When a network executive decides to cancel a television show, itís final. Or at least according the executives, thatís how itís supposed to work. But in recent years there have been new ways for fans of shows ďretired before their timeĒ to make their feelings known. Whether it be online petitions, letter writing campaigns, sending tons of shelled nuts, or simply letting their wallet speak and buying their cause on DVD, these methods have managed to resurrect once dearly departed shows like Family Guy and Jericho back to the airwaves (although they donít always last). Earlier successful examples include Doctor Who and Star Trek.
Futurama, however, always seemed to get the short end of the stick. From constant preemptions, an erratic schedule of new episodes, and even worse than no advertising (Futurama: 7:30PM. Fox: ďThe fun starts at 8!Ē), no one really expected that this brilliant show would actually get the chance to produce new episodes. But money talked through season DVD sales, and years later here we are with 4 full length movies to ogle. Although Benderís Game is the third film in the Futurama franchise, itís the first one to be released in Blu-ray format. As I write this the fourth movie has just come out, but before watching it I decided to backtrack a little and re-watch Benderís Game in high definition.
Bender, always one to insert himself into any situation, tries to join in a game of Dungeons and Dragons but in doing so realizes that he doesnít have an imagination. Of course not one to be left lacking, he tries his hardest to develop one Ė and succeeds Ė except it comes at a price: an increasing inability to separate reality from fantasy. Eventually through a confluence of events (as is prone to happen in the Futurama universe) Benderís imagination traps everyone in an alternate reality, in a Dungeons and Dragons-like world that they must find their way out of Ė all the while stopping Mom from gaining total domination over black matter energy.
The animation quality in Benderís game is quite excellent for a direct-to-video release and holds up well when compared to the original television episodes. But something those televisions episodes lacked was a widescreen high definition presentation Ė and this is where Benderís Game soars way past them! Itís astonishing how good cell animation looks in HD, from thin, crisp black outlines to perfect solid colors that show no compression artifacts or edge enhancement.
As Futurama is hand drawn but computer perfected, itís hard to call the video transfer here anything butÖ perfect! Rich, saturated colors, deep blacks, smooth graduations and crisp detail Ė itís absolutely as good a transfer as one could hope for. If I had any complaint it would be that for some scenes the lip-syncing didnít always match up, and the thickness of the black outlines can occasionally differ between scenes. Still, thatís all part of the original artwork, faithfully reproduced here, so itís certainly not an issue with the disc.
Fox has outfitted Benderís Game with a high bitrate AVC MPEG-4 encode that averages 22-32 Mbps, with sustained peaks into the high 30s.
As is typical for Fox releases, Benderís Game features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track in 5.1 surround Ė and nothing else! Overall the soundtrack is well balanced, with perfect quality dialogue easily understandable over the music and sound effects. I heard no background hiss, distortion or other imperfections. This is the beauty of lossless audio Ė what you hear is exactly what the creators heard!
For the most part this is a rather demure sound mix. Thereís rarely too much going on with minimal use of the surround channels, and bass levels that arenít particularly prominent (although there are at least a few scenes where your subwoofer will make its presence known).
The one thing I do miss from the television days is music performed by a live orchestra: for the movies theyíve been forced to rely on synthesized music, which just doesnít have the richness and presence of a proper orchestra. Thereís not even a whole lot of music to speak of in Benderís Game; in some ways this movie felt like one of the early first-season episodes where they hadnít yet decided that audio was important.
Benderís Game features a number of extras, many of them in high definition.
- Commentary: Always a highlight of any Simpsons or Futurama release, these commentary tracks are rarely informative, but always entertaining. For the Blu-ray release Benderís Game has been given a special Bonus View (Profile 1.1) commentary, with a picture-in-picture window of the voice actors in a studio, talking about the movie. The window is placed into the lower right side of the screen, and canít be resized or shifted around. Several camera angles are used, but I really didnít find the video added much to the commentary experience, and would probably have preferred talking heads. Note that some BD players may not play back Bonus View with the correct audio track if they have been configured to use lossless audio.
- Animatic (480p/2.0): A 22-minute long storyboard animatic using black and white sketches from the planning stage, complete with sound effects and dialogue.
- Futurama Genetics Labs: A little interactive feature that lets you merge 7 different characters together and see the end results. My favorite: Botender!
- Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama (1080p/5.1): A 7-minute featurette covering the Futurama writersí obsession with D&D. As if we needed further proof.
- How to Draw Futurama in 83 Easy Steps (1080p/2.0): You too can be a Futurama animator with little to no experience! This self-explanatory featurette is an 8-minute long ďtutorialĒ on how to draw Zoidberg, Leela and Bender.
- 3D Models with Animator Discussion (1080p/2.0): Another in the series of self-explanatory titles, this 5-minute long feature shows various 3D models from the filmÖ while animators discuss them.
- Deleted Scene (1080p/2.0): Just one, and it isnít fully animated.
- Blooperama 2 (480p/2.0): A short mix of various goofy things that happened during recording sessions.
- Benderís Anti-Piracy Warning (1080p/5.1): You wouldnít pirate this movie Ė so let Bender do it.
- Sneak Peak (1080p/5.1): Of the fourth movie, of course!
- Easter eggs: Observant menu navigators will notice two hidden links to fun stuff. Iím not about to spoil them here!
Of the three Futurama movies that I have watched so far, I have to rate Benderís Game as my least favorite. However, thatís not to say that it wasnít fun Ė I enjoyed watching it, as I do with anything related to Futurama. Itís just that the whole Dungeons and Dragons theme, combined with a rather heavy parody of The Lord of the Rings, simply didnít end up being my favorite plotline.
However, true fans of Futurama will want to own the complete collection, and Benderís Game is a quality BD release with enough extras to make it worth your while.
- Daniel Tonks (Remote Central, 03/27/09)