Anyone even remotely familiar with science fiction knows that the Star Trek films suffered from a quality curse. It seemed that every odd-numbered film (especially Star Trek V) was absolutely horrible, while the even-numbered movies (in particular Star Trek II) were great. It wasn’t until the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation began making their own films that the curse was broken, albeit in the worst way: Each of their films (especially Star Trek: Insurrection, which makes Trek V look like Apocalypse Now) –with the exception of First Contact–was exponentially worse than that which came before.
All of this is a roundabout way of stating that the original direct-to-DVD episodes of Futurama have become the equivalent of reverse Trek: The odd-numbered episodes are good, while the even-numbered episodes suck.
Unfortunately, the latest (and potentially last) installment, Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder, is unlucky number four.
As viewers of the last installment, Futurama: Bender’s Game will recall, that episode ended with Professor Farnsworth (voice of Billy West, who also performs as Fry, Zoidberg and others) activated a machine which destroyed all the dark matter fuel in the universe. Perhaps because a suitable followup story couldn’t be adequately broken by writer Michael Rowe (credited with part three of Bender’s Game) or for whatever reason, there is absolutely no mention or continuance of that particular major plot point in Wild Green Yonder, with the exception of a two-second tossaway closeup of a bridge monitor indicating that whale oil is the new fuel of the future. Instead the story begins with a highly amusing and well done faux Sinatra/Dean Martin song by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, as the Planet Express crew makes their way to Vegas on Mars, which is promptly blown up by mega-rich developer Leo Wong, who begins setting up his own New Vegas.
During the development, Leo is confronted by a group of Eco-Feminists intent on stopping him from wiping out rare species on the planet, including a type of leech which literally attaches itself to Leela (voice of Katey Sagal), in a joke that goes on far too long. During this confrontation, Fry is injured by a falling body, and becomes a mind-reader because of the incident. He attempts to use his newfound power to go up against Bender (voice of John Di Maggio) in a high-stakes poker tournament. Bender of course needs the money to run away with his current flame, the wife of the Donbot (voice of Maurice LaMarche), head of the Robot Mafia. The humor in this particular segment is sharp and fast-paced for the most part, and it’s only when we begin to get into the main section of the story–Leela joining the Eco-Feminists to stop Leo Wong from demolishing a portion of the Milky Way galaxy in order to construct a gigantic mini-golf course, and Fry joining the Legion of Madfellows (other mind-readers) to help a universal Chi restore extinct species to life while attempting to stop the Dark Ones from preventing it–that things begin to become somewhat convoluted and slow down considerably.
Other than having already been contractually guaranteed to directing Wild Green Yonder, I have no idea why Groening would allow Peter Avanzino (Duckman, The Wild Thornberrys) to helm the so-called “final” installment, when he so ineptly handled Beast with a Billion Backs, easily the worst of the new DVD-direct series.
To give some credit where it’s due, both Avanzino and writer Rowe have learned a bit from their mistakes with Beast: the writing is crisper here, and there are more laughs to be had. During the entire run of Futurama the series and in its rejuvenation on DVD, Bender has managed to overshadow the rest of the characters in the same manner that Wolverine overshadows the rest of the X-Men. One good thing about Yonder is that the story emphasis is finally back on Fry, the star of the series, and Leela, where it should be. Viewers looking for a final resolution to the Fry/Leela relationship will also find a small but satisfying measure of closure. However, the pacing is still off more than it should be, and certain segments such as the muck leech and Leela go on far too long, dragging down the story overall. The movie is also overly heavy-handed on its environmental message, part of the New Hollywood Conscience, wherein everyone wants to get on the “right side” and deliver an environment-friendly, pro-Earth/pro-Life message…yet no one really knows just how to go about doing it in a manner which doesn’t make the audience want to immediately start hoarding plastic bags in order to start piling up at the local landfill.
Once again, the DVD extras are nothing whatsoever to get excited about. Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama So Good is definitely the best of the extras, as it showcases cutie comedienne Lauren Tom (voice of Amy Wong) taking viewers on a step-by-step process of how an episode is created, mixing fact with fun (she doesn’t really do everything herself, obviously). Louder, Louder: The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette briefly shows the magician at work doing his voiceover segment, since he appears as himself in the film. The deleted scenes only showcase exactly why such scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, while Matt & David In Space pointlessly follows the co-producers as they head off for a day of zero-g weightlessness aboard the famous plane used expressly for such purpose. There is the typical How To Draw Futurama segment, which for some reason has the camera kept in the worst possible position to view the artists’ drawings as they are created, and is therefore worthless. Both Bender’s Movie Theater Etiquette and Zapp Brannigan’s Guide to Making Love at a Woman are useless clips from past episodes strung together, and give us nothing new to smile at.
The storyboard animatics are bland, but finally, the feature-length commentary by Groening, Cohen, Di Maggio, LaMarche, co-executive producer Patric Verrone, Rowe, producer Lee Supercinski and Avanzino is highly informative, and the gang strays off into random conversational silliness only occasionally.
In the final analysis, the return of Futurama to DVD has been a mixed blessing, although ultimately weighing in with more pros in its favor than cons. Into The Wild Green Yonder isn’t the worst in the series(Beast with a Billion Backs will forever hold that title), but if the Planet Express crew chooses to head off into that yonder, I’ll send them off with a wave and nary a tear in the eye.