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Futurama: Volume One By Brian Jacks
One would be hard pressed to find a show more underused by a network than Fox's Futurama. Matt Groening's gonzo sci-fi animated series was shuffled between timeslots like a pinball, before finally landing at the veritable graveyard of Sunday at 7pm (where it was then preempted countless times by football games). While fans are still fuming about the recent cancellation announcement, they can receive a little solace from the release on DVD of the show's first season.
Futurama is a downright brilliant show, a twisted take on the future by the creator of The Simpsons and one of his writers, David X. Cohen. The plot is simple enough: in the closing seconds of the year 1999, pizza delivery man Philip J. Fry is inadvertently stuffed into a cryogenic chamber where he is "stored" until 2999, at which point he is reawakened. Finding himself in New New York, Fry is hired as a delivery boy by his nephew, the 140+ year-old Professor Farnsworth. At Planet Express, he is joined by his palpably sarcastic robot friend, Bender, and sexy cyclops babe Leela (voiced by Married With Children's Katey Segal). Other zany characters also inhabit the series, including a lobster doctor, a Jamaican office manager who can limbo a foot off the ground, and the egocentric 25-star general, Zapp Brannigan.
Freed of The Simpsons's family values baggage and with an entirely new universe to play in, Futurama was unapologetically zany and cynical, but always smart. Episodes in the first volume include a very strong and funny pilot, a parody of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the origins of the Slurm soft drink (with t-shirts in Hebrew!). While the first season of many shows is typically the weakest, such isn't the case with Futurama. Here there really isn't a single episode in this bunch that doesn't showcase the show's sheer genius and inventiveness.
Futurama also features an incredible number of inside jokes and references, with nods to everything from Homer Simpson and Isaac the bartender to countless films and obscure science fiction authors. In addition, the show's writing staff included a number of PhD's, so when you hear intensely scientific and mathematical matters being discussed, odds are it's entirely legit. Indeed, the show even created their own alien language, which has since been completely deciphered by fans. Overall, Futurama stands as an entertaining, dark-humored testament to what animation comedy (animacomedy?) can achieve.
The episodes included are:
Episode 1: Space Pilot 3000 Episode 2: The Series Has Landed Episode 3: I, Roommate Episode 4: Love's Labours Lost In Space Episode 5: Fear Of A Bot Planet Episode 6: A Fishful Of Dollars Episode 7: My Three Suns Episode 8: A Big Piece Of Garbage Episode 9: Hell Is Other Robots Episode 10: A Flight To Remember Episode 11: Mars University Episode 12: When Aliens Attack Episode 13: Fry & The Slurm Factory
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Spread over three discs, the thirteen episodes of the first season are shown in their original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. For those who aren't familiar with the show, Futurama is a seamless blending of traditional animation with state-of-the-art 3D computer effects, and what we end up with is arguably the finest looking animated series ever put on television. The DVD transfer thankfully allows audiences to show in its unadulterated state, thanks to a flawless transfer that conveys the show's bright, vivid colors and effects with nary a blemish to be seen. This is truly a remarkable transfer for a remarkable series.
Each episode of Futurama Volume One is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio track, which isn't too surprising considering it's a network television program. Because it's animated and the voices are dubbed, the dialogue is crystal clear with no distortion. Various sound effects, such as ship's noises and musical scores, are pushed cleanly through the rear channels, making it a pretty dang good audio transfer.
On the supplement side, the makers of this collection opted to rely on audio commentaries to make up the bulk of the extras. Thankfully, however, those deliver big time with full-length commentaries on all 13 episodes. Series creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen remain for every episode, with a revolving group making up the rest of the participants, including John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender), Billy West (voice of Fry), and various artists, directors, and writers. About five or six people on average sit in for each of the recordings, and while it's a tad difficult at first to make out who's talking, by the end of it you can identify people by their laughter.
This is quite honestly one of the most entertaining collection of commentaries I've ever had the pleasure of listening to, and I actually listened to every single one of them (something I haven't done on a television box set since the Mr. Show compilation). Filled to the gills with humorous anecdotes and revealing decryptions of the show's many in-jokes, this is truly something worth spending your time on. Upon finishing the last episode with the discussion now at an end, I felt empty and alone. I anxiously await season two if only to hear them talking again.
Commentaries aside, the rest of the supplements are fairly limited in substance. There are deleted scenes from six of the episodes, including, a short animatic from the pilot as well as an annotated script, a short "behind the scenes" featurette lasting a couple minutes, and a conceptual art gallery.
The Show: A. Undeniably one of the funniest animated shows ever.
The Look: A. A blending of traditional art with 3D animations make this show truly remarkable to behold.
The Sound: B+. While a 5.1 track would have been nice, what's included is perfectly acceptable for a television show.
The Extras: B+. The episode commentaries are the king of the mountain on this release, but the other supplements are a nice inclusion.
Overall: A.Futurama unquestionably deserved a longer television run, but at least now with DVD it can live forever. Definitely worth a buy for both hardcore and casual fans.