funny little guide to movie theater do’s and don’ts, hosted by your favorite robot, Bender. In a way it reminded me of the fake PSAs they filmed for Fight Club. It also made me wonder if the movies were originally intended as theatrical releases (probably not). Fun but pointless.
- Zapp Brannigan's Guide to Making Love at a Woman (HD, 2:49) In the same vein as the “Movie-Theater Etiquette” piece but much funnier because braggart space captain Zapp Brannigan was one of the greatest characters in the series and has been woefully misused in the films. Ah, I love him.
It’s not a great entry in the Futurama universe, but it’s passable. Superior sound and video to the standard DVD doesn’t necessarily mean the upgrade is essential. If you’re a Futurama super-fan and you own all the other movies then this is the version to get. To everyone else, it’s merely worth a look.
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