Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I liked the visuals of the first direct-to-DVD flick, and the follow-up looked quite good as well.
Sharpness seemed excellent. From start to finish, the flick offered terrific delineation, with a consistently concise and tight presentation. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was absent. Source flaws also failed to materialize in this clean transfer.
Futurama used a bright palette that came across well. The colors were always lively and dynamic, with no issues on display. Blacks seemed deep and firm, while shadows were smooth and clear. I found a lot to like about this very positive presentation.
While not particularly impressive, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Backs was perfectly adequate. The film offered a good sense of environment and used a few action scenes to open up matters in a decent way. Not a lot of these moments occurred, but they worked well when they did, and the general sense of setting satisfied.
Audio quality was always very good. Speech sounded natural and warm, with good intelligibility and no defects. Music was lively and dynamic, and effects fell into the same realm. Those elements appeared concise and accurate through the flick. Nothing here dazzled, but the track seemed positive.
Backs comes with a pretty decent roster of extras. First we find an audio commentary with creator Matt Groening, director Peter Avanzino, producers Claudia Katz and Lee Supercinski, co-executive producers David X. Cohen and Michael Rowe, and actors Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Maurice LaMarche. All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss various story and character issues, animation specifics, references, and some acting choices.
If you’ve heard commentary for other Futurama endeavors, you’ll know what to expect here. Cohen acts as the super-nerdy master of ceremonies; he brings out a mix of facts and figures related to the film. He proves reasonably effective in this role, but we generally don’t learn a ton about the flick. There’s a lot of joking around, primarily from the actors. Though some of that is fun – I could listen to West’s Nixon impersonation for hours – it eliminates the prospect of much useful material. This is a passable but not particularly valuable commentary.
Something intriguing arrives with Futurama: The Lost Adventure. This 30-minute and 11-second piece provides not-so-hot 3D animation intended as the framing story for a 2003 Futurama videogame. The game itself looks like nothing special, but the “show” created to support it works pretty well. It’s not classic Futurama, but it’s quite entertaining.
We can watch the program with or without commentary from Groening, Cohen, West, DiMaggio, LaMarche, Rowe, Supercinski and writer J. Stewart Burns. They discuss thoughts about the videogame, some issues related to the 3D animation, problems compiling the footage, the script, and voice acting topics. This commentary informs and entertains pretty well, especially in connection with the acting challenges.
Next we find a 21-minute and 44-second Storyboard Animatic. This takes us through the first act of Backs and lets us see the storyboards accompanied by dialogue and some music. It’s a fun way to see the early stages of the film.
Six Deleted Scenes last a total of three minutes, 22 seconds. We find “Original Opening (Storyboard)” (0:50), “Fry and Colleen Meeting (Color)” (0:35), “St. Asimov Parade (Storyboard)” (0:21), “Zapp and Scientists (Layout Animatic)” (0:47), “Amy, Fry and Leela (Storyboard)” (0:24) and “Scruffy the Janitor (Layout Animatic)” (0:29). Obviously these are all minor additions, so don'’ expect anything substantial. They're consistently amusing, though, so they’re worth a look.
For a look at the film’s guest actor, we get a David Cross Featurette. In this two-minute and two-second clip, we get a few comments from Cross in the studio as he talks about his character. This is a promotional piece without any informational merit, though Cross makes a few funny remarks.
Blooperama runs two minutes, 11 seconds. It shows the actors in the studio as they perform the lines, goof up, and joke. I’m not wild about bloopers, but this reel offers some fun glimpses of the recording process, so it’s worth a look.
After this comes a four-minute and 10-second segment called 3D Models with Animator Discussion. The piece doesn’t identify the commentators, unfortunately. They look at various scenes and detail the work required to put them together. The info tends to be a bit dry, but some interesting notes emerge.
A Brief History of Deathball runs two minutes, one second. We see various designs related to the Deathball sequence as Avanzino narrates. I like the conceptual drawings, and Avanzino’s remarks flesh out the art well.
Finally, we find Bender’s Game: A Sneak Peek at the Next Futurama Epic. A preview of the third Futurama direct-to-DVD flick, it lasts two minutes and gives us a trailer for the upcoming effort.
As much as I liked Futurama on TV, I must admit its first two direct-to-DVD adventures haven’t dazzled me. The Beast With a Billion Backs entertains but it fails to become better than average when compared to the series. The DVD provides excellent picture, very good audio and a smattering of useful extras. Backs is good enough to recommend it for Futurama fans, but it’s not a great flick.