Reviews of Love, Death & Robots (2019) and related work

Love, Death & Robots (2019Moving picture)

Seen in 2020.

A compilation of animated shorts.

moving picture animation fiction series

“Three Robots” (2019Moving picture, 12 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Three robots derived from household items tour the post-apocalypse and talk shit about humans.

Based on a John Scalzi short. I wonder whether the original also refers to Matthew Inman & co.’s inane Exploding Kittens.

References here: “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” (2022).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Beyond the Aquila Rift” (2019Moving picture, 17 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The character animation still looks as loose as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005), including the sex scene, but it’s Alastair Reynolds.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Ice Age” (2019Moving picture, 15 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A couple find a miniature wooly mammoth in an ice cube in their new home’s old freezer.

It reminds me of the 1995 adaptation of Sandkings (1979), but it doesn’t have any depth; it’s very much a fantasy without extrapolation.

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“Sonnie’s Edge” (2019Moving picture, 17 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Altered Carbon (2002) meets Pacific Rim (2013).

moving picture entry animation fiction cyberpunk

“When the Yogurt Took Over” (2019Moving picture, 6 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Scalzi gloated to a friend that even this, perhaps his worst story, had been optioned for an adaptation. The adaptation is in the style of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), a case of imitation without ambition.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“The Secret War” (2019Moving picture, 16 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The creatures are almost Lovecraft’s ghouls from “The Rats in the Walls” (1924), but turn out to be mere demons. The Russians are almost Delta Green’s version of SMERSH, but turn out to be completely generic tough guys. The visual execution is that of a US shoot-’em-up video game. It is especially wasteful to have the Siberian sinkhole lead nowhere interesting.

References here: “Lucky 13” (2019), “The Tall Grass” (2021).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Sucker of Souls” (2019Moving picture, 13 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Scholars and mercenaries find a version of Dracula (1897).

Some neat character designs and animation, but everything else is mediocre.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“The Witness” (2019Moving picture, 12 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

An exotic dancer sees a murder across the street of the megacity. The killer recognizes her.

The script is dumb but the implementation isn’t bad.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Suits” (2019Moving picture, 15 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The beautiful visual design work makes the unusual influences blend: Scrappy US mecha, Starship Troopers aliens, video-game violence and a ludicrous premise, where people still raise cows for slaughter on some far-future world where cows are grossly maladapted.

References here: Arcane (2021).

moving picture entry animation mecha fiction

“Good Hunting” (2019Moving picture, 17 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A colonial steampunk “Blood: The Last Vampire” (2000), set up like a superhero origin story.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“The Dump” (2019Moving picture, 11 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

References here: “Mason’s Rats” (2022).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Shape-Shifters” (2019Moving picture, 16 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Relatively well conceived for a modern fantasy action piece. It alludes to Dog Soldiers (2002) and has the inherent, glaring implausibility of the werewolf myth, but the script skillfully weaves werewolves living openly (a homosexuality metaphor) into the culture of competence, machismo and terror in the films of the War on Terror, such as The Hurt Locker (2008). This works because the US army has a long-standing infatuation with unintellectual warrior cultures, to such an extent that it probably would hire werewolves to spot snipers if it could. The Afghan werewolves don’t fit into this thematic structure—the Taliban would surely persecute them—and the animation is boring.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Fish Night” (2019Moving picture, 10 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Palaeontoloical ghosts.

An intelligent fusion of a conservative anti-transgression ghost story with a joyful and dysteleological fantasy of nature.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Helping Hand” (2019Moving picture, 15 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The ambition was a simple hard-SF scenario, touching on the “mistreated working class in outer space” motif. That’s a good ambition, but the writers neither bothered with realistic precautionary measures (i.e. rope, anchoring, remote control), nor understood what would happen to a naked limb in a vacuum. Such ignorance is common and often deliberate in straight-up horror, but not in hard SF.

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“Alternate Histories” (2019Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The plot could have been a late entry to the Merrie Melodies (1931). It’s gleefully Hitler-centric and in that way a metafictive comment on alternate history, with a couple of good ideas hidden away in its cartoon logic.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Lucky 13” (2019Moving picture, 15 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Some neat designs and animation, but dehumanizing video-game violence takes the place of any driving idea, as in “The Secret War” (2019).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Blind Spot” (2019Moving picture, 9 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Boring writing and animation in this US pastiche of Kawajiri Yoshiaki.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Zima Blue” (2019Moving picture, 15 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

It’s based on one of Alastair Reynolds’s short stories, and it has that classic SF short-story vibe, but the concept is largely nonsensical: A pool-cleaning robot becomes a sort of R. Daneel Olivaw figure, then a mimetic 2D artist, then a non-mimetic landscape artist like a future Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and then finally it reverts back to its pool-cleaning original version. As a game with telos, it doesn’t make sense, because it isn’t clear that the robot was actually programmed for Zima Blue; it seems to have been mere imprinting for no apparent reason. There is more sense in Rick’s remark to his latest creation that “You pass butter” in Rick and Morty (2013), which also has better character design and animation.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Automated Customer Service” (2021Moving picture, 12 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

An old lady’s Vacuubot goes into purge mode.

References here: Big Bug (2022).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Ice” (2021Moving picture, 13 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Frostwhales and genetically modified youth on a colony world.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Pop Squad” (2021Moving picture, 18 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

An adaptation of “Pop Squad” (2006). The visual design is clearly patterned after Blade Runner (1982), and it looks great. Unfortunately, the script pulls out the emotion and widens the plot holes of the original story instead of paving them.

References here: “Swarm” (2022).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Snow in the Desert” (2021Moving picture, 18 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

An immortal albino with a bounty on his testicles hides on a desert planet.

The story is mostly colour-coded nonsense, but the 3D animation looks as good as Avatar (2009) on what I’m sure is a tiny fraction of the budget.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“The Tall Grass” (2021Moving picture, 11 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A bookish man steps off a train when the engine loses steam on a wide plain of tall grass.

Another story like “The Secret War” (2019) but more stylized, with a protagonist who looks like H. P. Lovecraft without the chin. The ending is typical of the genre: The conductor indicates that the ongoing problem will continue to get worse, but nonsensically asks the main character to keep quiet about it.

Actively denying causality would diminish the narrative, but taking action on the assumption of causality would bring the narrative into alternate-history territory as opposed to a more idle fantasy. The writer lamely attempts to balance the two, achieving nothing.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“All Through the House” (2021Moving picture, 7 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Santa Claus is a Lovecraftian horror.

Neatly composed, with fine claymation-style character design. The joke doesn’t really land, but it is pretty clever.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Life Hutch” (2021Moving picture, 13 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The pilot of a space bomber is marooned and seeks shelter in a “life hutch” where the maintenance robot is out of order.

A series of competently executed but empty clichés, most prominently the idea that far-future wars in space should look like Star Wars (1977).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“The Drowned Giant” (2021Moving picture, 13 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A giant, with the relative proportions of an ordinary man, washes up on an English beach.

Well executed but idly written fabulism. For a better short piece on scale in fantasy, see “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule” (1984).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Three Robots: Exit Strategies” (2022Moving picture, 10 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A sequel to “Three Robots” (2019).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Bad Travelling” (2022Moving picture, 21 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A big psychic crab climbs on board a ship that’s hunting jable sharks.

A series of moral dilemmas centered on a trolley problem. Stylized dramatic stand-offs with good animation. The character designs are unpleasant and I don’t think the story makes sense: The thanapod or death-foot crab is obviously able to traverse open water, and intelligent, which makes sense for an aquatic apex predator, but on the other hand, it’s apparently r-selected, stupid, gullible, and supernaturally able to defy gravity, yet dependent on humans to ferry it around. I like the detail that jable sharks are hunted for their oil like right whales were, but I dislike the obviously low security of the hold, where a light is apparently kept burning in the stairwell at all hours, while the oil is both flammable and explosive.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“The Very Pulse of the Machine” (2022Moving picture, 17 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kivelson takes drugs to make it through a rough patch on Io.

Bad voice acting, a dubious screenplay (adaptation) preserving the Romantic poets, and partly wonky cel-style 3D CGI that looks too clean for the subject matter. I could not tell whether the chest plates were really intended to bend so freely; it looks more like lazy rigging. More importantly, the excellent sound design and score raise the familiar story to a level worthy of Michael Swanwick, the original author. It feels numinous, like good Arthur C. Clarke.

moving picture entry animation Japanese production fiction

“Night of the Mini Dead” (2022Moving picture, 7 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

There may not be a point to the bokeh-heavy faux-miniature style, but it’s cute.

moving picture entry zombie animation fiction

“Kill Team Kill” (2022Moving picture, 13 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Army badasses battle black CIA projects in Afghanistan.

A clever, warmly animated action comedy, parodying Commando (1985), Predator (1987) etc.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Swarm” (2022Moving picture, 17 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

An adaptation of “Swarm” (1982). It doesn’t miss the point like “Pop Squad” (2021), but it still feels watered down. The Investors are generically droopy Rick and Morty (2013) aliens instead of looking like Brian Froud’s Skeksis in The Dark Crystal (1982), which is what I pictured when I read “Spider Rose” (1982). The coldly lit, sparsely populated interior of the asteroid does not capture the jungle-like richness of the original, the dialogue glosses over the role of intelligence in the Swarm, and there is no sense whatsoever of Sterling’s physicality. For brevity, there is no reference to Shaper culture or ideology at all. Love, Death + Robots (ld+r) must indeed be an anagram of tldr (Too Long, Didn’t Read).

moving picture entry animation fiction

“Mason’s Rats” (2022Moving picture, 10 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A Scottish farmer buys self-guided weapon systems to kill rats that have become intelligent by eating GMO seeds.

Dull caricatured characters and a story that is nonsensical without being whimsical like “The Dump” (2019) or effective as a satire. All the labour of the animation feels wasted.

moving picture entry animation fiction

“In Vaulted Halls Entombed” (2022Moving picture, 15 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan find an ancient alien prison in a cave.

I have not read Alan Baxter’s original, but this is a less imaginative application of “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926) to the US–Afghanistan war than, for instance, Mask of the Other (2011). The mocap animation is pretty bad and the generic cave environments remind me of “The Sword of Kahless” (1995), but the prison environment is pretty well executed.

moving picture entry fiction