After the slight disappointment that was The Beast with a Billion Backs, can the third of the four direct-to-DVD Futurama films bring the series back up? Actually, yeah, it can.
As stated, Futurama: Bender's Game is the third of the planned four direct-to-DVD films of the series. Unlike the previous film, this one didn't seem to directly follow any events, so in a way it works as a stand alone film, and wont require you to watch Bender's Big Score or The Beast with a Billion Backs; which is a plus for casual fans. Oddly enough though, despite having this casual set up, the humor of the film is targeted towards hardcore nerds, which basically would exclude almost all casual fans. In fact the bulk of the film is based on Dungeons and Dragons, with a hint of Lord of the Rings. And if that wasn't enough nerd factor for you, there are references with LEGOs, Star Wars, a Star Trek gag with George Takei that made me chuckle a bit, even the title is a reference to Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. It's a total nerdgasm.
But how's this all fall into place? Well movie starts off with a trippy Beatles' Yellow Submarine-esque opening reel, but that's unimportant. The actual film starts of with Q-bert and Dwight playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends when Bender walks in, and shortly realizes he lacks an imagination. There's also a parallel storyline in which there's a dark matter crisis (much like our real world oil/financial crisis) and Professor Farnsworth wants to destroy Mom's monopoly of the industry. Eventually Bender finds that he's overly addicted to D&D, and after a strange mix of mindwaves and dark matter, the Planet Express crew is transported into a fantasy world, where everyone takes on a mythical persona. I can't explain it well, or without spoiling, but hopefully you get the point.
While the move as a whole was decent, and definitely a step up from last time, I still have my complaints. For one, the fantasy world that the movie introduces doesn't actually show up until later in the film, and almost feels like a lost opportunity. The fantasy designs are a great diversion from the futuristic setting we're used to, and its nice to see how the designs mix between "centuries", but seeing just a smidgen of it seemed like a waste. Also, I found the movie to end quite abruptly, with the story wrapping up really quick in what seemed like just a way to fit it into a 2 hour time slot. I understand there are budgets and what not, but if that was the reason for wrapping it all up so quickly, then A) shame on Fox for poor funding or B) shame on the storyboarders and writers for poor judgment of time.
Lasty are the special features; I have the DVD edition so I can't speak for the Blu-ray edition. You have the standard commentary, animatics, a Dungeons and Dragons featurette, deleted scenes and more. One feature I found neat was a character mash-up where you chose two characters and then saw a weird morph of them; nothing special, but some gave me a laugh. Also on the DVD is a trailer for the next film, Into the Wild Green Yonder.
So to reiterate, I enjoyed the movie, a lot more than the previous one. I enjoyed the fantasy take on the series, as well as the plethora of nerdy references. But it just seemed lacking, whether it was the late introduction of the fantasy world, or it was the film coming to such a quick, stale ending, it just felt like it need a little more of a push. As a Futurama movie, this is a good chance for someone to just get into it, while disregarding the events of the first two films; but the choice humor and references may not be for everyone.
Overall score - 8.7/10