DVD Review: ‘Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs’

Futurama is the brainchild of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. The series premiered on Fox in 1999, was treated like a red-headed stepchild and then was canceled after four seasons. Cartoon Network started airing reruns in 2003, and, like Family Guy, gained a cult following. Futurama has been revived as a series of direct-to-DVD movies. These movies are broken up into four episodes each which air on Comedy Central.

The series takes place in the year 31st Century. Fry (voiced by Billy West) is a pizza delivery guy from the year 2000 who is accidentally frozen and thawed out 1000 years later. His best friend is a surly robot named Bender (Joe DiMaggio) and his on-again/off-again girlfriend is Leela (Katey Sagal), who is a she-cyclops. Other characters include Dr. Zoidberg (West), a part-man, part-crustacean; Professor Farnsworth (West), Fry’s only distant relative; Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), a slutty heiress from Mars; and Hermes (Phil LaMarr), a Jamaican bureaucrat. They all work at Planet Express, a delivery company run by Farnsworth. Every week the Planet Express crew got into all sorts of zany (read: crude and/or corny) mix-em-ups.

While the characters have that trademark Matt Groening look, Futurama is no Simpsons. It’s funny in a nonsensical, goofy way, whereas The Simpsons relies more on wit and character development. (The characters in Futurama aren’t any less developed; they’re just all pretty shallow.) The humor is more dark and ribald. It also lacks the moral core that has redeems The Simpsons.

With The Beast With a Billion Backs, Fry, Bender, Leela and the rest are in fine form…if you like Futurama.

Futurama

What’s it about? There’s a tear in space leading to another universe, and when Fry receives the bad news that his current girlfriend Colleen (Brittany Murphy) is in a semi- polyamorous with four other guys, he sneaks aboard a fighter spaceship and hurls himself into the other universe. What he finds there is a planet-sized blob with a billion tentacles with romantic intentions.

There are other subplots: Bender joins a secret league of robots led by his favorite actor-robot, Calculon; and Amy marries longtime boyfriend Kiff, only to become a widow shortly after.

What’s good about it? If you’re a fan of the series and get the humor, you’ll love this. There’s a certain genius to the way the writers can make the stupidest gag evoke a laugh. Stephen Hawking makes a hilarious cameo that is just brilliant.

What’s bad about it? If you don’t get the humor, you won’t appreciate Futurama. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, don’t start with The Beast With a Billion Backs. This is strictly fanboy material, rewarding its loyal viewers with a movie that bypasses any back story. It’s also far more crude than The Simpsons, so if you’re easily offended, you’ll want to pass.

Perfect for: Fans of the series.

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