Low score for ‘Bender’s Big Score’

November 27, 2007

futuramareturns.gifFROM THE YEAR 3007 — After wasting $22 to see the big-screen mess that was The Simpsons Movie, I should have known better than to invest so much trust in Bender’s Big Score, which marks the return today of Matt Groening’s critically superior Futurama franchise.

Billed at its release in March 1999 as “the Simpsons in the future,” the series was often bumped from its regular air time and was unable to gain a stable non-time-shifted following.

Fox — which is renowned by geeks the world over for knowing the absolute best time to pull the plug — canceled Futurama in August 2003.

But the success of another Fox survivor — The Family Guy — proved to the networks that they are fallible. Using Seth McFarland’s model for rising from the small-screen grave, the producers of Futurama are set to return today with the feature-length Big Score movie.

Thanks to deep magic wrought by the Intarweb, I have already seen it. I wish I could roll back time (just like Bender and Fry do ad nauseam in the movie) and convince past-me to avoid this gut-tearing collection of self-referential script-wrenching.

It’s a shame, because the early moments of Big Score had me convinced that here, at last, was a return to the out-of-the-box concept humor and left-field pop culture gags for which the series was famed: There was a trip to the nude beach planet, top-quality robo-rotica, and a stopover at the Cylon War Memorial.

I was especially hopeful that big things were in the wings when Hermes was decapitated and crushed by the Planet Express Ship in the first five minutes.

But in two years of writing and planning, it seems all that Groening and company could manage was to shoddily fit together call-backs to episodes like “Godfellas,” “The Why of Fry,” “Roswell That Ends Well,” “Space Pilot 3000,” and “Time Keeps On Slippin’.” They had no compunctions about sacrificing creativity in exchange for face time for old minor characters.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I love Futurama and own all of it on DVD. But any medium that merely rehashes and plagiarizes its own content for the sake of fan service deserves to fail. If you’re not innovating, you’re dying.

Big Score does very little new. It borrows from The Terminator and old Star Trek time-travel episodes, concocts a stale paradox theme, throws in an easily-ciphered “twist” involving a new character and then maguffins the hell out of the rest.

Three more movies are planned with unspecified release dates in 2008: The Beast With a Billion Backs, Bender’s Game, and The Wild Green Yonder. I can only hope they do more than slap the Hypnotoad in front of me again.

All glory to the Hypnotoad!