Friday, December 14, 2012

Futurama: Volume 7 DVD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
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 latest installment 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. Futurama, is upping the stakes with this release of Volume 7, as it's crammed with a whole new dimension of extras not shown on TV. This cosmic collection includes 13 bizarre and brilliant episodes involving ancient prophecies, presidents' heads, robot gangsters, angry butterflies, and of course, sausage-making. It's a shipload of futuristic fun!

Show (4 1/2 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.  By volume six, the show had started making a comeback and I gave it four out of five stars.  With this volume, the quality is even better as the show is now just as good as it used to be.  I especially liked this season's "Free Will Hunting" where Bender fights the powers that be to gain his own free will.  I laughed hysterically at what happened when the professor gives him his free will, which I won't spoil here but it guaranteed that that would be my favorite episode of this season.  

Another great one was "Naturama" which is a take off of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, only this time it's Mutual of Omicron's Wild Kingdom. Like all of Futurama's finale's, this one is ambitious, funny, and touching.  The characters are transformed into various animals to tell stories about seals, salmon and tortoises.  Like last season's finale "Reincarnation", this one is another brilliant example of why this show should be getting Emmys.  The cast is still wonderful and even after all of this time the show is still funny, sharp and observant.  The best episodes are the ones that skewer topical events that are going on in our lives right now like episodes like "Decision 3012" and "The Butterjunk Effect" which pokes fun at politics and performance enhancing drugs respectively.  

Here are the the episodes included in this volume:
  • The Bots and the Bees - Bender knocks up a soda machine.
  • A Farewell to Arms - The Planet Express Crew deals with an ancient prediction that the world's end will occur in 3012.
  • Decision 3012 - Leela becomes involved in a politician's campaign for President. But things get complicated when the candidate can't produce a birth certificate.
  • The Thief of Baghead - Bender wishes to photograph an actor who is notorious for never having had his picture taken.
  • Zapp Dingbat - Leela's mom begins to date Zapp Brannigan.
  • The Butterjunk Effect - Leela and Amy begin to play a sport called Butterfly Derby and become addicted to a performance enhancing supplement called Nectar.
  • The Six Million Dollar Mon - Hermes, sick of not being as efficient as a machine, gets mechanical body parts.
  • Fun on a Bun - Fry falls victim to an accident while making sausages.
  • Free Will Hunting - Bender goes on a journey to discover the meaning of life.
  • Near-Death Wish - Professor Farnsworth's parents return from virtual retirement on the Near-Death Star.
  • Viva Mars Vegas - Under the orders of the Robot Mafia the Planet Express Crew must rob a casino.
  • 31st Century Fox - Bender becomes entangled in a hunt after rescuing a robot fox.
  • Naturama - For a nature documentary the Planet Express Crew are re-imagined as wild animals.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This transfer looks much better than the regular broadcast episodes but this DVD version pales in comparison to Blu-ray. I've been watching the repeats on Comedy Central over the years and after seeing those, this new transfer is without a doubt superior but if you have an option, I'd recommend the Blu-ray version which offers a better transfer. This DVD is also pretty good as the colors look pretty bright and distinct and the detail is also sharper here than it is in syndication. The black levels are fairly dark and I didn't notice any major blemishes at all. For a DVD this transfer looks pretty good.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Futurama: Volume 7's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also pretty good with a 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 effects are also delivered well and every laser blast, yell, explosion, and Planet Express lift off sounds great. There's no audio defects to complain about either. Fans of the show will be fairly happy with this mix!

Extras (4 out of 5 stars)

The extras are all enjoyable and for an abbreviated season set, this set has a decent collection of extras.
  • Full-length Commentary on All 13 Episodes - 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.
  • Bonus Commentary on Episode 7.02, "A Farewell To Arms" - A rare commentary by the actual animators from Rough Draft Studios.
  • Alternate Ending for Episode 7.05, "Zapp Dingbat"
  • Christopher Tyng's Big Score: A Jam Session with Futurama's Innovative Composer - A cool visit with composer Christopher Tyng who talks about how the music for the show comes about.  As a fan of Tyng's music for the show, I really enjoyed this extra.
  • Futurama Karaoke: Sing Along with Your Favorite Characters - This is another fun extra where you can sing along with your favorite characters on a couple of songs.
  • Möbius Trip: Infinite Futurama Screen Loops - This is basically a couple of screensavers for your TV which are actually cooler to see that you'd think.
  • Too Good For TV: A Smorgasbord of Deleted Scenes - Deleted scenes from each episode in rough form.  Some of them are pretty funny and must have been cut simply for time.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

This is an easy show to recommend as it's funny, smart, and subversive.  This volume contains some fantastic episodes that are just as good as when the show started.  The DVD has good video and audio quality and the extras are fun and creative.  This would be a great stocking stuffer!

Order your copy today!

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