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Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder
voice cast: Billy West, John Di Maggio, Snoop Dog, and Penn Jillette

creator: Matt Groening

86 minutes (12) 2008
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
It is often said that science fiction is really concerned with the present. Futurama took this one step further in recognising that much of the present is also concerned with science fiction. It's an infinite regression of fairground mirrors in there.

Unfortunately, the marginally more specialised knowledge required to fully enjoy the show meant that its audience figures were always going to be lower than those of The Simpsons, and so Fox cancelled Futurama. Recently, though, they've been allowed to make four feature-length specials that, since they were never intended to be seen on the big screen, avoided the flaws of overarching ambition that hobbled The Simpsons Movie. The other advantage of this was that, with a bit of careful foresight, they could chop each of the films into 22-minute regular episodes and effectively manufacture another series: clever, eh?

Into The Wild Green Yonder is the fourth of the films and, it has to be said, something of a disappointment compared to the first. A weak Futurama still knocks dead most everything else, though, but Into The Wild Green Yonder doesn't display the mind-warping genius that Bender's Big Score had in spades. The flaw lies with the showcased characters. Hands up everyone who rushed home early to watch one of the Simpsons episodes that was all about Lisa. See my point?

Anyway, the plot follows the usual Groening template. The first quarter is spent setting up the main plot, which then careers off at a right angle to what has gone before. The point where the plot switches is, one suspects, the writers' starting position and from there they start creating in both directions. Anyway, let's get back to my point about the characters. The driving force in the set-up is the robot mafia, a one-joke crew if ever there was, and the main protagonists are the Wong family. Amy (Laureen Tom) is the weakest character in Planet Express and seems to be there merely to make Leela (Katey Sagal) not look like the token female. Her family are rich, shallow and greedy, and they own half of Mars. When her father (Billy West) decides to demolish MarsVegas to build a bigger version, it sets in motion a whole mishmash of joking on a Vegas/ecology theme, with a slight dash of feminism thrown in for good measure.

Then, when this is all running smoothly, and the robot mafia subplot has been dealt with, Leo Wong decides that he is going to build the universe's biggest novelty golf course. And there you have it: the robot mafia, the Wongs, and golf. On the upside, it is still extremely funny. You'll enjoy it, but you won't be knocked out by it. One of the luxuries of having a niche market is that Futurama never had to sit on the fence to the same extent that The Simpsons has. Just reflect on The Simpsons' ambivalent portrayal of religion whenever you compare the two series' values.

The animation is also a generational step up from the sister series as well. But back to the plot! The golf course will be responsible for destroying a small world that is a textbook case for evolution, and a bunch of feminist ecologists (featuring most of the regular female characters) set out to stop it uber-sexist Zapp Branigan (Billy West) is in particularly fine form in this section. Meanwhile, every(dumb)man Philip Fry (yup, Billy West again) has accidentally become telepathic and discovers that there is a conspiracy behind the attempt to destroy the small planet. His task is to track down The Dark One, but, being Fry, he hasn't a clue about how to go about doing it. And it has to be said that the end is quite moving, if silly. It's a good sign-off if no more are commissioned.

There are plenty of extras, although the prize is the spoof 'making of' documentary, where they make out that one person is responsible for the whole show (shades of Billy West, who seems to voice every other character in the show), and show that the 3-D computer modelling is actually a model spaceship on a string. Then there are interviews, a few outtakes, storyboards, commentary, Bender's guide to cinema etiquette, and Zapp Branigan's guide to making love at a woman.

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