1 July 2008 | liquidcelluloid-1
Dating, death, religion and tentacles. This is the "Futurama" movie adventure I've been waiting for.
Network: None; Direct to DVD movie; Genre: Animated Comedy, Sci-Fi; Content Rating: Unrated (contains animated violence, gore, scatological humor and suggested sex); Available: only on DVD; Perspective: contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
The surprises of "Futurama's" 2nd direct-to-DVD feature-length movie adventure start right from the beginning, when it picks up mere days after the events of "Bender's Big Score" turning what appeared to be a throw away gag at the end of that movie into the catalyst for this one.
Like an average episode of Fox's red-headed stepchild of a masterpiece, "The Beast With A Billion Backs" starts out as one thing and goes some pretty outlandish and unpredictable places. Places sick, twisted and wildly imaginative. Places only "Futurama" with all of it's delirious cynical sacrilege can go. To describe the unfolding plot in detail would do a disservice to it, but suffice to say it involves a new love (guest star Brittney Murphy) for Fry (Billy West) - welcome after the labored Fry/Leela (always reliable Katey Sagal) story - Bender's (John DiMaggio) quest to prove the existence of The League of Robots, the marriage & death of a major character and a rip in the universe that unleashes the title monster.
But here's the answer to the real question: for my money, yes, "Billion" is better than "Big Score". A lot better. The giddy excitement to be back that bubbled out of "Score" and made that movie passable has now settled down into the business of actual storytelling and laugh generating. This time, instead of simply parading out favorite characters to have their random moment, the likes of Calculon, the Robot Devil, Zapp Brannigan and Richard Nixon all appear in service of the story. A story, such as it is, so crazy it will send eyes rolling to the back of the head of anyone but the most hardcore "Futurama" fan.
When the multi-tentacle beast (voiced by David Cross) shows up it affords the show opportunities to dig deep into some of their favorite red meat sacred cows - dating and religion - in addition to the monster movie mayhem. This movie and it's metaphors may not appeal to the young fan who stumbled on "Futurama" on free TV, but I loved every insane second of it. If you go in expecting anything less than absolute lunacy you will be totally lost with "Billion". It's probably a blessing in disguise that this movie was never pitched for the big screen. Direct to DVD gives Matt Groening, David X. Cohen and crew the chance to pitch the movie straight to the fans. They go absolutely wild, bouncing around the feature, indulging and expanding in some of their most twisted desires. Like the best "Futurama" episodes, "Billion" is unpredictable, alive with imagination and far too original for mainstream consumption.
The jokes are back with that same nonsensical, but sharp and on-story wit we've come to expect from this show. "Futurama" was never the funniest thing around, but "Billion" has a high ratio of landed jokes and real laugh-out-loud moments. But best of all, director Peter Avanzino (of some of the show's best episodes: "X-Mas Story", "Parasites Lost" and "Fear of a Bot Planet") ropes this madness into a strong, cohesive story that fills feature length without feeling like 4 episodes cobbled together and makes sense in it's own wonderfully weird way.
Let me repeat that: "The Beast With A Billion Backs" feels like a real movie instead of 4 episodes. Few TV shows can nail this and "Futurama" gets it right on the 2nd try. "Billion" doesn't have a big movie ending and that ending comes about 20 minutes longer than it feels like it should, but it does work.
Here is an epic adventure for the Planet Express crew worthy of a movie format. Now we've got a struggle for the fate of the universe, multiple story lines balanced to give every character something to do and the show's sense of humor, disgusting pension for gross-out gags, combustible originality and razor sharp satirical wit back on it's game. I love it. This is, in just about every aspect, the "Futurama" movie I've been waiting for.
* * * * / 4