Fox // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // March 16th, 2009
The future is today -- one last time.
The brilliant animated sci-fi comedy series from Simpsons creator Matt Groening and a team of talented nerds has reached what looks like the end of its extended life with Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder. Those who aren't already onboard the Futurama bandwagon won't be converted by this installment. For fans of the series, this fourth direct-to-DVD movie wraps up the show with a satisfying dose of what you'd expect. The question then, if Green is your final Futurama purchase, is it worth going Blu?
After demolishing old Mars Vegas to erect his new resort casino, Leo Wong sets his sights on developing the universe's biggest miniature golf course. That mega project will run straight through a violet dwarf system where a mysterious energy has sparked the growth of primordial life on an asteroid. Dismayed by Leo's disregard for the environment -- facilitated by a very bribable Professor Farnsworth -- Leela joins a band of eco-feminists to disrupt the construction. Meanwhile, Bender starts an affair with a Mars Vegas-performing fembot who just happens to be the Donbot's wife. When an accident makes Fry telepathic, he falls in league with a secret society concerned with saving the violet dwarf star from the Dark Ones. Once again, the fate of the universe rests in the hands of the delivery boy from the 20th century.
If this is the final chapter of Futurama, it's a satisfying one, even if leaves a few things to be desired. Ultimately, what I desire is more Futurama, so there's definitely going to be some disappointment. Still, Into the Wild Green Yonder is a typically strong installment for the show. Compared to the other movies, the jokes don't come quite as fast as they did in Bender's Big Score but the plot's logic isn't as incomprehensible as Bender's Game. The story doesn't break new ground but it contains enough of the wit that fans have come to expect.
A little too much time is given to Frida and Hutch Waterfall, new supporting characters that reference a running gag from the series. Perhaps I simply wanted to spend more time with my favorites characters, but I didn't find the Waterfall siblings very interesting. While I'm glad Green is a fully developed story that stands on its own merits, I wish there could have been more of a payoff from the various ongoing tensions between the regular cast. Now, I'm not saying I wanted to see a wedding ceremony, but the Fry-Leela relationship does feel a little short-changed once it's finally addressed here.
This is still a better-than-average installment of the show even if it doesn't quite meet expectations as the grand send-off episode. There are some nice set piece moments featuring impressive special effects. The climactic scene featuring almost every character from the show animated in the background is so detailed that that alone may be enough to justify upgrading to Blu-ray for the improved image quality.
The Blu-ray version of Into the Wild Green Yonder enjoys a few improvements over its DVD counterpart. The 1080p resolution means rich and vibrant colors; lines that are smooth and solid; and not even a hint of color bleed. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack is very enjoyable. Some dialogue-heavy scenes concentrate the voices from the front and center channels but the music, sound effects and background audio make excellent use of the surround environment.
Another Blu-ray advantage is the ability to browse through the menu screens quickly and while the movie or a featurette is playing. The visual layout of the menu, in roulette wheel fashion, is a bit awkward at first and with the DVD version I found it quite annoying that each step of navigation through the menu required the screen to reload. Being able to fumble through the menu screens at a faster pace lessens the frustration.
All of the special features from the DVD are included on this Blu-ray edition. Here, the audio commentary has the added option of a picture-in-picture video commentary. If you so choose, you can watch Groening, producer David X. Cohen, director Peter Avanzino, and various cast and crew members as they record their comments. While I liked seeing the faces of the people involved with the production, the video option is distracting after a while.
Many of the featurettes are presented in high definition video: "Docuramarama" is a five-minute, spoof, making-of video; "Louder, Louder!" dissects the acting technique of Penn Jillette; and "How to Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps" is an 11-minute reminder that I can't draw. Deleted scenes, a featurette on the 3D models and three bonus animations are also presented in hi-def resolution, though one of the animations, "Bender's Movie Theater Etiquette," looks like it originated at low-res.
The standard definition bonus materials are: the Act 1 storyboard animatic, running about 22 minutes, and the video diary of Groening and Cohen experiencing zero gravity. A nice physical bonus, there are four postcards of Futurama art by Groening inserted into the case.
The environmental theme of Green is a topical subject and Futurama has always found a witty way to address contemporary issues. Or, as Fry might observe: It's funny how these future-time stories seem to be about today-time stuff. Starting with the release of Bender's Big Score, Fox has reported that these movies are carbon-neutral productions. That statement was reinforced with the DVDs being packaged in cardboard boxes instead of the usual plastic cases. However, this green statement is inconsistent when the Blu-ray versions still come in the standard blue plastic cases.
Personally, I'm not a fan of the cardboard boxes because it doesn't feel like a secure storage vessel for the disc. On the other hand, I do like the extra space for artwork and that helped me accept the flimsy packaging for these movies. Fox should have a look at the digipak-style cases Criterion uses for their Blu-rays -- a plastic tray in a cardboard box -- for ideas on greener Blu storage.
Has the Futurama ride finally come to an end? If the jokes and storylines aren't as fresh as they once were, the attention to detail in the script and the strong vocal performances have maintained a high standard. As with the previous movies, the animation and production design of Green is moderately improved over its episodic days. If this must be the end, it's a decent final installment.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes