Right off the bat, a nitpick: Why no Oxford comma, Netflix?
During my young-adult years I frequented Cinema 21, the best-known at the time of the arthouse theaters in Portland Oregon. Among their regular attractions were the various animation festivals, such as Spike & Mike’s (who are apparently still at it, go figure). You’d get all sorts of weird, wonderful, and occasionally dark fare. Not all of it worked for everybody but there was usually something for everybody.
I also discovered the Japanese animated anthology film (technically an OVA but I didn’t know that at the time), Robot Carnival, during this period. It had robots, it had weird artsy ideas, it had funny bits, what more could I want?
Netflix recently announced their anthology series, Love, Death & Robots. The advertisement was intense. The buzz was… loud, I guess. Sci-Fi! Action! Humor! Wacky hijinx! Naked (albeit CGI) boobies! It seemed like something the arthouse animation-festival-going side of me would enjoy immensely, not to mention the appeal to the guy who nearly wore out a VHS copy of Robot Carnival.
So, why didn’t I enjoy it immensely?
Maybe I just got too old for this stuff. For all the high-end cutting-edge technology on display, several of the creators involved got too carried away with the fact that they were going to get to show grotesque horrors, naked women, or both in the same short film. Sometimes simultaneously. Which could have been fine in and of itself, but out of 18 short films fully one third were off-puttingly violent and gory (not to mention, in several cases, spectacularly brutal to the female characters).
And then there’s “The Dump” where we see a gangly old man with his pants down around his ankles, among other things. Deep sigh.
We’re also living in an age where everything’s 3D-animated already. It’s not like in my arthouse movie days when computer-generated animation was super primitive. (Go watch The Mind’s Eye videos if you don’t believe me.) Among other things, this means that you can’t really get a “wow” out of the audience with technology alone. It’s all in how you use it. Apparently, “how you use it” boils down for some folks to “super maximum-resolution gore, plus high-polygon boobies.” Hmm.
On the upside, one sixth of the anthology’s film count is made up of adaptations of John Scalzi short stories. No bonus points for guessing that these (“Three Robots,” “When the Yogurt Took Over,” and “Alternate Histories”) provide a sizeable percentage of the fun to be had in the entire run time of the series.
I got a kick out of “Suits” as well, featuring farmers with home-built mechs defending their homes against alien invasion.
Of the military sci-fi available, my favorite was definitely “Lucky 13.” My least favorite was “Shape-shifters,” which… was adapted from work by the same author as “Lucky 13.” Huh. Well, one of the two short films told a story, the other just kind of… showed us things happening. Maybe it just wasn’t for me.
The arty-est of the art films on offer here are the vivid and poignant “Zima Blue,” and the weird, beautiful, and disturbing “Fish Night.” And on the improbably weird but still rather adorable side, there’s “Ice Age,” about a tiny civilization living in an ancient icebox. I’ll also give points to “Good Hunting,” which I would kind of like to see expanded into a feature or short series or something. Vigilante shape-shifting robot-bodied mythological creature in a steampunk China? Yes, more of that.
Right near the end, a quibble: Shouldn’t there have been more robots in an anthology with the word “robots” right there in the name? Mind you, should’ve been more love, too. “Death, Robots & Love” might not have sold as well, I suppose.
Should you watch this anthology series? Eh. If you don’t find the gore and violence of a lot of the entries off-putting, then yes. There’s some good fun to be had here and some clever spectacle along the way. There’s some serious nightmare fuel as well (“Beyond the Aquila Rift,” especially) so… be warned.
As for me, I’m going to go spin up my DVD copy of Robot Carnival…