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Futurama: Bender's Game (DVD) ★★★★½

Reviewed by Stuart O'Connor
Stars the voices of Katey Sagal, Billy West, John DiMaggio,
Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille,
Gary Gygax, George Takei, Rich Little
Written by Eric Horsted, Michael Rowe, Eric Kaplan,
David X Cohen & Patric Verrone

US RRP $29.99 | UK RRP £19.99
Runtime 90 minutes | Directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill


Buckle your sphincters, Futurama fans — you're in for the wildest ride yet. As you may have guessed by now, we here at Screenjabber Towers kinda like Futurama. We have all the original episodes on DVD. We have an inflatable Leela (for purely decorative purposes, of course). We adored the first direct-to-DVD movie, Bender's Big Score. We were over the moon about the second movie, The Beast With a Billion Backs. Now we have number three to slake our Futurama thirst until 2009. And no, it's not called Redneck Yokels From Beyond the Stars (although maybe that's a good title for a future episode?) but Bender's Game, and it's the funniest Futurama film yet.

The story begins with with Cubert, Dwight and some of their little friends playing Dungeons & Dragons in the Planet Express conference room. Poor Bender — he wants to join in and play with the kids, but robots don't come with imaginations installed (I guess they must be an optional extra). As you would expect, Bender takes this whole imagination thing a little too far, and develops a slight problem telling fantasy from reality. He goes slightly crazy (well, crazier than normal) and finds himself swathed in a straitjacket, locked away in a padded cell at the Hal Institute for Criminally Insane Robots. And yes, the robot nurse is named Ratchet. Plus we get a bonus guest appearance from Rosie, the robot maid from The Jetsons (but we can only guess at what she's inside for).

In another plot development, the price of dark matter — the fuel for all the spaceships — has gone through the roof. And guess who controls the supply of dark matter on Earth? That's right, it's the welcome return of Mom Corp, headed by the sweet, old evil Mom, aided by her brood of idiot sons — Walt, Larry and Ignar. Mom owns the dark matter mine. But when our heroes arrive to thwart her evil plans, they discover it is not a mine but instead a battery farm for Niblonians (who, as we all know by now, poop out dark matter).

And in yet another plot development (which cropped up earlier in the episode) Professor Farnsworth (who once worked for — and was married to — Mom) was actually the mad scientist who created an energy crystal that turned all the dark matter in the universe into fuel. Which, of course, Mom took control of. At the same time, though, he accidentally created an "opposite" crystal made of "pure anti-backwards" energy. Which he kept hidden from Mom. And which looks mysteriously like a multisided D&D die. And if the two crystals are ever reunited, all the dark matter would be rendered utterly useless, and strange things will happen. All of which is a very long-winded, mumbo-jumbo-filled plot device to create the circumstances in Mom's mine to propel all our characters into an alternate reality. Called Cornwood.

And so all the respective plot threads come together in a fantasy epic that blends elements of Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of The Rings. Bender is Titanius Anglesmith, a knight in shining armour. Well, he has a visor bolted to his head. Leela becomes a centaur, named Leegola. Hermes, too, is a centaur. A rather busty centaur, called Hermaphrodite. Farnsworth is the Great Wizard Greyfarn. Amy is Gynecaladriel, queen of the "waternymphos" who holds the power of being a sex-obsessed bombshell. And I'm going to leave what happens to Zoidberg as a surprise. Our heroes must embark on a journey to the Geysers of Gygax to destroy the dice of power (aka the opposite crystal) and defeat the evil Momon. There's a slight glitch in proceedings, though, when "Frydo" becomes obsessed with the "dodecadelicious" and becomes a bit Gollum-like. Ultimately, though, the final battle comes down to ... dungeons and dragons.

Yeah yeah, it all sounds a little crazy and confusing. Actually, a lot crazy and confusing. Especially when they throw in Star Wars references, Star Trek references, a demolition derby with spaceships made from Lego and a cave full of scary Morks. But don't worry, it all makes sense in the end. And there are plenty of laughs while getting there, too. There's a little bit of a sag in the middle — there are a lot of plot threads that need to be juggled — but by the time they get to the fantasy world, the writers are firing on all cylinders. Bender's Game seems a lot less like four episodes joined together than the first two DVDs did. And there are so many more clever touches, sight gags and one-liners in this one. Plus the now-requisite nude scene (this time, the entire crew all showering together in the locker room). Futurama has always been about the characters — those wonderful, bizarre, quirky Planet Express characters — and in Bender's Game no one misses out. Each and every major character gets plenty of screen time, and is given a chance to shine. It's Futurama at its best, just as we love it, and who can ask for more than that? Oh, and there's a bonus, too. We finally learn why Farnsworth hate Professor Wernstrom so much!

EXTRAS **** If you thought the first two DVDs were jam-packed with bonus material, wait till you get a load of this one. First up, there's a commentary track with by Matt Groening, David X Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Michael Rowe, Claudia Katz and Dwayne Carey-Hill. Then we have the storyboard animatic for Part One of the story; the Futurama Genetics Lab, in which you can cross-breed your favourite characters; a featurette called D&D&F, in which the writers discuss the influence of Dungeons & Dragons on Futurama; another featurette called How to Draw Futurama In 83 Easy Steps, which is self-explanatory; another featurette that looks at the 3D models used, and a discussion with the animators; a deleted scene called "Cup or Nozzle?"; Blooperama 2: outakes from Bender's Game (more flubs and blunders from the voice recording sessions); Bender's anti-piracy warning (a sendup of those bloody annoying anti-piracy ads they stick on all the DVDs that we go out and pay good money for); and finally, a "sneak peek" at (ie, a trailer for) the Next Futurama epic — not called, sadly, Redneck Yokels From Beyond the Stars, but Into the Wild Green Yonder. Which, I must admit, is not a bad title. And in which, it seems, Fry is... killed!

• Bender's Game is released in the UK on November 3, the US on November 4 and Australia on December 10
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