Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

This latest film in the Futurama series is the second of several direct-to-DVD offerings which will precede the series return to the air. The follows the events of the previous, in which the Earth was purchased by an evil alien nudist, but was eventually thwarted by Bender. Beast with a Billion Backs opens with a massive tear opening in space. Though everyone is initially frightened of the event, they quickly move on with their lives as if nothing has happened. This is testament to the characters in Futurama. They are greatly exaggerated satires on modern people. They can be terrified to the point of hysteria and pa

ranoia one moment and then non chalant and unconcerned about a crisis level event the next.

There are many topics that can be covered in this film. In the tradition of other modern animated satires, this one covers a lot of ground in terms of sociology, politics, environmentalism, and science. However, where it hits is strongest suits here appear to be in the areas of art and culture and in the realm of religion and science.

Quoting the Classics

There are many scenes in the film that evoke other pieces of media. Since the film features so many tentacles, it immediately brings back 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This is especially true of scenes where the tentacles are engulfing or otherwise attacking space ships. This is not something that is as explicitly done as in other cases. It also isn’t the type of image that many members of the film’s audience are going to pick up on exactly. Many might mistake it for Moby Dick or something similar. The fact remains, though, that 20,000 Leagues is a piece of the root mythology of the modern era that has informed many of the ‘fantastic voyage’ literature that has followed. Those pieces were vital in influencing the creation of Futurama.

The scenes in which the tentacles begin to take over the universe are also representative of The War of the Worlds, and its later incarnations. The tentacles themselves evoke the book, but the fear and flight of the characters also bring up the same tones. These scenes are brief, but they are enough to further borrow from previous texts.

The film goes on to quote the Bible. When all the people in the universe are summoned to to live in eternal bliss in the other universe with the creature known as Yivo, their lives become hedonistic and carefree. They eat as they please, have sex as they please, and all that they desire is provided for them. When Fry’s indiscretions lead them to be cast off the planet, it rings of the fall of man. Fry and Leela and their entire universe become Adam and Eve. Parodies of the Bible are a specialty of Matt Groening, so this was no surprise.

Tentaculum Pontifex

The creature Yivo is a planet-sized mass of tentacles and gas. He is depicted as being god-like, able to produce objects at will. His body is populated by ‘angels,’ which are a type of bird which eat the parasites that grow on him. They just so happen to be identical to the classical interpretation of the angel. The film goes a step further than this, when Yivo says explicitly that he has had his eyes on our sexy universe for a while, and even inserted his own influence into it (like the idea of angels populating a cloudy Heaven.) The clouds, in this case, are sweet smelling gases that Yivo exerts as part of his respiration.

Yivo is a singular entity who is ultimately lonely. It was his desire for company that lead to his bringing all of humanity to him. God, classically, had a similar motive in creating life in the universe. This religious comparison continues with the fact that Yivo so closely resembles popular conceptions of the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster.’ This creature, FSM, is a popular parody of God. In the unending argument between evolutionists and creationists, a recent argument speculates that since the universe is so magnificent and perfect in its complexity, there must be some manner of ‘intelligent design’ behind it. The FSM is that intelligent creator, according to critics of creationism and intelligent design. He is quite simply just a mass of tentacles, a non-humanoid pulp alien stand-in used to mock the religious claims of evolutionary intent. Yivo very closely resembles this idea, and it adds an incredibly clever modern edge to this religious summary.

The allegory continues as Bender goes to all the trouble of enlisting the aid of the Robot Devil in his plans. In exchange for his first born, which he freely gives, Bender receives a host of evil robots from Robot Hell to help conquer the Earth. Unfortunately, the humans have already departed for Yivo’s universe, so they don’t care. Bender, then, becomes a stand in for Satan, or the snake, as he and his robot brethren lead an invasion of Heaven to rescue their friends. It was Fry’s love of Bender that provoked him to break Yivo’s only rule– he made contact with his old universe. This ended Fry’s career as the Tentacle Pope and cast him and his friends out of the spaghetti Eden.

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Universes

Another unusual theme covered in this film is the idea of polyandry. Yivo being in love with every individual from our universe is so weird and out of the park that it becomes pretty meaningless. A more succinct discussion of love occurs on the human level. At the beginning of the film, Amy Wong marries her long time lover Kiff Kroeker. Their marital bliss is highlighted by trouble, as the Human from Mars and the weird swamp frog alien try to mesh their two wildly divergent families. The Wong parents are rich Chinese ranchers from Mars, and the Kroekers are intelligent clouds of buzzing insects.

At one point, Kiff is killed horribly in an accident and Amy is left broken and alone. She turns for comfort to several others– Zapp Brannigan and Yivo. This highlights that even though love can be eternal– people often move on without much problem at all. Fry has a dilemma of his own. He meets a great young woman named Colleen. She is the perfect girl for him and he eventually decides to move in with her. Everyone is happy for the couple, as they appear to have found the ideal young love that everyone desires. Unfortunately for Fry, Colleen is a polygamist. She has four other husbands– a jock, an African, an Asian, and a Jewish man. She says she loves all of them, and they live together in her apartment. Polyandry, the practice of marrying multiple husbands, is extremely rare in human society. Outside of a few select groups, the vast majority of polygamist unions involve multiple wives.

Fry is naturally bothered by this arrangement. He rejects it at first, but soon after he reluctantly accepts and becomes Colleen’s fifth husband. Their domestic situation is taken through its paces as the various husbands try to make solicitous comments to Colleen, only to have them be misdirected to one of their cohusbands.

Futurama has always been a very forward thinking satire. This might be because of its lineage, being a pseudo-spin off of The Simpsons, and it might also be its science fiction roots. In any case, this film shows the depth of both the animated film and science fiction as strong satire pieces in new media and modern media.

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