Review by KC Carlson
“When will young people learn that Dungeons and Dragons won’t make you cool!”
— Philip J. Fry
When Cubert Farnsworth, Dwight Slim, and their friends embarked on a new D&D campaign with a 12-sided die made from a mysterious substance, they had no idea what kind of trouble was in store in Futurama: Bender’s Game, the third in a series of four Futurama movies released direct to DVD.
When Bender joins the campaign, he has to face the fact that, as a robot, he has no real imagination, and so he is a failure at the game. The kids spur him on, however, and soon the cranky robot is imagining scenarios with the best of them. Little does anyone know that the strain is slowly driving Bender insane.
Meanwhile, cost-cutting efforts are underway at Planet Express, the intergalactic delivery service that the Futurama gang works for. It seems that the cost of of “dark matter” — the waste product of the Nibblonians used for fuel in the 31th century — is out of control, sparking discussions of additional drilling in Alaska to meet demands. Controlling the fuel situation is the evil Mom, a recurring antagonist to the gang and a former paramour of Professor Farnsworth. The gas pumps dispensing the dark matter fuel even look like Mom.
After Leela steals the Planet Express cruiser to compete in a Space Demolition Derby and get her revenge on some space rednecks who insulted her, she is admonished by the Professor that her anger is now out of control and also reprimanded for wasting dark matter. Leela demands to know why the professor is so bent out of shape about the fuel situation, so the Professor reveals that he was the one that invented the way to refine dark matter. This was done while he was in the employ of Mom, and after he revealed the process to her, she dumped him (again) and took control of the “non-local metaparticle crystal” that links all the dark matter in the universe and enables it to be used as fuel.
However, the Professor reveals that, unbeknownst to Mom, he has control of the opposite crystal made of “pure anti-backwards energy”. And he further explains that if the two crystals are brought together, their wave functions would collapse, rendering all dark matter inert. Farnsworth argues that this would be a good thing, as the universe’s fuel would no longer be under Mom’s control, and Earth’s scientists would be forced to come up with better, cleaner alternative fuels. (Did I mention that Futurama is Al Gore’s favorite show?)
As this goes on, Bender, slipping further from reality, declares himself to be Titanius Anglesmith, Fancy Man of Cornwood, and attacks the gang. They ultimately have him committed at the HAL Institute for Criminally Insane Robots, where it is determined that he needs a “robotomy”. While the gang valiantly attacks Mom’s Arctic stronghold, the doctor attempts to remove Bender’s imagination. Instead, he actually activates it, sending the entire gang, plus Mom and her evil sons, to the fantasy land of Bender’s creation. There, they are all transformed into D&D characters: Bender is a robot knight; Leela, a centaur; the Professor, a wizard; and Mom can transform into a horrible dragon creature. The two sides face off in final battle at the Geysers of Gygax in the stronghold of Momon for the fate of the two crystals.
In the course of the adventure, the gang encounter owl exterminators, Rich Little playing Howard Cosell, deadly Morks (yes, they’re exactly what you think they are), a Die of Power, Wipe Castle with its giant toilet turret, George Takei, The Scary Door, Rosie the Robot, light sabers, Nurse Ratchet, the Teletubbies, and a fantasmagorical side trip into a world with skies of blue and seas of green. As you can imagine, there are big doses of D&D references and parodies of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy and SF movies. And maybe a big Futurama revelation or two, as well.
It’s hard for me to actually judge the entire movie, as I have practically no background in D&D or other fantasy gaming. So I’m sure that a lot of the references flew right past me. However, as an entry in the ongoing Futurama saga, it ranks high, as there were plenty of oddball jokes, creepy Professor moments, great characterization, and a wonderful sense of story, continuity, and scope. It will be quite gratifying to see how the conclusion of this film directly ties into the next one.
The Futurama DVDs are always loaded with extras, and Bender’s Game is no exception. There’s
- a feature-length commentary with series creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, several of the voice actors and producers, and director Dwayne Carey-Hill
- a storyboard animatic of the first 20 minutes of the film
- a Futurama Genetics Lab, where you can combine several of your favorite cast members together into a new character (my favorites are Fippy and Toadsworth)
- a featurette about how certain Futurama creators love D&D and why
- How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps with the animators
- 3-D models w/animator discussion
- a deleted scene
- Blooperama 2, featuring a working voice recording session
- a sneak peak of the next Futurama movie, Into The Wild Green Yonder
- and Bender’s Anti-Piracy Warning, which is the funniest thing on the disc (and possibly a parody of Warners’ current idiotic messages).
Many of the menus feature the cast as mock-D&D cards, with very entertaining Attributes. And the chapters menu also isolates some of Christopher Tyng’s wonderful soundtrack music. Why isn’t there a soundtrack CD for Futurama? It should also be noted that Bender’s Game is actually a part of Futurama Season 5 and will eventually be broken up into four separate episodes (81-84) of the show, to be aired in the future on Comedy Central.
Futurama: Bender’s Game is also available in the Blu-ray format, a first for the series. The movie series is also “green,” as the manufacturing and packaging of the films are described as “carbon neutral”. While it was not possible to completely eliminate carbon output, carbon offsets were used.
One final note: my free screener copy of the movie, provided by the studio, included a lot of digital garbage (mostly pixelation) in the first several minutes of the feature. The rest of the disc was all right — but something else prevented it from being played at all in some of the DVD players in the house, mostly computer players. Hope these problems don’t occur in the commercially released version of the DVD!