On DVD: Futurama: Bender's Game

One of the joys of any Futurama outing is that moment when something strikes you as so surprisingly funny that you give a little shriek as you laugh. For me -- who almost got kicked out of her first Dungeons & Dragons game for making fun of the "Boots of Striding" -- it's when a newly D&D-obsessed Bender announces importantly, "I go not by the name of Bender ... I am Titanius Englesmith, Fancy-Man of Cornwood!" Between the sheer silliness of the title and voice actor John DiMaggio's delivery, it manages to sum up everything that's dorky about role-playing games in one short, hilarious sentence.

The Futurama writers have always been geniuses at mixing the crude with the arcane, combining humor that's brilliantly geeky with pure silliness. In Futurama: Bender's Game, their third post-series feature, they skewer the U.S. gas crisis, Lord of the Rings, D&D, and even take a swipe at the Twilight Zone. It's a far more satisfying (i.e., truely Futurama-ian) feature than its predecessor, the disappointing Beast with a Billion Backs, with the sort of wall-to-wall gags that made the original Fox series really sing. In other words, not every the joke works, but if you wait a few seconds, a better one is sure to come along.

The plot of Bender's Game is as convoluted as one should expect from Futurama. After a delightful opening sequence that, for no good reason whatsoever, pays homage to Yellow Submarine, the Planet Express crew find themselves investigating a universe-wide shortage of dark matter -- used as spaceship fuel -- which is controlled by the evil corporate overlord Mom. Meanwhile, Bender finds himself so taken with Dungeons & Dragons that he's sent to a mental hospital for robots, the HAL Institute, and ultimately drags everyone into his delusion via an alternate dimension where Leela's a centaur, Hermes is "Hermaphrodite, the most beauteous of centaurs," Dr. Zoiberg is a dungeon-dwelling monster, and Amy is transformed into sexy "Gynecaladriel, the Water Nympho."

The last third of the film (each Futurama feature is created with a stricty three-act structure for future use as half-hour episodes) is the geekiest and, admittedly, the funniest, with the D&D references intertwined with a Lord of the Rings parody that's full of the sort of crude-funny jokes that the show does best. (Leela: "Is that a hobbit over there?" Prof. Farnsworth: "No, it's a hobo and a rabbit. But they're making a hobbit.") Between mocking the beloved Peter Jackson trilogy, commenting on the U.S. gas crisis and digging back into the 1980s scare that D&D would make kids into satanists or serial killers -- anyone else remember the TV movie Mazes and Monsters, starring 26-year-old Tom Hanks as a college role-player gone mad? -- the targets are all over the place, but the jokes are still sharp.

As befits an entry this geeky, the DVD from Fox Home Video offers a featurette titled D&D&F: Dungeons & Dragons & Futurama, in which creator David X. Cohen and with writers Mike Kaplan and Mike Rowe talk about their experiences with role-playing games. (Basically, Cohen and Rowe are longtime gamers, while Rowe tries to stay awake during the discussion when not beating the chainmail-clad Kaplan with a baseball bat.)

Other extras include a fun commentary track with creator Matt Groening and members of the cast and crew; some animatics (animated storyboards); deleted scenes; a cool "blooper reel" that's actually video of the voice actors in the studio, flubbing their lines; a funny anti-piracy message from Bender; and the Futurama Genetics Lab, where you can mix and match characters' parts. There's also a short trailer for the next Futurama feature, Into The Wild Green Yonder.

Dawn Taylor has Futurama to thank for introducing the phrase "bite my shiny metal ass" into her everyday lexicon.