Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (2009)
27th January 2009
Mankind stands on the brink of a wondrous new Green Age and there's not a wind farm or electric car in sight. However, the ancient forces of darkness, three years older than time itself, have returned to wreak destruction across the universe and there's only one person in the galaxy who can stop it. Yeap, you've got it, the fate of the universe in is Fry's hands. So, it looks like the universe is doomed to implode so you may want to consider moving to another dimension.
But before Fry learns of his destiny (lets face facts, the longer he doesn't find out, the longer the universe has to survive), the Planet Express crew are on holiday on Mars and enjoying the gambling city of Mars Vegas - which also just happens to be owned by Amy Wong's father Leo. However, the Wong's want to expand their empire so the existing city is flattened to make way for a new and improved city. But just as in today's world, Leo has no concerns for the Mars environment and prepares an environmental report from an impartial top scientist (an easily bribed Professor Farnsworth) to say that there's nothing worth saving on the planet and he can destroy every tree and oasis that stands in the way of his new development.
During the demolition of the old city (and some pesky eco-feminists who happen to get in the way of Leo's dynamite) Fry is hit in the head by a piece of jewellery from a "flying" eco-feminist. Now lodged, and unnoticed, in his brain, Fry soon develops mind reading abilities and, with Fry being Fry, it doesn't take him long to realise that his new found powers could be put to good use. But don't forget, this is Fry we're talking about here and his plans don't come to much with some confusion over whether his ability is actually invisibility or mind reading, and an ill-conceived way to make money from a poker tournament - which is not helped by Bender entering the competition.
Never the less, his powers have not gone unnoticed and he is picked up by a member of the Legion of Mad Fellows who inform him of his destiny and provide him with a tin foil hat (minus the pizza cheese) to protect from the forces of darkness. Now all Fry needs to do is prevent Leo Wong destroying half of the galaxy in order to build a six billion mile sized golf course plus trying to uncover what form the darkness has taken before it's too late. And when you mix this all together with
Bender being in love with a fembot married to Donbot (the Godfather of all robots) and Leela being a signed up member of the eco-feminists who are on the run from the law (and Zapp Brannigan's law!) the universe's existence is looking very shaky indeed.
To be honest, I was very glad to receive the Blu-Ray version of the disc for review. Not only do I prefer Blu-Ray for animation discs, I was interested to see how a "standard" television series would transfer to a high-definition format. On the whole it works very well, even if the source material was probably never meant for a high-definition home - especially since Twentieth Century Fox threw its hand into the Blu-Ray ring fairly late on in the proceedings. Whilst a more up market up-scaling DVD player would probably make a better go of the standard definition DVD, this Blu-Ray version is no disgrace and it manages to give a tempting insight into what can be done if you put your mind, and budget, to it.
As you'd expect from a high-definition picture, and a richly coloured and rather wacky cartoon series, the colours are fantastic with such a massive range of colours on offer that it will require you to reach for your sunglasses. Whilst plenty of scenes have been created courtesy of a computer image modeller there's still some classic animation on show and the Blu-Ray disc shows it all to its full potential - even if I did notice some jerky panning issues which were probably more likely to be down to my Samsung LCD television rather than the disc. Sure, it may well be more economical to go for the standard definition disc for titles such as this but, in these troubling times, you do need to treat yourself every now and again and this disc won't disappoint.
For a high definition presentation the biggest let down would have to be the sound. Sure, it's a television series, but these special editions are direct to video releases and a home audience is bound to be the primary revenue driver here. Whilst the opening theme music does sound impressive, the rest of the show is a bit of a let down with very little in the way of surround effects or anything else to make you sit up and take notice. However, since the series came from the television domain, you'd probably be a little surprised if, after an amazing THX fanfare, a John Williams score suddenly kicked up and rattled the plaster from your walls. Never the less, putting any complaint about the sound aside, there's still no doubt that the soundtrack does the job without any fuss and performance.
The extras on the Blu-Ray and standard DVD are the same - although the Audio Commentary is accompanied with a Video Commentary and the menu animation is slightly different. Extra wise, it's a bit of a mixed bag - although to be fair, the wacky collection on offer here is nothing unusual from the world of Futurama. So, first off out of the extras block is the rather busy Audio Commentary - with optional Video Commentary for owners of the Blu-Ray edition. Whilst the commentary is full of interesting information about both the series and the feature, contributors
Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Michael Rowe, Lee Supercinski, Patric M. Verrone and Peter Avanzino (it's nice to finally put some faces to some of the voices behind the many characters) chatter happily throughout - although watching the video commentary some of the contributors, especially Matt Groening, do look a little bored at times.
Next up is the twenty minute, and rather too long, Storyboard Animatic: Into the Wild Green Yonder, Part One. I've never been a real fan of storyboards, but if you can last for the full length of the feature you'll discover all sorts of amazing things about the Into the Wild Green Yonder - such as the storyboard looks remarkably like the finished article. Still, at least the storyboard contains the opening theme music (provided by the amazing Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame) and the full voice track that the cast will have recorded against the storyboard. Next up is the five minute tongue-in-cheek featurette Docoramarama : How We Make Futurama So Good where Lauren Tom, who was probably the only person around at the time, is shown providing all the voices, doing all of the animation, writing the scripts, creating the musical score and even providing the sound effects by beating the hell out of one of the producers. Needless to say, it's all rather pointless but surprisingly funny and worth a viewing.
Following on from the madness of Lauren Tom, the two minute Louder, Louder featurette looks at the acting technique of Penn Jillette who provided one of the cameo voices in the film whilst another fairly pointless feature is provided by the four minute Matt Groeing and David X. Cohen in Space featurette. In it they talk about their experience of a trip in the "Vomit Comet" and their brief experiences of weightlessness. Need to say, they thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the featurette is accompanied with plenty of video and pictures (with the faces of the other people on the flight blocked out). Next up are five Delete Scenes of varying picture quality - with some fully rendered scenes whilst others are storyboarded and scored. However, since this is a direct to video feature, why were the scenes cut in the first place? After all, there hardly any time constraints here and a few extras seconds wouldn't have made much of a difference. Never the less, after the great audio commentary to go with the main film, it's disappointing to find that there's nobody on hand to provide any answers.
Budding artists, and fans of the series, are bound to be happy with the next two featurettes. The ten minute How to Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps does exactly what it says on the tin with a number of the animators showing just how to go about drawing the characters from the series. The four minute 3D Models with Animator Discussion is another featurette that does exactly what it says. In the rather unimaginatively titled feature, director of computer graphics Scott Vanzo and episode director Peter Avanzino talk about some of the 3D models created for the film. Whilst the images aren't as complicated as your average Pixar production, it's still an interesting look at how the images are created. Things are rounded off with a nice bit of filler material in the form of Benders Guide to Theatre Etiquette and Zap Brannigans Guide to Making Love. Whilst they're both funny, there's no new material on offer here as both are made up of clips of varying image quality from the series. Finally, if you're clever enough, there's a number of Easter Eggs to be discovered (although I only managed to find one - which I won't tell you about so you can discover it for yourselves).
Futurama has always been The Simpsons younger, and less talked about, brother who is kept out of the limelight whilst the eldest Twentieth Century Fox sibling is constantly praised for being the best member of the family. However, Fry, Bender and the rest of the team were no friendless geeks and the studio executives finally realised their mistake in cancelling a series that was actually far more intelligent and funnier than The Simpsons. However, rather than the full resurrection that was offered to Family Guy, our heroes have only been brought back for a number of feature length episodes (which probably all adds up to a ready to be broadcast television season).
Without question, fans of the series are going to enjoy these new releases - although I'd probably wait for the inevitable box-set release of all four features. It's even harder to pigeon hole Futurama against any other animated series - if you only like The Simpsons then you may not like this, although if you like Family Guy and/or American Dad then you're probably already a big fan and eagerly await the next DVD release. So really, this review can be best aimed at true fans of the series and those people who are curious to learn more about a cult cartoon series that is galaxies ahead of a certain yellow family from Springfield.
Highly recommended - and for Futurama fans, it's that wish that you never thought would come true. It's just a pity it's not going to get another go of arising like a phoenix from the flames of cancellation. Or is it.....?
- Video Picture-in-Picture commentary by Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Michael Rowe, Lee Supercinski, Patric M. Verrone and Peter Avanzino
- Storyboard Animatic: Into the Wild Green Yonder, Part 1
- Featurette: Matt Groening and David X. Cohen in Space!
- Docudramarama: "How We Make Futurama So Good"
- "Louder! Louder!": The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette
- Golden Stinkers: A Treasury of Deleted Scenes
- How To Draw Futurama In 10 Very Difficult Steps
- 3D Models with Animator Discussion
- Bender’s Movie Theater Etiquette
- Zapp Brannigan’s Guide to Making Love at a Woman