I don't think I was the only one a little let-down by Futurama's return to the television screen in the form of last years' direct-to-DVD "Bender's Big Score". It wasn't that it was bad -- I've actually grown to like it quite a bit with repeat viewings -- but it wasn't the all-out super-funny adventure I was hoping for. I'm happy to say, though, that the new followup "The Beast with a Billion Backs" is exactly the Futurama flick fans have been waiting for.
Beginning nearly immediately after the end of "Big Score", this film sees a tear in space threatening the entire universe. We soon learn that the cause of it is Yivo, an enormous tentacled space monster (voiced by David Cross) who wants nothing more than to spread his love throughout the entire universe in a very physical way. Coupled with that, we've got a side-story involving Bender discovering the legendary secret society, "The League of Robots", lots more Zap Brannigan, a new girlfriend for Fry and both a wedding and a funeral (for the same character!).
The big fault of the first film was its need to cram so much material into 90 minutes. I can understand the urgency; it may have felt like Futurama's last hurrah but -- thankfully -- its success looks like it'll be paving the way for many animated DVDs still to come. Even though its plot is less epic, "Beast" feels like the grander film just because it comes off so effortlessly. Its riddled with characters, major and minor, and none of them feel anything less-than organically placed. (Actually, my favorite cameo is a wonderful gag with Zoidberg's Uncle, Harold Zoid, that sort of comments on forced-cameos in general). Outside of just character parts, though, there's a fantastic balance between jokes for the die-hard fan and broader humor that a first-time viewer can appreciate.
When it comes to extras, too, the disc is pretty loaded. Like all the episodes, the movie has got a grand commentary with all the series regulars and its fun just listening to them joke back and forth. Sitting in a room with these people and no movie playing would probably worth the price of admission. There are some really sweet bits, too, including a brief reflection on Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax who guest-voiced on the series and passed away as "Beast" was in production.
My favorite extra, though, is something called "The Lost Adventure" which pulls together cut scenes from the Futurama video game into a roughly half-hour episode. It's a little unnerving to see three-dimensional versions of Fry and Leela, but Bender translates perfectly and, though it's nothing exceptional as far as episodes go, it's a really nice feature for completist fans. What's more, there's a separate full-length commentary just for the "Lost Adventure" and it's pretty interesting to hear about what goes into video game tie-ins. What's more, David X. Cohen apologies for the lack of picture quality (which really isn't all that bad) and explains that the original source material doesn't exist, thanks to three separate video game companies going under. Hearing that he manually transferred the footage using cheat-codes from the internet made me smile. The guy is pretty dedicated to Futurama fans.
There's a storyboard animatic of the first 20 minutes or so of the film. It's cool to have, but I doubt you'd want to watch it all the way through unless you were a hardcore animation fan and wanted to see what is more or less a cartoon's ultrasound.
There are six deleted scenes, all but one of which are presented in mostly-animatic forms. It's not too hard to see why they were deleted, as the film offers some much more amusing alternatives. Plus, in one of the thankfully-deleted scenes, they kill of Scruffy! That's just wrong.
After that, there are a number of quick, enjoyable-but-easy-forgettable two-minute featurettes. One, "Meet Yivo" has David Cross improvising facts about playing Yivo while two others, "3D Model Gallery" and "A Brief History of Deathball" feature commentaries over production art. The final featurette, "Blooperama" is a montage of live-action footage of the actors flubbing their lines. It's short and sweet and provides a nice frame of reference for what the voice actors really look like.
Lastly, there's a trailer for the third Futurama direct-to-DVD film, "Bender's Game" -- a fantasy-themed outing that's set to hit around Christmast. After "The Beast with a Billion Backs", I'm confident that Futurama is back in full-force and can't wait for the next adventure.