There's nothing like kicking back and taking in a batch of brand new 'Futurama' episodes. Yes, it's true the newly released Volume Six has a few down moments, but for the most part it feels a lot like the 'Futurama' that the Fox network so callously tossed away years ago. The show found new life with a handful of direct-to-video movies, then Comedy Central commissioned a new batch of episodes. Volume Six represents the last part of those new episodes.
Matt Groening and David X. Cohen throw as many social commentary punches as possible. Some of them work, but other more specific jokes seem to fall a little flat. There were times during these episodes where I felt like they were getting too "in" with their jokes. Some of the episodes lost the timelessness of older 'Futurama' episodes like when the gang visits the Slurm factory. That will forever be a hilarious episode, but centering an episode around an X-Box-like video game system that captures your movements already seems a little dated.
This season is full of so many references that it may make your head spin by the time you're through. One episode in particular references everything from 'Minority Report' to 'Police Academy.' One of my favorite episodes of the bunch has the crew traveling past the Bermuda Tetrahedron in deep space to bring back a monument for a ceremony meant to honor the very first Planet Express crew. The episode quickly turns into a take on Moby Dick as Leela takes on the obsessive Ahab role and tries to hunt down a four-dimensional space whale (yes, only in 'Futurama' could you read that last sentence and not think anything is completely amiss).
This season seems extremely Bender-heavy though. Fans of the irreverent robot will be thrilled, but after the fourth or fifth episode focused mainly on him it grew a little tiresome. Don't get me wrong, I love Bender, but there are so many other rich characters on the show it's tough when they don't all get their due. I felt like Fry got short-changed in this season, but that's just my opinion.
While most of the episodes follow the basic formulaic storyline of the show, the finale offers a one-off animation extravaganza that is well worth the wait. The episode entitled "Reincarnation" features three distinct animation styles: black and white, old-school video game, and Japanese anime. The episode is split into three parts, but carries on the same story threads all the way to the end. It's simply a creative and fun way to represent the show in a different light. Groening and crew's love for everything geek comes to life in these episodes. It's easy to see that they played a ton of old Nintendo and arcade games. There are so many subtle references spread throughout that part of the episode that you'll most likely have to rewatch it to get them all.
I'll never complain about new 'Futurama' episodes, even though some of the episodes of this season may seem a little flat compared to past seasons. That's okay, it's 'Futurama' for heaven's sake.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
I'm not a big fan of the packaging for this volume. I didn't buy Volume Five, but judging from the Vital Stats section there the packaging sounds exactly the same. It's a cardboard foldout that simply has a couple slits in which to slide the discs into. No hubs or anything like that. The pouches for the discs seem fairly flimsy. One errant grab from a toddler is going to rip them right off, so be careful. It folds up nicely and slips into an outer cardboard slipcover with retro-looking art work on it. There are two discs included in this set, each of them BD-50s.
The episode list includes: "The Silence of the Clamps," "Möbius Dick," "Law and Oracle," "Benderama," "The Tip of the Zoidberg," " Ghost in the Machines," "Neutopia," "Yo Leela Leela," "Fry Am the Egg Man," "All the Presidents' Heads," "Cold Warriors," "Overclockwise," and "Reincarnation."
'Futurama's animation, like 'The Simpsons' is simple yet effective. It's definitely colorful and all the colors pop on Blu-ray. Leela's purple hair, Amy's pink sweat suit, and even Bender's grey exterior all have a pristine color pop to them.
With 'Futurama's move to the wider aspect ratio, more detail and more color are able to appear on the screen at one time, making the show look downright awesome in HD. Even the times where 3D rendering is used look fantastic. I didn't notice any noise or disruptions other than a few times where straight lines on Bender's body have minor jaggies running up and down them. These are small and isolated incidents. You can see one instance in "Fry Am the Egg Man" where the gang is gathered together as Fry picks up the alien baby for the first time. The lines to the right on Bender's chest have a jagged appearance instead of straight up and down. It only lasts for a split second and if you're not actively looking for them you wouldn't notice them anyway.
Other than the few minor jaggies here and there, the rest of this show's presentation in HD is flawless as far as I'm concerned. The show has never looked better.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes each provide quite a bit of heft and ambiance to enthrall the viewer. Whenever the Planet Express ship takes off LFE rumbles forth, deep and resonant. Frankly, I was surprised at the amount of LFE that is present during the firing of rocket boosters or the show's numerous explosions.
All the character's dialogue is presented clearly through the front and center channels. Directionality works great when characters talk off screen or on the other side of the frame. Sound effects like a knock on the door are placed perfectly in the front speaker where the door should be located.
While it may not measure up to some of the more demo-worthy audio experiences out there, this is a very solid achievement for an animated show. With the variety of sci-fi sound effects used in this show, the mix offers a well-rounded balance that should please any fan.
Whether it's a funny ground-breaking episode, or simply a lukewarm one, you'll always find at least a few hearty chuckles in 'Futurama.' Its skewering of the American workplace has always found a special place in my heart. Fans of the show are definitely going to be picking this set up. We need to show them how much we care about the show so we can continue to get more episodes. Here's looking forward to the highly anticipated seventh season, but until then this set is going to have to do. The strong video and audio presentations only solidify my recommendation you pick this up right now. Hypno Toad demands it.