With the release of
this fourth and final feature-length movie, once again we come to the 'end' of Futurama as we know it. These days, TV shows never really die - they're just put on hiatus until outraged fans buy enough DVDs (come on Browncoats, resurrect Firefly!). But given the mixed reception these new releases have received thus far, we wouldn't be surprised if the crew of Planet Express once again find themselves floating in limbo.
I'm repeating myself here, but it's a point worth re-making - the feature-length format just doesn't suit the show. Bender's Big Score was a rose-tinted ramble; The Beast With A Billion Backs exposed the flaws in the format; Bender's Game
was fun but fleeting. With the luxury of an 85 minute run-time, the usually sharp and snarky writers - most of whom wax lyrical on the disc's always excellent value commentary track - find themselves padding out their trademark snappy gags with filler sub-plots and needless asides. Instead of a super-charged 22 minute episode, you get a languid hour and a half that's always amusing but rarely hilarious. Bigger is not necessarily better in this case.
The hijinx this time? Fry inadvertently becomes a mind-reader and teams up with nutter collective The Legion of Mad Fellows (meaning he sports a series of natty protective tin-foil hats throughout), while Leela becomes a feminist eco-warrior and attempts to stop the demolition of an endangered planet to make way for an intergalactic mini-golf course. Guests include Family Guy's Seth McFarlane (singing the opening theme tune in a Vegas croon), the right honourable Snoop Dogg and "the massive head of Penn Jillette."
While there's little inherent humour to be squeezed from the plot itself, there are plenty of zippy one-liners from the great supporting cast (space dunce Zapp Brannigan, upon being told all of his crew have died: "At least they won't have to mourn each other...") and enough wanton silliness and in-jokes to keep the fans happy (look out for the mysterious 'Number 9 Man'). There's even room to finally tie up the long-running Fry and Leela romance... well, kinda. Even with elbow room to spare, the series' linchpin saga will still leave you wanting more... of the Futurama of old. For a supposedly 'final' episode, surely there should be some degree of satisfaction? There's nothing here half as touching as the show's final episode, 'The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings'.
The special features are also a little underwhelming. We're big fans of the Futurama team - heck, creator Matt Groening is a God to our generation - but the featurettes they serve up here are strictly one-watch deals. Why would anyone watch a 22-minute storyboard? Only artists and graphic designers will find the tutorials of interest - it might be tongue in cheek, but when the extras are introduced by 'DVD Bonus Features That No One Bothers To Watch Productions', you'll nod in agreement. There is fun to be had though, particularly seeing Groening and geeky producer David X Cohen (surely the real-life basis for Milhouse) enjoying a flight in a zero-gravity plane - these nerds in space are as close as you'll get to a live-action Futurama.
Should the show stay off the air, it'll undoubtedly be missed: who wouldn't mourn Bender, Zoidberg and friends? But with an ambiguous ending leaving the crew's fate undecided, perhaps it's best that the future of Futurama remains a mystery for now. Want to see the show return in its original incarnation? Just keep buying those DVDs, folks.