Futurama: Bender’s Game

Bender's_Game “Bender, no! When will young people learn that Dungeons & Dragons won’t make you cool?”

The Scoop: 2008 NR, directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill and starring Billy West, Katey Sagal and John Di Maggio.

Summary Capsule: The Planet Express crew attempts to solve the world’s fuel crisis (by… destroying all the world’s fuel), but accidentally gets transported to a land of swords and sorcery. In flagrant violation of alternate universe protocol, no one sports evil goatees.

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Drew’s Rating: Okay, I admit it — I fell in with the wrong crowd and played Magic: The Gathering for two years in high school. Dammit, must I be haunted by my mistakes forever? A man can change!

Drew’s Review: If you’re any kind of a Futurama fan (and if not, are you lost or something?), you probably know the story by now: the show aired for 4 seasons on Fox before being cancelled, and has now been revived as a series of 4 direct-to-DVD movies. The most recent entry, Bender’s Game, is the third in the series and the most standalone, which may appeal to those less enamored of dangling plot threads.

Bender’s Big Score reintroduced us to the gang after a long absence and focused on longstanding series continuity, and its cliffhanger led directly into The Beast with a Billion Backs. Likewise, Into the Wild Green Yonder will reportedly clear up at least one ongoing mystery and, if necessary, serve as a final send-off to the series. That leaves us with Bender’s Game, definitely the easiest for a casual fan to pick up and watch, and romance-phobes can take heart: no Fry/Leela, no Amy/Kif, no Bender/hookerbots. This one’s all about the comedy, kids.

The adventure du jour centers around skyrocketing fuel prices thanks to longtime nemesis Mom, the universe’s only supplier of dark matter. Fed up, Professor Farnsworth reveals he was the one who discovered dark matter’s use as a fuel source decades ago, as well as something else: two attuned crystals that, if brought together, will destroy all dark matter in the universe. One is under constant surveillance in Mom’s arctic stronghold, and the other is… being used as a makeshift gaming die by Farnsworth’s son Cubert, his nerdy friends, and Bender Titanius Inglesmith, fancy man of Cornwood. Before you can say copyright infringement, an attempt to bring the crystals together leads to our heroes being thrown into a fantasy world of dungeons, dragons and dorks, with their only hope being to hurl the Die of Power into the geysers of Gygax before evil Momon can recover it. But with Frydo succumbing to the temptation of the ring die and Legola’s efforts to renounce her violent ways, is the fellowship boned before it’s even begun?

Here’s the good news: it’s funny. I mentioned earlier that Bender’s Game doesn’t bog itself down in continuing series subplots – Nibbler’s people get some additional backstory, but you don’t need to know anything else about them to enjoy the movie. With their characters in a new venue, the writers are free to just concentrate on the jokes, and the result is a film that feels more lighthearted and enjoyable than their last offering. It reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of the original series, “The Farnsworth Parabox,” where half the entertainment came from seeing the various alternate versions of themselves the Planet Express crew encountered. In this case, the writers get some good mileage out of Tolkien-izing their cast… Gynecaladriel, queen of the water nymphos is a personal favorite, and predictable gag or not, I defy anyone not to laugh at mighty Hermaphrodite. There’s also some amusing meta-commentary with Fry finding the antics of Mom’s 3 Stooges-esque sons hilarious while Leela and Amy think they’re boring and insipid. (And ladies, you are wrong. So, so wrong.)

If I have any criticism, it’s that Bender’s Game isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. Instead of one cohesive movie, it feels more like two extended episodes jammed together with only the barest of threads connecting them. The fuel shortage storyline and the D&D spoof are funny individually, but they never exactly seem to gel – the chain reaction that tosses everyone into the fantasy world is barely an afterthought, not even given the pseudo-scientific nonsense explanation that comes standard in sci-fi shows and comic books. Say the positrons collided in just the right way, explain that the crystals gained sentience and brought Bender’s fantasy to life, tell me the flux capacitor overloaded, whatever… just give me something. Yes, I know it’s Futurama, not Doctor bloody Who, but if I’ve watched the movie three times and still couldn’t tell you in the slightest how the characters got to or from the fantasy world, that’s a sign that it wasn’t explained clearly. Or that I’m special ed, but as I’m sure we all just got a hearty laugh out of that one, let’s move on.

Bender’s Game is one of those films where it doesn’t really matter what recommendation I give: if you’re a Futurama fan you’re going to see it anyway, and if you’re not you aren’t even reading this, so your mother. Still, I’m happy to report that while it isn’t my favorite of the DVD movies, it is a solid entry in the series and an excellent way to cleanse the palate, as it were, before the (possibly) final Futurama adventure. What else needs to be said? Have at it.

NEEEEERDS!

NEEEEERDS!

Intermission

  • This is the third of four direct-to-DVD Futurama movies, with the fourth, Into the Wild Green Yonder, due out in February 2009. Producer David X. Cohen has said of the final movie that, while they hope the series may return in some other format eventually, “it ends on a real sweet note and we’ll be content with that if it’s the last we ever do.”
  • A sign in the Planet Express locker room reads “No pointing and laughing.”
  • Bender is incarcerated in the “HAL Institute For Criminally Insane Robots,” a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In addition, Nurse Ratchet is a tip of the hat to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
  • One of the robots in Bender’s group therapy session is Rosie from The Jetsons.
  • Nibbler was last seen at the end of Bender’s Big Score yelling “Everyone out of the universe!” and imploding. His reappearance in Bender’s Game isn’t explained, but Fry and Leela mention not being surprised he can talk because he forgot to mindwipe them after the last time.
  • Titanius Inglesmith’s family motto (shown on his sleeping bag) is machina ex deo, Latin for “the machine from God.” His coat of arms is a nut and bolt, an alkaline battery, and a chalice of ale.
  • After the credits they show a clip from a past Futurama episode of Gary Gygax (creator of D&D) saying “Anyone wanna play Dungeons & Dragons for the next quadrillion years?”

Groovy Quotes

George Takei: Way to kill the franchise, Bakula.

Bender: You’re right. I’m great in every way except I have no imagination. All I ever wanted is to play this magical game, and I can’t.
Dwight: Yes you can. You just have to lose yourself in the fantasy. You have to believe the impossible is merely preposterous.

Professor: The collar will be triggered anytime your thoughts turn to violence-
Leela: OUCH!
Professor: -profanity-
Leela: Son of a- OW!
Professor: -or perversions of a sexual nature.
Leela: …………OW!

Rod Serling: In the end, it was not guns or bombs that defeated the aliens, but that humblest of all God’s creatures, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Fry: Bender, no! When will young people learn that Dungeons & Dragons won’t make you cool?

Professor: Good God! Just knowing we’re in the same genus makes me embarrassed to call myself homo.

Fry: There are so many killbots behind us, I can’t count them all! Three, I think!

Legola: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that was really exciting. I’ve never felt so alive! What else can we slay? Is that a hobbit over there?
Titanius Inglesmith: Naw, that’s a hobo and a rabbit. But they’re making a hobbit.

Grayfarn: Of course! Wipe Castle! And while we’re there, we can get some of those greasy little dwarf burgers.
Gynecaladriel: Ooh, I love those! You can eat like eight of them without gaining any weight, ’cause of all the diarrhea!

Frydo: I… I’m too exhausted, I can’t go on.
Zoidberg: I’m here for you, my friend. I’ll drag you onward, even to my last ounce of strength. Grab onto my testicles!
Frydo: …you know, I think maybe I can walk after all.

Frydo: So it’s all come down to this: a dungeon, and dragons.
Zoidberg: I didn’t see it coming.

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