With two of four Futurama movies now behind me, I think I have the formula figured out. If the first flick -- the very amusing Bender's Big Score! -- was a patchwork and episodic affair, then at least it was a choppy good time. It was great seeing the old Planet Express crew in their resurrected form, but since the film was made with perforations ... it was a little bit of a mess. (Basically, each of the four new Futurama flicks were made to be split into four television episodes apiece. And it really shows.)

So there's my biggest and most basic complaint about Bender's Big Score! and doubly so for Movie #2: The Beast With a Billion Backs. That the writers and producers were asked to create four modular-style movies when the fans were pretty much expecting "normal" movies. The kind with three cohesive acts and what-not. Such is definitely not the case with the first two Futurama flicks -- and I expect that it's a slight malady that will continue across Bender's Game and Into the Wild Green Yonder.

So with that obvious complaint out of the way, I can also say that Futurama Movie #2 is really funny, chock-full of unexpected surprises, stunningly animated, and an absolute treat for the old-school fans. If the movie feels more like four inter-connected mini-stories than one big "movie movie," then oh well. It's still great to see the Futurama gang back in action. Especially because they're still so damn funny.

Beholden to about six roving subplots, the bulk of Beast focuses on a planet-sized tentacle beast who falls madly in love with Planet Earth ... and its trillions of inhabitants. Each person gets one tentacle. Krazy-glued around this certifiably weird (but very funny) plot are several B stories that the fans should enjoy: Kif and Amy take their relationship in a direction both romantic and tragic; good ol' Fry is desperate to find a mate, which leads to all sorts of cosmic confusion; Bender joins a secret sect of snooty robots; and lots of freaky ol' friends stop by for some chuckles. (Am I the only one who thinks Hedonismbot is freakin' hilarious?) Plus the legendary Zapp Brannigan has a relatively meaty supporting role, and that's always a good thing.

It's also worth noting that the Futurama writers have apparently gone insane. (In a good way.) As a series, Futurama has sometimes gone to some strange and disgusting places (like, um, the inside of Fry's colon), but Beast sets a new standard for Futurama freakiness. Even as the flick's final act throws some sly jabs at conformity, romance and religion, one may be taken aback by how ... weird ... this maxi-episode actually is. How our heroes end up in heaven for the big finale is anybody's guess, but I was both puzzled and supremely amused by how absurd the writers would go for a laugh. (But, as always where Matt Groening's concoctions are concerned, it's absurdity mixed with intelligence. Absurdity by itself is often pretty laborious.)

Then again, you are reading the ravings of an unabashed Futurama fanatic who loves even the lame episodes (like the one where Bender turns into a were-car), so perhaps I'm just biased -- but if The Beast With a Billion Backs didn't make me laugh, I'd definitely say so. For all its construction flaws, and yes they're fairly evident, this video-flick / upcoming episode compilation is really a lot of fun.

And of course the DVD is stocked! I may have griped about the episodic nature of these movies, but they're definitely cinematic in one respect: They're w i d e s c r e e n and they look freakin' fantastic. Audio is equally sterling: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and quite lovely. As expected from any Futurama DVD product, there is a full-length audio commentary with no less than 11 cast & crew members that the fans will (of course) dig at least once -- and then there's a damn solid cavalcade of extra treats:

The Lost Adventure is a nifty 30-minute collection of "cut scenes" from the old Futurama Xbox game, which I bought but never finished. So this is great! (And yep, another audio commentary is included here, a particularly fun one for video game geeks.) Also included are six deleted scenes, a storyboard animatic, an amusing two-minute piece on the always-funny David Cross (I wanted to leave his participation in the flick a surprise, alas), a great collection of voice-booth bloopers, a quick conversation with some of the 3-D animators, a brief history of Deathball (heh), and a sneak peek at Futurama Movie #3: The Tolkien-lookin' Bender's Game.

Woohoo! Like I have something better to spend $20 on than this DVD. (Seriously, I don't.) But if you're a Futurama newbie, I'd definitely start with S1 and S2. These flicks are for the wackos who know the difference between Morbo, Calculon, and Wernstrom.