Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (2009) Review

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder  (2009)
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Into The Wild Green Yonder is the fourth and final installment in the series of direct-to-video Futurama movies, all of which are scheduled to be cut up into quarters and be broadcast as a "fifth season" on TV. While it's a decent enough episode in its own right and provides an poignant conclusion to the series, it demonstrates the difficulties (not insurmountable, but significant) in adapting Futurama's blend of witty satire, sci-fi action and character development to a feature film.
The first quarter of the movie shows our heroes enjoying a vacation in the New Mars Vegas, recently developed by Amy Wong's wealthy parents. The whole chapter is lighthearted, enjoyable and plants two seeds of the main plot -- Fry gets injured in an accident and gains telepathic powers, while Leela becomes upset at the extent to which the construction is destroying the environment. From here, the main story arcs develop: Leela joins an eco-feminist collective devoted to saving a violet dwarf star and planet and becomes a fugitive; Fry joins a secret society and learns that that the violet dwarf system is a key element in a cosmic struggle for the fate of all biological life in the universe; Bender teams up with Zapp Brannigan and initiates a crucial plot twist. The final scenes tie up a long-running thread in the Futurama saga and provide a touching (yet not excessively sentimental) conclusion to the Futurama series while leaving open the possibility of future adventures.
The massive, epic nature of the movie (a consequence of the feature-length format, as well as the writers' desire to go out with a bang) is responsible both for the strengths and the weaknesses of the episode. On the one hand, the characterization throughout the movie is very strong. Placed in stressful, completely unfamiliar circumstances, our heroes act in ways that are true to themselves for the most part without being overly predictable or coming off as caricatures of themselves. The artistry is impressive as well -- many of the shots of outer space are breathtaking, the opening Sinatra-themed number is a hit, and alert viewers will recognize the return of some of the moving musical themes from a previous movie. The writers and creative staff manage to take an epic adventure and make it connect with the viewer on a personal level.
On the other hand, the sci-fi content of the movie is sloppy and heavy-handed, with little of the nuance and subtlety of Futurama's previous ecologically-minded episodes. In addition, the satirical wit and goofiness that is the hallmark of the Futurama franchise gradually peters out about halfway through the movie -- the jokes don't disappear as such, but most of them are exhausted running jibes, while the genuinely clever lines and gags are unable to lighten the mood of the episode, making portions of the film feel tense and grim. It's clear that Futurama can become imbalanced when forced to adapt to the more massive, slower-developing story arcs of a feature-length film.
While this movie is certainly a mandatory purchase for devoted Futurama fans, who will appreciate the positive elements of this movie and be willing to leave the rest behind, novices are advised to start with the original series (or perhaps Bender's Big Score) before delving into the rest of the movies. As for the future of Futurama, the writers still seem to be capable of producing fresh ideas, and the events of Into The Wild Green Yonder leave several issues open as fodder for future releases (Twentieth Century Fox has just confirmed that Comedy Central has ordered 26 new episodes, to begin airing in 2010). Despite the unevenness of the movies, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

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