First Class execution for some half-decent concepts
You might have missed the frenzy around animated series Love, Death & Robots, the latest production from director David Fincher and visual effects maestro Tim Miller. Described by some as an animated anthology, each episode in this Netflix original is animated by a different crew. I’ll be honest, the series started off quite strong. I’ve enjoyed watching it and do not consider it a waste of my time. Yet, it left me far from convinced and frankly quite conflicted. The issue with anthologies is that they are often inconsistent, at times bordering on boring. Five episodes into this series I was quite glad the format was limited to 20 minutes in length. On the plus side, the dragging episodes make up for heightened appreciation when a good episode comes along.
With an ominous Black Mirror-type opening title sequence, most episodes do live up to the chilling, dystopian promise. The series is as much an anthology of short sci-fi stories as it is a collection of animation styles. If some stories were a little disappointing, it is definitely not down to the animation. The production team pulls no punches. The animation is the most well executed part of the series. "Sonnie’s Edge" and "Three Robots" open the series with meticulous 3D modelling that would not look out of place on the silver screen. "The Witness" is simultaneously vibrant and bleak. Even the less artistically inspired episodes are at least competent. Though I reserve my judgement on "Sucker of Souls" - I can't tell if the tumblr-artist-imitating-Japanese-anime look is intentional.
The soundscape is another aspect well-handled. It’s haunting when it wants to be, and calming the next minute. "Three Robots" manages to balance cosy, light-hearted, sleek, and haunting all at the same time. "The Witness" is again exceptional, using Tommy Four Seven’s industrial techno that syncs all too well with the rhythmic editing and sharp composition. Without the excellent soundtrack, there’s no way the episodes could be so aesthetically diverse on the merit of the writing alone.
This is not to say the writers didn’t do a good job. Phillip Gelatt, who wrote the script for 16 out of 18 episodes, develops the characters as best he could in the limited timeframe he’s given, and the pacing works for the most part. However, quite a few episodes still fall flat. Part of that might be down to the mediocrity of the stories they’re adapted from. I’ll let you be the judge of that. As for readers who’d rather skip to the good bit, you can pick and choose with individual mini reviews below. Choose wisely.
Sonnie’s Edge ★★★★☆
What is it about this female revenge story written by men that feels superficial and objectifying? I see it’s the hyper-sexualisation of lesbianism, which as it turns out is not even genuine, and an unnecessary twist that takes away its own thematic edge. An enjoyable, thrilling ride nonetheless. Content warning: Mention of gang rape.
Three Robots ★★★★☆
A genuinely funny and disarming tale denouncing human folly. The triangle robot’s little climate change monologue at the end took away some of the subtlety though.
The Witness ★★★★★
"The Witness" is what you get when you combine a nightmarish Triangle-like plot with kinetic animation, reminiscent of the recent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. You can feel the characters’ racing hearts pounding through the screen.
Imagine American farmers protecting their farmlands with Gundam-style mobile suits. It makes for a decent idea to pitch to your friends when you’re lying on a couch at two in the morning, but it’s not worth fleshing out. It only gets worse when you realise the heroes are really colonisers on a new planet.
Sucker of Souls ★☆☆☆☆
If you take the action sequence out of an adventure movie, you get "Sucker of Souls". You don’t get invested in any of the characters, or their quest. It plunges you straight into the thick of it, which to be honest, isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.
When the Yogurt Took Over ★★★★☆
One of the weirder ones out of the collection and definitely one of the best. I went into this expecting it to unfold into a cheesy dystopian story but it turned out to be ever so slightly anticlimactic in the best possible way.
Beyond the Aquila Rift ★★★★★
Haunting, melancholic, and atmospheric. Alastair Reynolds’s harrowing tale is enhanced by the disturbing graphics.
Good Hunting ★★★☆☆
An anti-colonial story weaving together steampunk and Chinese fantasy. The story works but lacks impact. And for all its intersectional feminist virtue-signalling, this episode sure relishes in gratuitous nudity.
The Dump ★★★☆☆
Slightly more dragged out than I’d care to sit through, "The Dump" is lighthearted but not all too exciting.
A war story at its core, "Shape-Shifters" attempts to address the brutality of war and the hypocrisy of the military but ultimately falls short.
Helping Hand ★★★☆☆
Gravity in 10 minutes. Although it tries to make it adult by introducing gore (as most episodes in the series have), the story lacks tension and gravity.
Fish Night ★★★★☆
"Fish Night" has the enigmatic dreamlike quality of a Studio Ghibli film. With no specific purpose or direction, it’s satisfying just to go with the flow.
Lucky 13 ★★★☆☆
"Lucky 13" is a touching story about a pilot and her dropship. There’s nothing particularly sci-fi about it though, apart from one mention of terraforming stations.
Zima Blue ★★★★☆
One of the more visually striking episodes, "Zima Blue" hits viewers with some memorable existential musings. However, setting up Zima Blue’s backstory only to immediately tear it down with a twist is perhaps not the smartest way to order the narrative.
Another aimless action sequence with no more characterisation and plot than "Sucker of Souls".
Ice Age ★★★★☆
A fascinating idea to begin with, "Ice Age" keeps you hooked, even if only for its sober reflection on human civilisation.
Alternate Histories ★★★★☆
A humorous take on a time-travel classic – what if Hitler died before WWI? An absolute meme of an episode, the animated short is packed full of laugh-out-loud jokes and political jabs.
The Secret War ★★★☆☆
This is an episode that looks and sounds like a video game trailer. It was no surprise then for me to find seven Assassin’s Creed trailers in director István Zorkóczy’s filmography. It’s grim but nothing too surprising. Three stars for featuring Siberia.
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