Love, Death & Robots
A review of the Netflix anthology series
I recently found out about the Netflix 2019 anthology series Love, Death & Robots. Created by Tim Miller and executive produced with David Fincher, the show is a compilation of animated shorts made by several different studios, telling sci-fi like stories and concepts on the three point marks that title this project. Here is my personal review of all the series Volume One episodes, in the order I watched them.
Quick note: the reviews may contain minor spoilers for the plot or ending of the episodes.
The Three Robots
Funny, well written, a hell of a pace, concept top notch, great voice acting and simply incredible animation. All time favorite. The idea of three robots revisiting a post-apocalyptic mega city as they are in a vacation adventure, just like when we go to a museum or movies revisit ancient civilization, is out of this world. And how funny it is, like seriously. We get some exposition dialogue that helps us understand a little bit more of how that world is like that, and even more, we got social commentary on war, environmental protection and technology at large. Even though it makes no sense that this robots would not know one thing or two about human life (don’t they have internet to research, cause it seems to have) it don’t bother cause if feels earned to the overall narrative, and being presented like the first episode on this Netflix anthology series, kicks it off the park, hooking us to the whole project at large. So good, so good. And one more thing, it’s the only episode in the series that I felt like my younger godson at the age of nine could watch and crack laugh with me, and that was priceless. The cat jokes are the best.
Beyond the Aquila Rift
This short is full of personality of all things. It immediately hooks your eyes from the amazing realistic animation, and that coming to terms with the fact that we’re talking about outer space reality. The dialogue is not much inventive, following genre cliches, the sex scene is truly well done from an animation standard point. But it lacks substance. The idea is cool, there’s this being probably feeding on lost souls, or whatever, but why? The visuals are stunning, but the story don’t give us a reason to care enough after the credits start rolling. And I’m not asking Nolanesque exposition, just some motivation to the characters and the world of the story at large. Not suitable for kids though. Just too impressionistic.
Again, stunning visuals, but that is the least to say about this Netflix show. The animation is very coherent in this one and the concept is by far the most “childlike imagination” in the series. Fish Night is about the idea of ghost like creatures from a different time haunting the place they once were at, being in a very common American desert of all places, that used to be an ocean thousand, if not millions of years ago, is a great starting point. And we’re left in the end not knowing what really just happened. That can be a great feeling if you’re willing to, but then, all I’m left in the end is thinking the old man is deliriously dreaming, and then there’s no pay off to engaging with the story. It’s a good piece of storytelling in animation, but not great.
Helping Hand is one the bravest episodes in the show. The reality of it makes us believe it could be the real story of a not so famous astronaut. The stakes are placed high at the first beat, and foreshadowing the damage “Gravity” style was really a nice touch. However, lacking the time frame of a Sandra Bullock starred blockbuster, the episode jumps from fourteen minutes left of oxygen to two, and stretches it, again in amazing ways to make us feel like the character. What is unearned is the idea she has to try to save herself, and, even if the execution in this part is on another level, we could have started from like “five minutes left of oxygen” so we could see the story build to its climax. Or, if you want us to be on the journey with the character for fifteen fucking minutes adrift in space waiting for death, show us some philosophical thoughts along the ride and let us see the minutes pan out (in the beginning, I thought this was to happen). Yet, it’s exciting and devastating to see the scenes they made, and how lifelike the animation is here, from all standards. One of the best.
Alternate Histories is a fun little gag that could work wonders by it self, but put in frame with the rest of the show’s better episodes falls kinda flat. The concept of an alternative reality simulator is mind blowing you great, but it’s played for cheap laughs, in a kid like episode that shows some dildos. Considering the overall tone of the show, that seems to question and try to put us on the edge of our seats, this concept could be better explored as a thriller style story to question the multiverse dichotomy of a, in the stance, Hittler-free world. It’s funny and all, but also not believable, so it left me with the same kind of impression as an SNL sketch that falls flat with no social commentary whatsoever. The joke falls flat.
The concept is funny, an Ice Age inside an old mysterious fridge. The visuals are incredible, but the script not that great. First of all, we spent too much time on Topher Grace’s new adventure of living with his girlfriend and nothing with the society inside the fridge, and for that matter, five minutes of Futurama’s episode “Godfellas”, when a whole society rises in Bender the robot’s body, is a better way to explore this concept of a god like being bigger than ourselves watching us. That’s why the story falls flat and even more unrealistic. There’s no wonderment reaction. Topher is like “cool, but normal” to the idea of finding a whole model of our civilization on his fridge. And even if it’s cool and all to see the universe end and start over (again Futurama made it best), there seems to have no logic on time parallels, no worries whatsoever in the only line of the story said by someone inside the fridge civilization, and no explanation to how they got out of ice age without melting down the fridge. It’s funny, but more like a great visual spectacle than it is a sci-fi story.
This is one of the best shorts in the series. The Real Steel kinda film, places us inside the mind of its characters with ease. The stakes are high and the social commentary is acid. The script of course makes use of expository dialogue just to place us on the heart of the story, and from this moment on it then dwells in breathtaking fight scenes with ingenious choreography and creative exploration of the genre. We get to see a ring of beast-like creatures as they fight controlled by human mind, or are them? And then, the amazing behind the curtain scene that raises the stakes each time higher, and puts us on the edge of ourselves as it raises atop the cliches. My only problem though is with the lesbian type scene in the end, that was clearly directed by male filmmakers, which is easily recognizable from the way it is presented to the audience. Almost strong enough to tint an otherwise great piece of filmmaking and animation development, but still not that strong to leave a more poignant impression as the fight sequence.
One of the most real-life-like animated shorts in the whole series, this episode goes all the way into intergalactic wars. The idea of an almost sentient space ship that is also an infinite source for the most superstitious conventions is solid by itself. And the way it’s played for seriousness takes us on the journey with the ship’s crew toward amazing fitting other worldly nature sets. The narration slows the pace a bit in some moments they could had gone with other solutions (show, not tell) but are still necessary in order for us to relate with the characters motivations. And the ending is earned and completes the emotional journey we’ve been through with some mastery.
When the Yogurt took Over
Social commentary on how sentient human creations could be better for ruling humanity than humans themselves. As similar in childlike aesthetics as the Hittler episode, the Yogurt goes beyond what’s expected and delivers a funny alternate reality where we could eventually be ruled by living lactobacillus. And as funny as it is, it’s striking to the attentive mind the critique on ego and selfishness of our current society. What it has on narrative and critique it lacks on its format. The short is narrated from start to finish, and we barely get to hear the characters (several hours after I can only remember some lines delivered by the yogurt), and even though the narration helps establish a ten plus years story in six minutes, it’s also defective for a moment in the minds of the viewer, cause in this case, different than the narration in the Hittler episode, we don’t get to know who’s narrating. What’s the connection of this single guy’s voice to the overall story? That’s the question I’m left with when a funny story with good concept and goofy creativity reaches its end.
The Secret War
This is one of the greats. Simple concept, sort of, the story is top notch and it has amazing fight sequences in big scale. The stakes are high, too many soldiers, villages, and other kind of lives awaiting for the help of one team to save them all. The animation is pretty good, it feels like a game people would love to play on some X-Box, and it feels fresh to the series as it’s not about a dystopian future, rather it’s an alternate past. The short might be one of the greatest war pieces I’ve ever seen in animation, but it felt awkward from the first bit that they would have Russian accent speaking soldiers on the center stage. For a moment it feels like the filmmakers had one question: “how do we humanize the Russian army, that’s so used to be dehumanized by Hollywood?”. And for a moment the answer seems to be: “Let then literally fight against an horde of hell demonic beasts.” Aside from it, it is one of the best.
Sucker of Souls
This could be one of the strongest episodes in the show, and a gret stand alone short film, wasn’t if for the constant alpha male type jokes and the editing of the short. Starting it from the midpoint of the story was a good way to get us hooked, but then, what comes next did not sustained the narrative. It would be better to grow in a slow pace into the concept. Killing the kid was also not a great move, cause it felt like it was just a disposable death, since the other characters did not felt it enough, specially the old doctor, a figure that in cinema is generally attached to its apprentice. And after that the story takes a falling dive into a huge pit of wasted pottential from the concept. Running from a Dracula type creature that hates cats and exploding it, just to go straight into a nest of more beastie creatures. It doesn’t pay off. And why the heck this weird team of researcher plus mercenaries are down into a tomb? What are they looking for? Aside some disposable deaths, what are the stakes for the plot? Even though the begging mix a good horror/action type story, the comedy doesn’t work in the mix and the story lose itself too fast.
It’s impossible to review this one without going through major spoilers. One of the best concepts on the show as a whole, The Witness tells a paradoxal story about a woman who witnessed a murder, and then runs from pursuit of the murderer. What’s brilliant about it is the fact that the murderer only pursues her because she is the woman he killed in the first place. The high stakes is uncany and levarages the story in a constant high note, constant fear and anxiety to try to understand what is going on. And the twist is brilliant. In the end, we see the murderer approaching her, but instead of killing her again, he’s killed by her, in an opus of fear, just to be witnessed by another him. Yeah, it is paradoxal in the best sense of the word and truly conveys a deep approach to sci-fi murder mistery storytelling, in an extreme thrilling pace. Barely no dialogue, it could easily hit perfection, wasn’t for the fact that some scenes are too crowded with concept and shaky cam, making it hard to tell what’s going on sometimes.
A high pitch concept and stunning visuals can barely save this short from the expository monologue that it shows. What makes it better than, for instance, the one with the Yogurt, is the fact that this time we understand the relationship the narrator has with the story. Diving into simple spoilers, this is the story of a machine who learns gradually to apreciate beuty and art, and pursues knowlodge on life through it. This artist, supposed to be one of the greatest in the world, is mistaken for a human by its audience, and that is what gives the story a good twist. And as interesting as the concept and visuals are it suffer for the storytelling choices and honestly, not being as conceputally bold as some of the others. It is a good way to breath if you are binge watching the show, due to the pace of the short, more grounded and slow than other frenetic episodes.
Reinventing the common sense of a genre. Suits takes the Farmer vs Alien long term story into another level. In this futuristic alien planet, farmers take care of their herd of cows and have a contant relation of fight with alien like predators on the land. The short captures into near perfection the tropes of the genre, and the relationships between villagers and families like few movies could. And OMG, how exciting it was to get to see those suits, gigantic Avatar style robot warriors filled to the bone with the most exciting warcrat ammunition. The fight sequences are amazing, the sacrifices feel earned and the development of the story and revelation of twists go another level. The characters are very well developed in little time through simple characteristics, which mirrors cliches with a new take on it. And I simply roudy in the climax of the story, taken in honest wonder for something I did not saw coming.
Funny and all, nice way of keepig Otto a good reveal in the end, but, hard to get what the story is truly trying to say about the world it created. In The Dump, the main character is an old crazy man who lives on a trashy little house in the midst of a city dump that is supposed to be put to the ground by some bug corp who wants to build skyscrappers. It’s Pixar’s UP premise, but much more disgusting. Everything turns good to the old man in the end, since he pets a dump monster that litteraly eats his opposing force, a government agent who just wants the man to leave those lands. The mesage seems to be that the man made his home in this dump and has never been happier anywhere else, but the reason why is unclear. As such, nothing about the story seems to cling in the end, except the gross imagery of both the dump itself and some old man’s hanging dildo.
One more revisionist history on the show, the Goog Hunting episode takes the dychotomy of technology vs magic as it’s pattern frame and reinvent the early 20th century industrial development to suport the idea of automatos, humans and magical creature dwelling together in a misognist male dominant world. The set of England collony China is breathtaking as the shows evolves and tells a heartbreaking story of love, suffering and revenge. The concept is beautiful yet complex, but the filmmakers found ways to explain it in simple few exposition narration and centered the story in the feelings between a young boy that raises to become a kind man, and a magical creature that walks toward a different destiny in this magicless world. The visuals are stunning and the recreation of the period is precise, even when the animators travel the less historical accurate road to rethink some of the possibilities of a definitely alternate history take.
A robot heist team, high stakes deaths and awesome car chase-fight sequences. The team ansemble feels so organic, showcasing a great chemistry and care for each other in the midst of the whole plot. The plot is simple enough that no one would feel lost in the story and the endind feels honest to the whole story. The “Rookie” character is also a great way to engage the audience to the story, since we get to be as surprised as he is and see the development through his eyes, even if it feels like he is not the protagonist, it’s him that we relate with the most. To make it better, it’s simply a matter of turning it into a feature film, Baby Driver meets Terminator style. And this shit is funny, trully funny.
The last episode I’ve watched in the series is also one of the most poignant of all. A critique on war at Iraq and on the way the US Army treated the “different” ones. Wether on purpose or not, the short film brings the topic in a deep analysis. Disppite that or not, it showcases an American war on the middle east, and two characters with Werewolf like habilities, the shape-shifters. The story holds well together the simple premise of the overall plot, while dives into building a deep relationship between the tittle characters and their troubled mere existence in the army. And we’re set to stunning visuals of life-like animation, in an arc that feels like a game on strategy. The fight sequences are graphic and really well played, with amazing choreography and high stakes. The overall conclusion feels earned even if cliche, which is enough to place it a little far from perfection, but nothing that harms the experience and engaging with the characters and the story. And it’s probably the only episode that feels like set in ourtimes, not a past so far away, nor a dystopian future. That’s also a win.
That ends our journey through the first season of Neflix anthology series Love, Death & Robots. The overall series hits high notes and stakes, showing animated short stories that are both stunning and breathtaking, making it worth to engage and spend time with the series. And by the end of it all, I’m excited about more storie and characters in sseason two.