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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Beast with a Billion Backs is the second in an extension of the
Futurama animated series, now being released as a fully fledged movie
experience. In terms of plot the demands of a ninety minute episode are
far greater, and the transition itself hasn't been entirely smooth. The
humour is more forced, demanding that you laugh on the first try as
opposed to sitting subtly in the background for you to discover in an
Its this level of confidence that made the Simpsons great, but as that animated dinosaur now bludgeons the viewer with the obvious, slapstick humour one would expect of a cheesy 80's sitcom, creator Groening is letting bad trends slip into an otherwise rejuvenating series.
The beginning of Benders Big Score was painfully forced, but it soon fell into its old clever self, delivering a plot that was genuinely unexpected with patented levels of Futurama drama that never cross the line we all draw in our heads of such a series, but the Beast with a Billion Backs is, no pun intended, a very different beast.
The story itself is very much "out there", even for a show that already borders on insanity. A rift between two alternate universes appears above Earth, and immediately people assume the worst. As quickly as this major plot device is introduced, it is forgotten, and soon we find ourselves following two sub plots involving Fry's battle with the concept of polygamy and Benders childhood fantasy of an underground cult of Robots defending the very foundation of Robot ideal.
A good third into the movie our attention is once again brought unto the giant rift, where a giant tentacle eventually emerges threatening the would be Earth we all know and love. As the plot moves forward you begin to wonder just where its all heading, and without giving too much away the ending is the most ambiguous i've ever witnessed in the series.
Somewhere in the convoluted plot line lies a point. The ending would stipulate some sort of overall commentary on the concept of love, but its just not entirely clear what this commentary is. Furthermore, Benders raging jealously is simply too undeveloped to be used to drive the story forward as much as it does. Bender is a great character for humour delivery but is remarkably inconsistent, bouncing from indifference, to kill all humans, to genuine compassion in mere minutes of screen time.
Its difficult to say just how "good" this movie is. When you finish watching it you won't be sure what just happened or why, but the overall sense of purpose is very much lacking. Perhaps thats the point, but combining ham fisted comedy with philosophical wonder is going to alienate all but the most die hard of fans aching for justification between the pages.
Overall The Beast of a Billion Backs is an odd experience worthwhile to just about any Futurama fan. With all said and done Futurama at its worst (which this certainly is not) is still brilliant, indeed the series greatest enemy proves time and time again to be its former self.
The first Futurama movie felt like a collection of episodes strung
together, "Benders Big Score" was enjoyable for fans, but like "the
family guy movie", or "the Simpson's movie", it doesn't do anything the
show didn't do, the same cannot be said for "The Beast With A Billion
Backs", which while not as laugh a second as it could be(still multiple
laughs per minute) is strengthened by being one of the strongest
stories that Futurama has ever ran.
My favorite Futurama episode finds Bender floating in space alone, and a tiny microscopic colony grows onto his back, and begins worshiping him as their God, in trying to help improve their lives, he ultimately destroys them all, and then encounters a large energy being in the middle of space, who for all intense and purposes is the God...who doesn't seem to know who he is or what he is doing, but knows that God can't please everyone and if his job is done right no one "should" know he exists at all.. moments like that are the reason I watched Futurama in the first place, and its the kind of thinking that produced "The Beast With A Billion Backs", which is possibly the most unique, thought provoking, and amusing love story, I've ever seen in an animated film, or maybe ever.
It's a metaphysical love story, with inter-dimensional sea monsters and robotic demonic pirates, it's a story of infidelity and jealousy (not just with Fry, consider the subplot of Kif and Amy, compare Fry's first relationship with his last, Benders final monologue, etc). Is love personal or universal, can it be shared or must it be guarded, can any kind of perfect love exist within imperfect human conditions? Can/should God love everyone? Because it's Futurama you don't sit down, expecting to be challenged or even moved. "Sorry Bender...Robots don't go to heaven...", but that's just how it ends up.
So no this does not feel like "The Futurama" you've seen a thousand times before, it's best moments are still there, but it has a sense of direction, purpose, and story structure, that's its never had before, and is damned commendable. The best adult cartoon movie since "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut", but as much for the story telling itself as the laughs.
It's the Cthulu Love story of our times!
Network: None; Direct to DVD movie; Genre: Animated Comedy, Sci-Fi;
Content Rating: Unrated (contains animated violence, gore, scatological
humor and suggested sex); Available: only on DVD; Perspective:
contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
The surprises of "Futurama's" 2nd direct-to-DVD feature-length movie adventure start right from the beginning, when it picks up mere days after the events of "Bender's Big Score" turning what appeared to be a throw away gag at the end of that movie into the catalyst for this one.
Like an average episode of Fox's red-headed stepchild of a masterpiece, "The Beast With A Billion Backs" starts out as one thing and goes some pretty outlandish and unpredictable places. Places sick, twisted and wildly imaginative. Places only "Futurama" with all of it's delirious cynical sacrilege can go. To describe the unfolding plot in detail would do a disservice to it, but suffice to say it involves a new love (guest star Brittney Murphy) for Fry (Billy West) - welcome after the labored Fry/Leela (always reliable Katey Sagal) story - Bender's (John DiMaggio) quest to prove the existence of The League of Robots, the marriage & death of a major character and a rip in the universe that unleashes the title monster.
But here's the answer to the real question: for my money, yes, "Billion" is better than "Big Score". A lot better. The giddy excitement to be back that bubbled out of "Score" and made that movie passable has now settled down into the business of actual storytelling and laugh generating. This time, instead of simply parading out favorite characters to have their random moment, the likes of Calculon, the Robot Devil, Zapp Brannigan and Richard Nixon all appear in service of the story. A story, such as it is, so crazy it will send eyes rolling to the back of the head of anyone but the most hardcore "Futurama" fan.
When the multi-tentacle beast (voiced by David Cross) shows up it affords the show opportunities to dig deep into some of their favorite red meat sacred cows - dating and religion - in addition to the monster movie mayhem. This movie and it's metaphors may not appeal to the young fan who stumbled on "Futurama" on free TV, but I loved every insane second of it. If you go in expecting anything less than absolute lunacy you will be totally lost with "Billion". It's probably a blessing in disguise that this movie was never pitched for the big screen. Direct to DVD gives Matt Groening, David X. Cohen and crew the chance to pitch the movie straight to the fans. They go absolutely wild, bouncing around the feature, indulging and expanding in some of their most twisted desires. Like the best "Futurama" episodes, "Billion" is unpredictable, alive with imagination and far too original for mainstream consumption.
The jokes are back with that same nonsensical, but sharp and on-story wit we've come to expect from this show. "Futurama" was never the funniest thing around, but "Billion" has a high ratio of landed jokes and real laugh-out-loud moments. But best of all, director Peter Avanzino (of some of the show's best episodes: "X-Mas Story", "Parasites Lost" and "Fear of a Bot Planet") ropes this madness into a strong, cohesive story that fills feature length without feeling like 4 episodes cobbled together and makes sense in it's own wonderfully weird way.
Let me repeat that: "The Beast With A Billion Backs" feels like a real movie instead of 4 episodes. Few TV shows can nail this and "Futurama" gets it right on the 2nd try. "Billion" doesn't have a big movie ending and that ending comes about 20 minutes longer than it feels like it should, but it does work.
Here is an epic adventure for the Planet Express crew worthy of a movie format. Now we've got a struggle for the fate of the universe, multiple story lines balanced to give every character something to do and the show's sense of humor, disgusting pension for gross-out gags, combustible originality and razor sharp satirical wit back on it's game. I love it. This is, in just about every aspect, the "Futurama" movie I've been waiting for.
* * * * / 4
The problem with "Beast With A Billion Backs" isn't the writing, the
storyline, the gags, or the inside references. Those are all just fine.
Not great, but a decided improvement over the convoluted and
fanservice-heavy "Bender's Big Score."
The greater problem -- one that all four DVD movies will face -- is that Futurama's fantastic worlds and crazy plots just plain work better in 22-minute episodes than as 90-minute stories. It's hard to keep up the energy and the gags for that long, while also involving all the characters and hitting all the notes Futurama fans want to hear.
"Billion Backs" had its share of slow spots, and gags that should have never escaped the Deleted Scenes part of the DVD. (The "schkler" and "schklee" thing was painful.)
The Yivo storyline could have been done in one focused episode (a la "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid"). The Bender/Calculon story would have been an okay B-story for a 22-minute episode, but it was weak for a feature-length movie. The other subplots weren't any deeper than you'd see in a single episode.
I realize that the movie will be broadcast as individual episodes. They should have made them that way in the first place, and cut out the dull stuff.
If you don't believe me, watch the "lost episode" bonus feature on the DVD. It's a compilation of cut-scenes from the Futurama video game, made into an "episode" of about 30 minutes. While it's nothing special, its fast pace and simple plot work a lot better than the padded-out, hit-and-miss main feature.
Having said all that, "Billion Backs" is a fun story that should appeal to all Futurama fans. There are some great gags, some beloved characters we missed in the first DVD movie, a Futurama-quality plot, and a fun homage to 1950s-style monster horror flicks.
This movie isn't really as bad as everyone seems to be saying. My only problem is it feels rather segmented/disjointed, as if it's 3 separate movies (probably due to the fact that it's basically 3 episodes strung together). Other than that, the jokes, especially in the 1st half hour are fast-paced and hilarious. I laughed way more than I did during Bender's Big Score, which only managed to get a couple chuckles and nostalgic smiles out of me. Really, the only reason there's any problem at all is that they're forcing themselves to write 90 minute episodes, where they really shine in the 30 minute block. If you're a fan of the series, you should (in theory) be quite happy with this.
"Good news, everyone".
First off, this is not as good as the first Futurama movie. There just isn't the same high quality for most of the gags and the story itself isn't quite as funny (although it IS funny).
Now that I've said that I want to add that this is still funnier than about 90% of theatrical releases from the last 5 years and for Futurama fans there really is very little to complain about.
The plot involves a beast from another universe falling in love with absolutely everyone on Earth, Bender doing his usual immoral acts, characters enduring heartbreak and even death and . . . . . . a number of disputes being settled by the superb game known as Death Ball.
If you love the show then you'll be pleased to know that most of the characters get their share of good lines and screen time (although the focus, as ever, tends to stay with Fry and Bender) and there are some enjoyable cameos along the way too. But, as with the first movie, it's not really going to win over too many new converts. Of course, we fans know that everyone else is just missing out anyway so enjoy another outing with the Planet Express crew and keep your senses peeled for more visual gags, references and clever wordplay than you can shake a bunch of tentacles at.
See this if you like: Futurama, Invaders From Mars, Earth Girls Are Easy.
The first movie to come out from the TV show felt a little shaky and
unsure of itself. This is much better, it feels stronger and more
confident and doesn't suffer from the over heightened expectations of
fans like myself that the first film did.
The plot is quite sophisticated for a cartoon but not for a Futurama, the characters are back in their tried and tested roles and it is a great way to spend 90 minutes.
As I have said before I don't think the cartoon format transfers that well to feature length. There are more laughs than in a normal episode but they are spread further apart making the film feel less funny than it actually is.
I am ecstatic that the series of feature lengths are continuing and treasure my copy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was okay, but not great. The problem with Futurama, unlike
the Simpsons, is that it was always more clever than actually funny.
The producers have realized that the only people who will buy this DVD are the people who followed the original series when it was ham-handed by the Fox Network and then developed a cult following on Cartoon Network. If you are familiar with the series, you will be able to follow what is going on.
The plot, per se, is that a rift has appeared between universes and Fry, after breaking up with his cheating girlfriend, decides to end it all by going into it. He comes back as the new "Space Pope" for a tentacled monster who takes over the minds of everyone. Hilarity ensues... Meanwhile, Bender joins the "League of Robots". There is also a subplot with Kiff and Amy finally tying the knot.
It's fun to watch, but really, they don't actually advance the characters any. They still have Leela and Fry not advancing their relationship any. (What is it with Hollywood where you think sexual tension is more interesting than actual relationships?)
Fun for the fan, not much interest to anyone else.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We are now halfway through the four planned Futurama feature-length films, and any optimism that was generated by 'Bender's Big Score' has most definitely been killed by 'The Beast with a Billion Backs'. The first one was well written, cute, clever, and often very funny. Sure, the jokes didn't always work, but the story was good and the writers seemed for the most part to be able to avoid reducing the characters to mere caricatures of themselves. The second one was downright idiotic. The characters aren't funny, only annoying. For instance, there's way too much Kif. Kif should never, or at least hardly ever be on screen without Zap. In the new one, he kind of reminds me of Jar Jar Binks, which I'm sure you will agree is no flattering comparison. Zap is also used way too predictably. Fry's new girlfriend is a pointless character. Fry himself contributes little in the way of humour. The writers seem to have converted him into a sniveling, sappy wimp, apparently with the aim of playing off his schmaltziness. But that trait is only endearing when it is occasional. As for the story, it lacks the delicious complexity of the first movie as well as some of the best episodes. The first hour flows like a glacier. The end of the film is the only decent bit, but it is hardly redeeming. Furthermore, the writers had a golden opportunity to make a deep, philosophical point at the end about the way humanity inevitably screws things up when it has a good thing going, but this was shamefully squandered. And finally, the league of robots and Kif/Amy wedding subplots are uninspired and nauseating, respectively, though the former does have its moments. All in all, it will be hard for the third installment to make 'The Beast with a Billion Backs' look good. Let's hope it doesn't.
Upon the very first viewing of this movie, Futurama fans ought to be
willing to pony up the 25 bucks a pop for the next 2 installments in
this series without even thinking twice. Even more so than the Simpsons
theatrical feature, this should stand as Matt Groening's best usage of
the full-length format to tell a story that is at once compelling and
Bender steals the show, we all knew it would happen, but the real highlight here is the film's conclusion, which breaches the small-screen feel of the Futurama series to enter the realm of great space epics, with a final outcome that would rival any of Douglas Adams' wildest dreams. Critics of this film should realize that an animated movie isn't going to bring you ultimate happiness, but rather you should enjoy the simple message this film presents, and think twice about the story's moral questions about life, the universe and everything...
Fantastic movie, and some of the best jokes we've ever seen from Philip J. Fry and crew. Can't wait for the next one...
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