Binge or Purge?: Love, Death + Robots.
Netflix‘s new anthology of science fiction shorts flexes its visual muscles but often lacks the storytelling skeleton for a heavy lift.
Love, Death + Robots is the latest sci-fi anthology to hit the streaming market. What separates it from other series such as Electric Dreams is twofold: it is comprised of short, mixed media films, and it is decidedly NSFW. That last bit tends to really hurt the series. Science fiction is at its best when it is pushing boundaries and asking questions, but just slapping nudity and gore into a cartoon isn’t exactly mind blowing any more.
At run times ranging from 14 minutes to 6 minutes, you’re not being asked to make a big commitment. Like other anthologies (Dark Mirror etc) each episode is a new story, so you can pick and choose your poison. The variety of styles and subjects is a welcome addition. The variety in quality…not so much.
Episode 5: Sucker of Souls.
A trio of mercenaries are hired to safeguard an archeologist and his young assistant as they sift through the ruins of a subterranean stronghold. Unfortunately, the mercs are not appropriately armed for the ancient owner of the stronghold: Vlad the Impaler. His friends call him Dracula for short.
The animation for this short is fluid, bright, and energetic. That’s about all I’ve got positive to say about this episode. The need to be edgy is apparent as soon as we meet the recently revived Dracula, whose twig and berries are swinging in the breeze. The mercs have mouths on them, as they’re a trio of crude and crass customers. There’s a story wrinkle that Dracula hates cats because eating them causes him intense pain. It only exists for the sake of the obvious “eating pussy” joke. There’s nothing interesting done with the premise, and it’s over as soon as the creator has run out of dirty jokes to make.
Episode 6: When the Yogurt Took Over.
A voice narration explains how a DNA splicing mishap led to humble Yogurt to become sentient. Evolving rapidly, it soon discovers the solutions to all of mankind’s problems…but the people in charge are too inept to recognize that the former breakfast food is now their genetic superior.
This is the shortest of the shorts, at a breezy 6 minutes. The stop motion style animation is delightful (even when it sneaks in the obligatory nudity). The story is sharp and funny, narrated by Maurice LaMarche (Brain of Pinky and the Brain fame), and gives you just enough science fiction to get your imagination flowing without overstaying its welcome.
Episode 11: Helping Hand.
An astronaut is forced to make a solo spacewalk when her company cuts costs on repair missions. A rogue piece of debris strikes her, propelling her away from the shuttle. Low on oxygen and options, she has to make some very grim choices to survive.
Helping Hand is one impressive bit of tech. The CG is seamless; it’s the quality of animation you’d normally associate with a big budget film. The story is fine, ably constructed and executed, but it’s cribbing heavily from other films. It’s basically an R-rated version of Gravity. Besides that, it’s well done.
Binge or Purge?
This was a close call. Love, Death + Robots should be complete catnip for me. I love science fiction, I love short films, and I love animation. The fact that it’s so tacky in its relentless quest to be edgy put a sour taste in my mouth. Ultimately, what salvaged the show for me was the showcase of technical prowess. The animation, digital work, traditional techniques, and mixed media are in top form. Even when the story is so-so, the visuals are great.
I’d give Love, Death + Robots a provisional Binge. I’m interested enough to watch three more episodes (at around ten minutes each, it’s not really a big commitment.) If my second batch of films has the same ration of one excellent, one solid, and one clunker, I’d be happy with my investment. I’m hopeful that interest in short film anthologies blossoms and that a second season of this show irons out the kinks. And the kink.