Friday, November 30, 2007

Futurama: Bender's Big Score

Viewed: From the Balcony

Good news everyone. I was pretty doubtful about The Simpsons Movie and came away pleasantly surprised. My hopes for Bender's Big Score were through the roof. So in my over-eager self-generating hype machine of a head this was already better than any Futurama movie could be. So it was with this in mind that I clutched my free pass and walked into the Kendall Landmark theater for a screening last Tuesday night. People in the theater were asking -- if this just came out on DVD today -- why would they bother making a print to show in theaters? They didn't, my fellow geek, they sadly did not. But they did digitaly project the dvd to a rapturous audience who cheered, awed and thoroughly enjoyed the movie -- myself included.

I'm not sure if they've ever shown a digitally projected movie at the Kendall before. I'm leaning towards no, because if it were any other situation people would be asking for a refund. It wasn't horrible, but the disservice it was causing the animation was distracting at times. We're talking about blocky pixels dancing on the screens. But with the voice actors Futurama has going for it I could be watching an 8-bit interpretation of the show and they'd still get huge laughs out of me.

And there were many of these. Every nervous laugh free moment was followed by a dozen hilarious bits that would put my worries to rest. The plot has to do with a band of aliens who manage to bankrupt the Earth through its people's weakness for email scams. Their first victims are the Planet Express crew with Farnsworth being scammed out of the company and Bender downloading a virus making him do whatever the aliens wish. Once the aliens literally sniff out a binary code for time travel tattooed on Fry's ass, the plan involves Bender looting the world of it's prized treasures and things getting "much more complicated" as the movie has its fun trying to avoid the paradoxes inherent in any movie that tries to deal with time travel. The first time the binary code is spoken aloud it is sent to Earth by the "God entity" Bender ran into when floating in space in the "Godfellas" episode. In fact just about every single character ever introduced in an episode of Futurama makes an appearance in this movie, which is pretty impressive and a fun tip of the hat to the fans.

One of the many great things about Futurama is the witty yet fundamentally sound way it deals with its science fiction aspects. Avid watchers will have no problem accepting the fact that it's co-creator studied theoretical computer science at Berkeley. So watching them make one of the more complicated time travel plots in movie history, you can sense the fun the writers had in creating and wrapping up all the loose ends. The Heroes writers could learn a thing or two from this movie -- better yet, they could simply apply some common sense to their show.

While there are many classic jokes in the movie, there's a fair amount of heart in here as well. This may or may not be good news to some of the fans. One of the better things Futurama did was lose The Simpsons tendency towards touchy feeliness and happy endings. And yet fans will know that the episode about Fry getting his dog back ended with one of the saddest moments in cartoon history. (Yes, Fry's dog is in the movie as well.) But of course the heart I speak of lies in the Fry - Leela relationship and I have to admit as much as I got a little antsy about their story when watching it, it ultimately worked for me. Leela falls for a museum curator named Lars, and they even make it to a wedding, which causes Fry much jealousy and leads up to one of my favorite bits when Fry hatches a devious plan to prevent their wedding by switching the pen they'll use to sign their certificate with one that has no ink. Can't fail!

There are a couple songs that are pretty much hit (the Chanukah Zombie) and miss (whatever that first song was about) -- is it an obligation for a cartoon movie to have songs? And there isn't nearly enough Zap; the whole crowd cheered when he came on, I'm guessing they're saving him for later. Overall though, the movie works as a welcome return of one of the best cartoons of the past decade. No one believed me when I told them in 2000 that Futurama was officially better than The Simpsons in terms of the episodes that were being produced at that time. That became more obvious as the years continued. With both shows putting out a movie this year -- it's a little difficult to compare. Futurama has three more of these coming out next year (this movie ends on a big cliffhanger) while The Simpsons Movie had gobs more money and works as a self-contained story. I'm not going to compare. They were both enjoyable. I like Bender's Big Score because believe it or not, Futurama speaks to me more personally these days. I enjoy the main characters more -- they haven't lost their luster as much as the Simpson's have by relentlessly ploughing on with shoddy episodes that degrade, even betray, what came before it. Believe it or not Futurama has stayed true to a pretty tricky continuity -- their absence over the past few years is dealt with first thing in the movie and gives us one of the funnier continuing jokes: television executives are killed, ground up into a fine pink powder and sold to consumers as a miracle cure-all.

It's not essential viewing but I think it ranks up there with the better episodes. But even my date for the show said she'll be watching it again when it plays on tv and she's more of a casual fan. Which reminds me, there's some great stuff in here for fans of Nibbler and the Nibblonians. I might buy the dvd since it has a full episode of Everyone Loves Hypnotoad (would there be a better thing to put on as a visual for your next party?) and to get the better digital sound and widescreen visuals that were ironically lacking in the theater experience. I swear, this youtube is crisper than the over-projected projection we were treated to...

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