Thursday, December 29, 2011

Futurama Volume 6 Blu-ray Review

Futurama is the best animated show to ever hit television, get cancelled, and return to television years later after a series of successful direct to video movies, and this Blu-ray represents the second half of their triumphant return! Originally conceived by Simpsons creator Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, Futurama is the story of a young man named Fry who is cryogenically frozen for one thousand years and wakes up to a completely different reality.  Fry gets a job as a delivery boy for Planet Express, where he meets a collection of humans, aliens, and a beer guzzling robot that become his new family.  The show lasted four seasons between 1999-2003 before being cancelled.  In 2007, the first of four direct to DVD films were released over the course of two years before Comedy Central aired the movies as 16 half hour episodes.  The show was welcomed back with open arms from the fans, and Comedy Central announced that they would continue to support the show with new episodes for a seventh season running through 2013.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)
As much as I love The Simpsons, the show that makes me laugh even more consistently is Futurama.  It has the same sharp humor as The Simpsons but it also seems more aimed at my generation with it's emphasis on geek references and sound effects.  There's also visual gags from movies and guest appearances as well (one of my favorites was the cast of Star Trek), so there's always something cool mixed in with the funny story-lines.

The characters of the show are also very funny and distinct. There's the senile yet brilliant Doctor Farnsworth (Billy West) who has a penchant for inventing doomsday devices, his distant relative Fry (Billy West), the incompetent delivery boy with a heart of gold, the intelligent and militant one-eyed Leela (Katey Sagal) who is the target of Fry's advances, the slutty rich girl Amy (Lauren Tom), and the bean counter Hermes who has a fondness for limbo and marijuana.  Then there's Dr. Zoidberg (Billy West), an alien doctor who happens to be a terrible doctor, and last but not least, there's the weaselly robot named Bender (John DiMaggio) who in the off times he isn't laying around being lazy, is most likely committing some kind of crime.

The first four seasons were the best and after the show was cancelled before it's time, the direct to video movies were great to get, but they weren't up to the same caliber as what had been done before.  Part of that reason is most likely due to the years of time away in between, but I also think it's because they got pretty ambitious with the movie to give the viewers more bang for their buck.  In some ways I applaud their intentions and some of the resulting execution, but there was a lot that didn't work too.  When the movies paved the way for the show to return to the air, I was partly ecstatic but also a little scared.  Would the cast be replaced?  Would it be more like the earlier show or be more like the more recent movies?  Both of those questions were answered in time.

The was a contract dispute over pay between the cast and the studio and auditions were even scheduled to replace the cast, but it was eventually settled and the original cast returned which is important.  This show is so dependent on this excellent cast, especially the incomparable Billy West who voices several main characters and John DiMaggio who would be impossible to replace as Bender.  With that hurdle passed, the show did become like the movies for awhile, since the movies were broken up into individual episodes until this new batch came up.

Now that we're in the second half of the season, where it's all new episodes, I'm happy to report that the quality is improving and they are almost as good as the early seasons.  Bender's got his groove back and by the end of the season, it's going strong with episodes like "Overclockwise" and :Reincarnation," which are bot only ambitious shows, but also very funny ones.  "Reincarnation" in particular is impressive to watch since the episode offers three different segments containing different styles of animation.  The first part is called "Colorama" which is actually black and white and done in the Fleischer style but with the bounciness of Disney's Steamboat Willie.  The second part (and my favorite one) is titled "Future Challenge 3000" which is a tribute to the days of 8-bit gaming.  Seeing the characters as 8-bit models in all of their limited glory was a highlight for me.  Also funny was the last part was done in an old seventies style anime that was accurate and very funny.  Here's what you will find on this two disc set as originally described:
  • The Silence of the Clamps: After testifying against the Robot Mafia, Bender goes into hiding in the witness relocation program. 
  • Möbius Dick: Leela becomes obsessed with hunting down a mysterious four-dimensional space whale. 
  • Law and Oracle: Fry quits his job and becomes a police officer assigned to the Future Crimes Division. 
  • Benderama: Bender gains the ability to self-replicate, threatening to overrun Earth with vast swarms of copies of himself. 
  • The Tip of the Zoidberg: The crew uncovers a dark secret concerning a covert mission undertaken by the Professor and Dr. Zoidberg many years earlier. 
  • Ghost in the Machines: When Bender dies, his disembodied software begins haunting the Planet Express building. 
  • Neutopia: The crew members encounter a bizarre alien with the power to change their sexual characteristics. 
  • Yo Leela Leela: Leela becomes a Hollywood big shot after creating a hit children's television series. 
  • Fry Am the Egg Man: Fry nurtures an alien egg that hatches into a horrific monster. 
  • All the Presidents' Heads: The crew members alter history when they travel back in time to the American Revolution.
  • Cold Warriors: Fry's sneezing reintroduces the common cold to the world of the future, with devastating consequences.
  • Overclockwise: Bender evolves into a godlike being after vastly increasing his processing power.
  • Reincarnation: Futurama is conceived in three alternate animation styles: classic black and white, old-school videogame, and Japanese anime.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (1.781) transfer looks so good that I can't go back to watch the regular broadcast show.  I've been watching the repeats on Comedy Central over the years and after seeing those, this new transfer is a revelation!  The colors, in all their multi-hued intensity are vibrant and distinct and just a pleasure to see.  There's a lot more detail as well, which has allowed me to notice and appreciate the small touches more.  The black levels are pitch black and I didn't notice any blemishes at all.  This is a first rate transfer!

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Futurama: Volume 6's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also is very good with a crisp balanced mix that uses every channel well.  The dialogue from the front channels is clear and understandable throughout and the rear channels offer some nice directional effects as well as helping deliver some great music.  The show's theme song sounds better than ever too.  The effects are also delivered well and every laser blast, yell, explosion, and Planet Express lift off sounds fantastic.  There's no audio defects to complain about either.  Fans of the show will be very happy with this mix!

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars)
This Blu-ray has a pretty good set of special features that cover just about every aspect of the production of the show.   They're are also in high definition too so that's great too.
  • Audio Commentaries - Each episode has a commentary that includes the show's executive producers Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, along with the episode's director, writer, cast members, and animators.  The fact that each episode has different people involved keeps things fresh and fun.  These are funny and offer a lot of good information.
  • Deleted Scenes - A collection of deleted scenes that were cut for time.
  • Professor Farnsworth's "Science of a Scene"- This extra covers the production of a single show from start to finish that's hosted by Professor Farnsworth.  We hear from members from each part of the process including the actors, writers, animators, and more.  Seeing the process was very informative since I've always wondered how the show was put together.
  • Reincarnation Explained! - A short featurette hosted by Director Peter Avanzino where he talks about the three different styles used used for the episode "Reincarnation."
  • Futurama Frequently Axed Questions - I'm not sure where the questions came from, but some of the show's producers and writers answer the questions.  
  • BD-Live Exclusive - "The Bots and the Bees" - A short look at some early animatics from the episode.

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This set marks the triumphant return of brand new Futurama episodes and this Blu-ray is a fitting way to celebrate it!  With a fantastic transfer and excellent sound along with some great extras, this set is easy to recommend!

Order your copy today!

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