Friday, January 4, 2013

DVD Review: Futurama: Volume Five

Futurama: Volume Five

(Released: December 21, 2010 by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) 

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

In the beginning, cartoonist Matt Groening created his homage to THE FLINTSTONES (…and to several of his own family members) for the new FOX TV network, called it THE SIMPSONS, and the rest was – and REMAINS – television history.  

Ten years later, his similar homage to THE JETSONS, better known as FUTURAMA, though great, would (like THE JETSONS itself) be less successful – yet live on with a devoted fan base.

Years after its demise, THE JETSONS would continue through Saturday morning reruns, comic books, an ‘80s animated revival (which, alas, showed just how feeble the once-great Hanna-Barbera studio had become), and a similarly less than stellar animated feature… and DVDs of the great originals. 

FUTURAMA, too, would continue through various means – primarily comic books, prime time cable repeats, and DVDs of the great original series. 

Enough momentum was built that FOUR “direct-to-DVD” FUTURAMA movies were released – like THIS ONE.  And, from the success of those, a revived half-hour animated series – this time on Comedy Central rather than FOX – that is so perfectly produced that it feels as if FUTURAMA never “went away”.

The first 13 episodes of this revival of FUTURAMA make up Futurama: Volume Five.

See THIS REVIEW of Futurama: Volume One for additional detail on the background and characters of the series.
As is our custom in these reviews, we'll break it into CONS and PROS.

Too Many Warnings:  Two screens worth of “standard warnings and disclaimers”, about unauthorized copying and presentations – and disavowing the opinions on commentary participants as being their own and not representative of the studio – follow EVERY EPISODE PRESENTATION, rather than display only at the start-up, or at the very end, of the DVD.  Of course, I understand the need for such legalese – we probably all do – but we do not need to see it this oft repeated.  You watch three episodes; you see the warnings and disclaimers three times.  That, to me, is needless overkill. 
Bender doesn't heed those warnings anyway!

General: The episodes, the cast, and the print quality are all first rate.  The packaging is a noticeable step below the original packaging for the first four volumes, but is still better than that used for contemporary sets of THE SIMPSONS. 

The menus are strikingly colorful, in an odd futuristic art-deco sort of way (as is the exterior packaging), and are easy to negotiate.  I’ve read that there are some “Easter Eggs”, but I’ve uncovered only one thus far.

These new shows are in HD and WIDSCREEN, and look spectacular – particularly given the use of CGI on the series. 

Extra Features:  A wealth of goodies including:

  • Commentary tracks on every episode with creator Matt Groening, producer David X. Cohen, voice actors John DiMaggio and Billy West, and other producers, directors, writers, and animators.

  • Deleted scenes where available.
Here's to our facvorite show... SIMPS-URAMA!

  • Billy West and Greg Leon Jam.   From the episode “Proposition Infinity”, comes West and guitarist Greg Leon’s performance of “Shut Up and Love Me!” – an original song created for this episode. This feature shows footage of the recording session.  

  • Preliminary art for Fry’s self-published comic book “Delivery Boy Man”, as seen in the episode “Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences”.

  • “Previously on Futurama”:  Quick animated clips of many different cast members simply saying “Previously on Futurama”, as one would find beginning one of today’s continuity-heavy contemporary dramas, all the while performing some unrelated activity.  The best of which was Hermes and Zoidberg clinking champagne glasses together in a toast – but one glass is “Matter” and the other “Anti-Matter”… BOOM!  

The Episodes:  (Rated by Number of Stars “*”)

Rebirth”: ***  Picking up directly from the ending of “Into the Wild Green Yonder”, the last of the Futurama “direct-to-DVD” movies, we open with some clever commentary by the characters on their treatment since the original series was cancelled – and on their new television home. Then, we move on to Leela’s “death” and replacement by a robotic version of herself.  But WHO is really who?  …And WHO ELSE is really WHO ELSE? 

In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela”:  *** As incredible as it may seem, the Earth has been destroyed leaving the obnoxious William Shatner-parody character Zapp Brannigan and Leela on an idyllic “garden planet” to begin the… um, “task” of reviving the human race.   GAG! (…And I don’t mean the “humorous kind”!) 
LEAF well enough alone!

Attack of the Killer App”:  **** A scathing commentary on the present (read 2010-11) state of electronics and social media.  This outing is right-on and hits every target as squarely as can be!  The real shame is that this spectacularly sharp satire will become very DATED before long… so watch it NOW, for maximum enjoyment!  It may be one of the series best episodes… from the perspective of 2010-11.  Let’s get back to it in a few years, and see how we feel then.  The wonderfully cynical ending, however, is timeless, regardless of the soon-to-be-dated parody references used to reach it! 

Proposition Infinity”:  *** Another present day social issue takes center stage as the “Gay Rights and Gay Marriage” movement is transferred to the “oppressed minority” of ROBOTS.  Let us hope that this episode eventually becomes as dated as “Attack of the Killer App” will surely be.  Special appearance by George Takei.  Billy (voice of Fry and Farnsworth) West gets to do a great satire of a heavy metal riff that is the subject of one of the special features listed above. 

The Duh-Vinci Code”: **** Surpasses even the vaunted “Attack of the Killer App” for best episode of the set – but with a truly timeless subject “Leonardo Di Vinci”.  The Great Di Vinci is revealed to be an ALIEN who visited Earth and helped spark its renaissance.  However, when Fry and Professor Farnsworth journey to Leonardo’s home world, they find that he is actually the DUMBEST being on his planet.  Ridiculed and resentful of the superior smarts of his countrymen, Di Vinci employs an unwitting Fry and Farnsworth to execute his revenge.  The designs of Di Vinci’s planet are a superb melding of renaissance and sci-fi.  Another of the very best episodes of Futurama!  
Fry, Farnsworth, and Leo.

Lethal Inspection”: **** The Planet Express crew ends up beaten and bruised, after a reenactment of the “Sith-val War”, where the forces of Jedi and the Darkside meet on the field of battle. Bender takes the wounds all in stride, until he learns that a manufacturing defect renders him as “mortal” as the rest of the “meatbags”.  He and Planet Express’ resident bureaucrat Hermes Conrad set out to find the enigmatic “Inspector No. 5” – who passed him, despite the defect.  Unexpectedly “nice” ending, especially for Futurama. 

The Late Philip J. Fry”:  **** Would you believe a love story between Leela and Fry that stretches across the infinite reaches of time?  Yes, really, as Fry is forced to miss a dinner date for Leela’s birthday in order to test Professor Farnsworth’s “Forward Time Machine” (It can’t travel backward, in order to prevent anyone messing with past history… as our cast has ALREADY DONE in previous episodes!).  Fry, Farnsworth, and Bender travel forward incrementally (since they can’t go back), into varied and funny future civilizations, ultimately reaching the very end of time itself.  Over the course of this episode we see all time unfold before our eyes at speeds often too fast for the eye – including certain incidents from the prior FUTURAMA series, the DVD movies, and finally even a brief scene from this season’s opener!  Hitler is almost killed…. Then he’s not! Oh, and all potential time paradoxes are effectively dealt with… Bender sees to that! 
This one beats both “Attack of the Killer App” and “The Duh-Vinci Code”!!!  A REALLY GREAT run of five consecutive episodes! 

That Darn Katz”:  ** 1/2

How ironic! Two hyper-intelligent beings both pretending to be simple house-pets!”

Say, do you know Obliteron?  HE pretends to be a HAMSTER, but…”

Evil Space-Cats use their cuteness to hypnotically enslave the Planet Express crew to build a giant machine that will syphon-off Earth’s rotational energy and beam it to their own planet – leaving Earth half in perpetual heat and half in perpetual cold.  Only Amy and Nibbler stand in their way.  At episodes’ end, the Earth rotates once again, but now the sun sets in the EAST!  …And that’s “good enough”! Frank Welker and Maurice La Marche are respectively superb as the stentorian voice of Nibbler and the Ronald Coleman-esque cat leader, thus gaining it the extra “half-star”.

On the whole, Earth society is worthless, but they do have these things called ‘antique rugs’ that are great for peeing on!”
Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow...  Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow...

A Clockwork Origin”: ** On a remote planet, Professor Farnsworth inadvertently sets into motion the process of Robo-Evolution.  His filth-cleansing nanites emerge from a pool of dirty water to evolve into robot-trilobites, cyber-dinosaurs, cave-robots, “modern-robots” and a higher level of pure consciousness all within the space of several days.  Just switch your brain off, and watch!  It’s more fun that way! 

In the episode commentary, Bender’s voice actor John DiMaggio introduces himself as “All-pro center Nick Mangold, of the New York Football Jets!”  Yes, that’s a REAL Jets player!   

The Prisoner of Benda”:  **** Just when you think you couldn’t stand to see another “Mind and Body Switching” episode of an animated series, comes this amazing episode!  Bender wants to heist a valuable crown from a discontented Robot Emperor, while Amy wants to gorge herself with food.  This leads to “Mind and Body Switching” galore among the entire cast – and a few guest characters and cleaning implements as well.  The ultimate switching back is dizzying, but (believe it or not) all actually does get back to normal at episode’s end… though Bender unwittingly does himself out of his treasure! 
Do you MIND another one of these? 
Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences”:  **** Fry takes his extremely amateurish self-produced comic book “Delivery-Boy Man” to Comic-Con 3010 (in a futuristic approximation of the San Diego Convention Center), where the Planet Express crew walks past exhibits for both “Videogame the Movie” and “Movie the Videogame”!  The preserved, disembodied heads of Matt Groening and other FUTURAMA production staff, and Sergio Aragones make cameos.  A deserved jab at FOX, for cancelling FUTURAMA, is gratuitously taken, when “Future-Disembodied-Head-Groening’s NEW “Futurama-type show” (FUTURELLA) is cancelled by FOX *during* the convention preview!

Meanwhile Lrrr, the alien conqueror from Season Two’s “When Aliens Attack” has lost his ‘mojo” with his wife Ndnda (Nice working of their names into the title!).  In order to boost the alien’s self-esteem, Leela inadvertently helps him conquer Earth.  Maurice LaMarche does his wonderful impression of Orson Welles (also used for “The Brain” of “Pinky and…”) to help pull off an incredibly cheesy simulation of “War of the Worlds”.  An “Easter Egg” embedded in the menu for this episode shows various preliminary sketches for Fry’s comic book. 

The Mutants are Revolting”:  **** Far beneath the everyday rumble of limousines and poodle feet, there toil a downtrodden people even less off than the upper middle class. The noble sewer mutants.  

Here we learn the story of Leela’s people, meet her family, and learn of their horrific conditions living under New New York.  Leela and company, deported to the sub-surface, lead the mutants’ quest for freedom and equality by backing-up sewage into the city that shunned them.  Not just any old garden variety sewage, mind you, but that “special brown kind” (Know what I mean?).  The surface dwellers fight back with (among other weapons) one of the greatest puns of the series:  The sewage-seeking missile called the “I SEE BM”!

‘70s / ‘80s New Wave band DEVO’s Mark Mothersbaugh appears as the leader of a thirtieth century mutant version of DEVO, who sing “Wonderful World”!  This is the 100 th episode of FUTURAMA, and it begins with a special Episode 100 logo!

The Futurama Holiday Spectacular”:  *** (Cue announcer Maurice LaMarche):  It’s the Futurama Holiday Spectacular  -- brought to you by Gunderson’s Unshelled Nuts!” (Anyone else thinking of the Anubis Market sponsorship of FREAKAZOID! right now?)

AMY:  Ah, the X-mas season… Who wants some delicious unshelled nuts?”   Bender obliges, stepping forward in his guise as a Holiday Nutcracker. 

And, so we begin a series of three separate, out-of-series-continuity holiday themed tales, all of which end up in death or some other unpleasant fate for our friends at Planet Express.  Entertainer “Coolio” voices “Kwanzaa-Bot”, and former Vice-President Al Gore appears as himself – though in typically Futurama “Disembodied Head in a Jar” form. 


FUTURAMA is the second prime time animated series saved from oblivion by the forces of the Internet, DVD sales, and other factors that (ironically) did not exist to extend the life of THE JETSONS.  The first, of course, being FAMILY GUY.   

And, for a series just coming back from the dead… er, cancelled, this is one extraordinary collection of episodes!   No ramp-up time needed here!  Two more TV seasons, with corresponding DVD collections would follow, in 2011 and 2012.  And, I believe still more are on the way for 2013. 

We: The fans, nerds, geeks, and even casual mainstream viewers (Bless their casual mainstream souls!) are responsible for the very existence of Futurama: Volume Five.  Let us enjoy the revived fruits of our labors.  Bender would expect nothing less from us! 

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