"Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs" DVD Review
June 04, 2008 by Zach Demeter
With the idea that Futurama was actually back long since worn off after Bender’s Big Score saw release back in November of 2007, the series had a new obstacle to overcome: could it remain fresh after it’s victorious return or would it peter (Griffin) out and eventually end up disappointing the same fans that had waited with bated breath for its big come back? The good news is that The Beast with a Billion Backs is just as strong of an effort as Bender’s Big Score, but for some that may not be enough who want nothing less than absolute perfection with every single animation cel.
Picking up right where Bender’s Big Score left off, The Beast with a Billion Backs features our beloved Planet Express crew trying to discern what the giant tear in space is doing to the galaxy. After finally getting the crew together to explore the anomaly, Farnsworth and reluctant partner Wernstrom eventually discover that only humans man travel through the rift. The U.S. Government mounts an expedition and soon a heartbroken Fry finds his way into the mysterious galaxy and in the midst of a being named Yivo.
I think I just cobbled together about forty minutes of the film into a single paragraph, but there are so many offshoots of the story going on in The Beast with a Billion Backs that it’s hard to boil it down to one story. In that sense this “film” is much more episodic feeling, with almost clean breaks being felt at times, so Comedy Central should have no trouble cropping this one up. Granted all of the segments of the film are connected to one another and none of it would make sense without seeing the entirety of it all, so while the story itself may feel like it lends itself better to the episodic format, you’re going to be sorely lost by the third episode if you don’t see the beginning.
The story itself this time around felt less “Hey we’re back!” and more in line with the general feeling of Futurama. Despite this it still felt awkward to watch one branching story for so long, which makes me wonder if the show wouldn’t just be better suited to coming back for another seventy-two episode run (hey, I can dream).Still these are just minor quibbles to point out, as all that really matters is that we’re getting more Futurama.
Being a big Futurama fan may put me as a bit of a biased individual (I toyed with the idea of creating a website for it, similar to what I did for the animated Spawn series, but ultimately decided that cataloging a multi-season show long after it ended would suck up an entire summer and ultimately possibly make me tired of the series), seeing as there are but a few episodes out of the entire run that I didn’t completely enjoy and that the series is pretty much infallible in my eyes, so keep that in mind as you proceed through this review. I’ll try to be objectionable as possible, but when it comes to reviewing one of my favorite cartoon series, it’s hard not to gush over every single detail that makes me love the series so.
Unlike the previous film in which Bender took center stage, almost all of the Planet Express team gets equal coverage, with Fry dating someone (within days of the Leela/Fry romance from the last film, no less) already and Leela getting ample time to kick a fair amount of ass in the film as well. On top of that we have Kif and Zapp Brannigan showing up with more than enough screen time, all the while Bender getting his own side story again with a secret robot league. Only Hermes and Zoidberg seem to be shortchanged, as Farnsworth has his hands full trying to figure out the anomaly with rival Wernstrom. It’s an eventful hour and a half, to be sure.
There wasn’t a moment in the film where I was without a smile on my face and while some things were hard to swallow (like Fry’s girlfriend), they were often the source of some of the funniest jokes in the film so it’s easy to look past those elements. On top of that there were the guest appearances by Stephen Hawking (as himself), Dan Castellaneta (as Robot Devil) and David Cross (as Yivo), all of whom did stellar jobs. Seeing the Robot Devil again was a treat, as was the resulting sequence with Bender, which may have resulted in one of the funniest and darkest moments of the series.
Despite Bender’s Big Score ending with a cliffhanger and actually being followed up on this film, The Beast with a Billion Backs ends like any other episode of the series, which is perhaps the most comforting scene of all between these two films. After all of the hub-bub and the craziness that went on between the two films, Futurama ends once again with Fry, Bender and Leela in a group hug…whether they like it or not. It’s a nice little moment and a perfect one to close the film out on. No doubt this will lead to the next film feeling even more standalone and more episode-like.
Even though these films aren’t ranking high on levels of other epic Futurama episodes, it’s always a good thing to keep in mind that the show itself rarely had a standout episode. All of the shows were often equally as good and rarely stood out, with the few more dramatic exceptions. With these films we again get more Futurama and it isn’t anything that jumps in your face to with its comedy and is, as it once was, more discreet and subtle with the sight gags and jokes. There are throwbacks to previous episodes in the series, to be sure, but regardless if you picked up on them or not having seen the rest of the series isn’t required. There were things I didn’t pick up on until I watched the commentary, which meant that even has a die-hard Futurama fan I still missed out on things the first time around, so those worried they’ll have to have a full wealth of knowledge to enjoy the film are mistaken. It’s easy to get into and enjoy, just like Bender’s Big Score…it’s just made a richer experience if you have all the history to go with it.
Overall The Beast with a Billion Backs isn’t something I’m jumping up and down and raving about, it’s simply more Futurama and that alone is enough to get me recommending this film to people. To say this film is a magnificent piece of animation (although there are some very nicely done sequences in the film, such as the Deathball segment and just the overall CGI integration into the series…it’s never looked better, let’s put it that way) would be both an over and understatement. Simply put, The Beast with a Billion Backs is Futurama. And I can’t think of a higher compliment to give the film. Highly Recommended.
“Wow, a pre-street review of a Fox title!” Yeah it’s rare that we run these, if only because that means we never get the final retail packaging, which is the case here. In the event we get the final retail copy for review, we’ll update with the packaging details and technical specifications, but for now those will have to be left out. I’m sure we’ll be treated to the usual level of quality from Fox and I’m almost positive it will arrive in another “carbon neutral” package (as the film was tagged as such at the end of the credits), so we’ll have that to keep an eye out for. I am rather surprised there’s no Blu-ray release of this film…kind of disappointing, actually. I’m sure this film looks (and sounds) gorgeous in HD. I will say the menus are nicely done on this release, as always, and feature some special musical cues that weren’t heard in the film, so bonus points on that!
For the extras on this release we first have a jam-packed commentary with Groening, Cohen, West, DiMaggio, Lamarche, Rowe, Katz, Avanzino, Supercinski. If that seems like a lot of people to you…well, it is. It’s almost too packed, as more than once people are stumbling over each other’s words and forced to repeat something because they were talked over. It’s not always an issue, but it happens more often than you’d like, but overall it’s a solid balance between the voice actors and crew for the show. It’s obvious that everyone on this track loves the series, although we hear from Groening so little, I have to wonder if the shows become more of David X. Cohen’s baby than his. As with all of the Futurama commentaries in the past, this track is well worth listening to—between West and DiMaggio alone, the track is almost as funny as the film itself.
Next are the “Futurama the Game” FMV’s (30:12) and all together they essentially make up a whole new episode of the series. Considering I never played the game (I waited for the GameCube version…it never came) it’s a real treat to see these, even if the animation is kind of weird at times. If you wanted some context to go with the clips, don’t worry—Groening, Cohen, West, DiMaggio, Lamarche, Rowe, Burns, Supercinski all provide commentary.
“Storyboard Animatic” (21:45) follows the film in shortened animatic form, while we’re treated to six deleted scenes (3:23), which range from completely finished to half-finished. “David Cross Featurette - Meet Yivo” (2:03) is a brief look at Cross recording his lines as Yivo (and eating a lot of popcorn) and “Blooperama - Futurama cast ‘at work’” (2:12) shows some footage of the recording booth with Lamarche, West, DiMaggio, Sagal, MacNeille and LaMarr. “3D Models with Animator Discussion” (4:11) talk about the CGI used in the film and how it was integrated (quite well, I might add) into the rest of the animation. Finally “A Brief History of Deathball” (2:02) talks about how the vicious sport came to be with commentary by director Avanzino.
While the extras aren’t as bountiful (in length) as one would have hoped, it’s still a nice mixture and aside from some more behind-the-scenes footage or cast and crew interviews about the making of the film itself, I don’t really know how much more you could want. The commentary even fills the void of a making-of, as there are so many participants we just about get every angle that would be required…albeit in a very un-uniform and organized manner.
The final extra is a sneak peek at “Bender’s Game” (2:01), the next Futurama movie hitting this holiday season. Like the preview for The Beast with a Billion Backs on Bender’s Big Score, the trailer for this film is wildly unorganized and seems utterly random in plot, with no real musical score to back up the trailer. It’s a rather rough look at the film, but regardless, it looks like a fun time to be had all around.
And…that’s it for The Beast with a Billion Backs. The film itself was awesome and the DVD extras are all worth watching, with their wide range of series goodies, hilarious commentary and general behind-the-scenes information on the production, there’s a lot of small things to check out on this disc, with the only real regret being that the extras don’t really last all that long. Oh well, all the more time the cast and crew have to work on the next feature!
If you haven’t figured it out by now, The Beast with a Billion Backs’s DVD release comes Highly Recommended. But that’s from a very biased Futurama fan, so take that as you will.
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs arrives on DVD on June 24th.