The euphoria has finally drained from my system. The ultimate high of seeing my favorite mutant, man and robot trio back on the screen subsides. In its place I feel this empty space, a knot of fear slowly binding into a tighter ball threatening to press against my heart and cause arrhythmia. Futurama: Bender’s Big Score skated by on thin ice. Taking full advantage of the honeymoon stage, it slipped its foibles and ugly birthmarks under the sheets and distracted us with its bedroom eyes. But the honeymoon’s over. The beautiful, delicate creature we thought we knew has given way to a rougher and notably odder monster threatening to crush our hearts amidst the faltering laughter.
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs doesn’t benefit from the endorphin shield of its predecessor. My critical eye sees its flaws no matter how beautiful its very existence appears to be. While Bender’s Big Score marked the tepidly triumphant return of the futuristic cartoon, The Beast with a Billion Backs makes us wonder if perhaps this is one grave that shouldn’t have been robbed. Still chock full of parody and comedy, the next Futurama installment takes a turn for the incredibly weird.
With the mysterious rift in time and space reminding us of the events of BBS, the crew of the Planet Express ship find themselves at varying points along the spectrum of love. Amy and Kiff finally take the plunge and get married while Leela, at the polar extreme, has become even more disenchanted with romance after the confusing and tragic events of Lars. Fry, somewhere between the stages of acceptance and depression, gets involved with a polygamyistic woman (voiced by Brittany Murphy) who just can’t seem to decide which man she loves. Unable to handle anymore heartbreak, Fry flees the world to seek refuge in the great rift. No sooner has he entered the rift that he returns to Earth as the ambassador for the Yivo, a gigantic creature whose tentacles begin a romantic crusade across the planet.
As with BBS, the full length feature run time of BwaBB drags it down at times. The jokes are there and for the diehard fans there’s more self referential humor to the past series but the pacing required for a full length feature exhausts the Futurama formula. Despite its flaws it maintains the quality for which I most admire the series: plot and message.
The dynamics of love and relationships saturates the plot giving rise to a rather interesting take on what love really entails. Can “love” be sustained in a relationship with more than just the socially acceptable two people? If there exists the possibility to create an existence devoted to love could humanity accept it? Or would the Leela in us all force us to suspect and consequently reject such a concept? For a film with gigantic tentacles and a sport called “Deathball” the serious message imbued startles the viewer.
No, by comedic accounts it’s not on par with the truly great Futurama episodes. But what it does have is a heaping helping of Zap Brannigan and Bender. Two elements guaranteed to make any episode or full length Futurama feature well worth watching. As always the music and animation are top notch taking full advantage of the mastery of Christopher Tyng and the fine folks at Rough Draft. The voice actors return in better form than they did in BBS as they’ve clearly gotten the nuances of their characters back to full swing. That may have been the biggest annoyance for me (besides the musical numbers) in BBS. It wouldn’t have felt like such a long time between takes had the voice actors been able to get right back in the swing, but they weren’t. They’d moved on. But with BBS as a warm up the entire crew is back and it sounds and looks great.
As mentioned, Brittany Murphy guest stars as Fry’s polygamist girlfriend. David Cross stars as the beast Yivo. Considering Cross’s tendency to orientate at either scathingly brutal sarcasm or naïve innocence Yivo seems like an odd role floating somewhere in between. Finally we have the best possible guest voice: Stephen Hawking, the laser eyed, floating head physicist. Beyond these three you have your expected smattering of familiar Futurama characters.
The DVD extras include your average features: storyboard animatics, commentary audio track, character models, etc. The real “jewel” of the extras is a full “new episode”. In saying this I’ll now further clarify to reveal that in all actuality it’s the cut scenes from the Futurama video game pasted together to showcase the plot as an episode. It kinda works…it kinda doesn’t. Oddly enough this pseudosode also has an audio commentary track. The main point: besides all the traditional extras you’d expect there’s a huge heaping more just to keep the curious fans happy until the next installment rolls out in another…uggh…6 months. Goddammit!
Go out there and buy or rent the DVD. Personally I say buy it because every purchase sends a strong “Bring it back!” message to those Fox Execs [read: bastards]. While not the best comedic representation of the Futurama universe, Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs provides a solid 90 minutes viewing experience. It might not be the Futurama you fell in love with all those years ago, but if you look beneath the surface you’ll recognize all the things you love are still present.
"Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs" is on sale June 24, 2008 and is rated PG13. Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Sci-Fi. Directed by Peter Avanzino. Written by Michael Rowe. Starring Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Lauren Tom, Maurice LaMarche, Phil LaMarr, Tress MacNeille.