Futurama: Bender's Game

As the series of feature-length Futurama films Fox has optioned for DVD winds to a close, it's becoming more and more evident that the writers are back in their comfort zone. Last week's release-Futurama: Bender's Game-carried an extended Dungeons & Dragons parody (a joke that, not unlike most of Family Guy's zingers, is about twenty years past the expiration date but which the show's target audience will still enjoy) and a lot of poop jokes, but peppered in a number of sociopolitical jabs, too, bluntly enough so anyone can get them but not with enough malice or passion to make those who disagree, really care much.

The movie-which, like its forebears Bender's Big Score and The Beast With a Billion Backs, will eventually hit the airwaves as four episodes toward a new and potentially resuscitory season of the canceled TV show-revolves around a fuel crisis that has been artificially created by frequent series antagonist "Mom," whose Mombil Dark Matter fuel stations are posting record profits all while claiming that there is a shortage of the fuel and that she may close up shop any day because of the cost overruns. The interview in which she proclaims this is conducted by Morbo in what I think is my least favorite sequence of the picture (Morbo should not be sitting down to sip tea. That joke should have gone on for the two seconds it was funny and then Morbo should have reverted to his usual self, which in the Victorian setting would have been even funnier than usual).

Professor Farnsworth-who developed the fuel during his days as a scientist-for-hire and lover-for-fun under Mom-decides to break the back of her monopoly by utilizing a pseudoscientific device that he has which will simultaneously render all of the Dark Matter fuel in the universe inert. The resultant catastrophe in the intergalactic fuel supply, he reasons, will force scientists to confront the problem and develop better, more responsible and egalitarian fuel solutions.

There are a couple of notable subplots here-the first being that Professor Farnsworth, whom I do not remember ever interacting substantially with Mom's sons before, expresses his deep loathing for the oafish trio (and particularly for the youngest, saying essentially that the evil and cruelty that the elder pair bring with them is irritating, but the stupidity of the youngest is an affront to the species). From about ten minutes into the picture, Mom starts telling the older boys that there is a dark and horrible secret which has long been kept from the youngest of her sons-and it's clear to anyone whose synapses are firing what that secret probably is.

The second (and the impetus for the title as well as a lengthy plot-irrelevant diversion) is that Hermes' and Farnsworth's clones have finally returned. Seen here for what I believe is the first time since the end of the TV show, these little shark-jumpers lay the tracks for Bender to become swallowed up in another one of his own mad schemes. Thinking that Dungeons & Dragons is the kind of game that he can somehow use to grift money from the kids, he joins them and quickly realizes that he has no imagination programming. The kids instruct him that Everyone has an imagination-that all he has to do is immerse himself in the fiction. Of course, the result is that Bender Is swallowed into the fiction completely, taking on the name and persona of his character while living day-to-day life and terrorizing everyone in the office with a sword and any number of random items that substitute for a shield throughout.

At some point in the film-and after two viewings I still can't completely wrap my head around how or why, other than, "It's what the writers wanted to do," the whole lot of characters are thrown into the fantasy world of Bender's imaginings and about forty minutes' worth of plot happens there. Ultimately it resolves little besides a silly and dull story beat about Leela having an anger-management problem. When the diversion ends (with the Planet Express crew literally fighting a dragon in a dungeon, natch), the plot picks up from roughly where it had left off, with little explanation and minimal impact on the rest of the film, which plays out as people grow, dirty little secrets are revealed and just about everyone swallows something unsavory, only to have it explode or degrade in their tummy.

The film is certainly enjoyable to fans of the show-there's a concern, though, that it might be too insular. Certainly it's the most continuity-intensive movie yet, with very little in the way of introducing any of the characters and a lot of dependency on your knowledge of not just Futurama, but Dungeons & Dragons as well. Whether, when the show returns for its tentative resurrection, audiences will tune into this chunk of the season will likely define whether the whole project is a success or failure-and I'd say right now that it could fall either way.

Russell Burlingame is a journalist and columnist living and working in New York City. In high school, Russell interviewed Elliot S. Maggin for a review of the Kingdom Come novelization, and since then has worked consistently in and around the comics industry. He interned for Wizard magazine, and has freelanced for Wizard and Newsarama, in addition to a number of non-comics publications, Russell is currently working on a graphic novel based on Cap'n Internet, the comic strip that ran in his college newspaper; and a graphic biography of folk singer Phil Ochs with artist Marion Vitus.

Currently, in addition to his freelance work and his comics projects, Russell writes a number of columns for ComicRelated, including Conscientious Sequentials, The Gold Exchange, What's Perhappenin', Closing Statements, Reflecting 'Pool and To See or Not To See. Russell also takes point on the Hot Shot of the Week feature.

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