Movie News & Reviews

First "Futurama" movie worth killing for

O, "Futurama"! Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

You'd win, hands down; I still have to work in the summer, and other than the times when you show Leela's butt, you've never made me take a coldshower.

Like too many others, I didn't realize how much I missed you until youwere already gone. Oh, sure, I'd catch up with you Sundays here andthere, but I was all the way out on the East Coast. How was I to knowit wasn't your fault when you kept getting bumped off the air for New York Jets games? All I knew was all too often you weren't there when I went looking for you, so pretty soon I stopped looking altogether.

I'd catch you occasionally on Cartoon Network, where among the sexynew 15-minute absurdist shows like "Sealab" and "Aqua Teen," a strangething happened: people began to realize how great you were, how funnyand inventive, how surprisingly touching.

I remember turning to one of my roommates -- this must have been within weeks of your last episode on FOX -- and said "You know, this show is pretty funny," and he said to me, "It is, isn't it?" Why couldn't we and all the others who later came to love you realize this a year or two sooner? When it might still have mattered?

Ah, the world of entertainment can be as cruel as the real one.Wonderful shows such as "Freaks and Geeks" are cut short in theirinfancy; others, such as "Futurama," are canceled in their prime. It'sbittersweet, in its way, that "Futurama" went out after two goodseasons and two great ones, ending before it could risk mediocrity -- asbittersweet as episodes like "Luck of the Fryrish" and "JurassicBark," shows that to this day reduce irony-hardened cartoon fans totears.

But then, like some kind of modern-day Jesus, it came back! Itsratings for reruns were so high FOX thought it might be profitable tobring it back for four straight-to-DVD movies. We're entering strangemedia territory these days. Other than "Family Guy" and maybe someother series I'm not old enough to remember, what TV show's ever beenuncanceled?

Man, it was like Christmas the Prequel up in this piece when "Bender'sBig Score," the first of their new movies, released at the end ofNovember. I'm not ashamed to say my Tuesday night was rescheduledaround watching it and that I would have committed some pretty majorfelonies to ensure nothing interrupted us. Like, I've never killed aman, at least not since I learned that was frowned on in this country,but if that's what it had taken for me to see this movie that night,they would still be dredging bodies out of the Columbia.

It was somewhat surreal watching the movie play on the wall of mybuddy's bookstore (yeah, I wasn't the only one I know with a nerd-onfor this) and realizing I didn't already have half the linesmemorized. My next cohesive thought was that they'd alreadyestablished the plot -- naked scammer aliens steal the Professor'scompany, trick Bender into their service, and send him back in time tosteal all of history's riches through a process that could destroy theuniverse -- and that I no longer had to worry about whether a new moviecould live up to the love I'd built for the original four seasons: wewere laughing too hard to be coasting on goodwill.

Somehow that plot, insane and convoluted as it becomes (it almostdemands several viewings to fully comprehend), just rips right on by.It's propelled by the nonstop jokes, by an inspired performance byJohn DiMaggio, voice of Bender, livened up by guest voices Coolio anda way-too-funny Al Gore, cranked into new gears by co-writer KenKeeler's offbeat songs and the animation crew's kinetic space-battleclimax.

But it's "Futurama's" series-long dramatic and emotional arcs thatmade it special. Major plot points from several seasons down the roadare foreshadowed from the first episode. Sometimes the characters'feelings are hurt or they don't get what they want or their lives justdon't turn out the way they need them to, and because there'scontinuity from one episode to the next -- that and extremely deepwriting for a 30-minute animated TV show -- the characters' victoriesand defeats can catch you off guard by just how affecting they can be.

"Bender's Big Score" not only integrates itself into the show'sinvolved mythology, but it also expands it, while finding a way to tap into the sorrow and wistfulness that runs under most of its best episodes.

They're almost working with too much material in too little time. Ifthis one has a flaw, it's that now and then it goes so far down oneline of a story it can be a little jarring when they jump back toanother thread. (The ending's abrupt, too, but supposedly the nextmovie picks up where this leaves off.)

Seeing old friends for the first time in a long time is always scary:what if you talk for a while and realize that, whatever you had incommon before, it's not there anymore? That you can't go back? It'sa minor miracle that, after having been off the air for as long as itwas on it, "Futurama's" as sharp and funny and winning as it ever was.

Grade: A-