Sunday, October 19, 2008


You know what? That didn't suck.

I'm referring, of course, to The Beast With a Billion Backs, the second Futurama movie and just broadcast on Comedy Central. Some of you may recall that despite my undying affection for the original series, I did not have a similarly sanguine reaction to Bender's Big Score, the first movie.

BBS had a self-consciously overcomplicated time travel plot, like something that was crafted by writers desperate to prove their Sci-Fi street cred. Fortunately, Matt Groening, David Cohen and the rest of the gang avoided that pitfall in Beast.

The feature-length movie is still not the best medium for Futurama. (For the broadcast Beast was broken up into four 30-minute episodes aired sequentially. Sorry, that's a movie) The action drags at points and it takes the writers too long to get to their central premise. Still, though it takes about an hour to reach, the story is tighter and more focused than it was in BBS.

In BBS, Groening and Co. seemed to labor under the pressure of squeezing every bit character and fan favorite into the two hour time slot. (This actually paid off a little, insofar as Al Gore was the highlight of the film) There were expectations to reach, years of anticipation that had to be satisfied. We needed to see everyone we loved from the series we loved. Free from that constraint, they were able this time to focus on the core cast and Fry's new love interest, voiced commendably well by Brittany Murphy.

Everything is just sharper than it was in BBS. I've written before that something was off in that movie; the animation was slightly different from that seen in the series, the colors were less vibrant and the voice acting was more amateurish. All are fixed in Beast. The colors are vibrant and the animation is sharp. Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal and Futurama's other distinguished voice actors play their roles ably.

I don't want to go in-depth with plot details, but there's some real depth in this story of a Lovecraftian cosmic horror who comes to Earth and attempts to enslave humanity. One of the problems with BBS was its too-obvious attempt to tap into the surprising emotion and sentimentality seen in classic episodes like Jurassic Bark, Luck of the Fryrish and The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings. Beast doesn't reach those levels, but the sentiment's more subtle and less ham handed than in BBS.

I said awhile back that if you broke BBS into four, thirty-minute episodes, any one of those would easily be the worst episode of Futurama. I can honestly say that none of the episodes that compose Beast would fit in that Bottom Five list I assembled. To be sure, none of them would make a Top Five list. But this movie restored my faith in the Futurama staff and my willingness to shell out money for the next movie.


Eric said...

Cool comments! Thanks!

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