“Love, Death and Robots” Vol. Two Review

Poster Art for Volume 2 of “Love, Death and Robots”. Source

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As should be abundantly clear on this page, I’m a science-fiction geek. My first exposure to science fiction was Star Trek, back in the 80s when the original film series was picking up steam. Through my mother (who is also a geek), they introduced me to classic science fiction (Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Ursula K. LeGuin). So, when Netflix announced it was producing an anthology series called Love, Death, and Robots, I was hesitant at first but eventually came to adore the series.

And then the second series dropped and… it was underwhelming.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched yet.

Comprising only eight stories (compared to the eighteen stories in the first collection), there are some interesting ideas behind these, but the execution for some of them left much to be desired. The standouts for me were “Life Hutch”, “Snow in the Desert”, and “All Through the House”. Not that the other stories weren’t good. Visually, all of them are fascinating and sometimes incredibly beautiful. But not all of them resonated with me, which is often the hazard of an anthology series that attempts to tell a complete story in a condensed time frame.

Screengrabs from Vol. 2 (top left to bottom right): “Automated Customer Service”, “Pop Squad”, “Life Hutch”, and “The Tall Grass”. Source

“Automated Customer Service” is a cute romp through a retirement community where an elderly woman and her dog encounter an issue with her house-cleaning robot, who becomes homicidal. The crux of the episode and the part I found most amusing was the automated customer service line for the manufacturer of said robot, including the line that the owner’s dog would sacrifice the owner for freedom if the roles were reversed. While not as entertaining as the first anthology’s episodes “When the Yogurt Took Over” or “Alternate Histories”, it’s a fun brief story.

Visually, the episode “Ice” is intriguing since Passion Animation Studios, the same group responsible for the thoughtful, art-focused episode “Zima Blue” created it from the first anthology. The textures and palette are the most interesting bits of this story. For me, at least. Story-wise, it is rather forgettable and didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I can say the same for “The Tall Grass”, which attempted a more Lovecraftian-type story about a train stopping in a plain of tall grass and a passenger finding himself amid ravenous monsters that hide in the tall grass. The art style is a mix of contrasts between the staid rooms on the train and the ethereal lights in the grass that reveal the creatures are appearing, but that’s really all this has going for it.

Screengrabs from “Ice”, “All Through The House”, “Snow In The Desert”, and “The Drowned Giant”. Source

Both “Pop Squad” and “The Drowned Giant” go for photo-realistic animation, and they are incredibly rendered. There were points during both that I marveled at how utterly lifelike the characters in each felt. But both shorts felt hollow to me. Particularly “Pop Squad”, which tells the story of a cop whose job entails executing children (in a future where biological immortality makes procreation strictly illegal). As my editor once told me, killing children is a simple way to make your audience lose any love for your principal character, and this story suffered because of this. I couldn’t bring myself to care about a character who kills a pair of young children within the first few minutes of the story, even if he spends the rest of it grappling with the guilt. “The Drowned Giant” is a quaint little tale about a giant humanoid that washes up on the shores of an English village. The point of the narrative is how quickly people attach themselves to an idea and then it quickly fades until it becomes a tall tale or confused story we retell with no real meaning behind it. It’s fun for what it is, but not all that interesting in its execution.

“Snow in the Desert” was the first story in the anthology that really caught my attention. Another of the photo-realistic episodes, this one focuses on a human who possesses unique regenerative abilities on a desolate desert planet. The two major characters, Snow and Hirald, showcase their loneliness and isolation through the animation. It adds some of the dread that “Pop Squad” tried to manufacture but failed to throughout, including capturing the beauty of Snow’s retreat, far away from civilization.

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“Life Hutch” featured Michael B. Jordan in what I assume is a motion-capture performance. Adapted from a story by Harlan Ellison (no stranger to interesting science fiction stories), this one deals with a pilot in the far future who crash-lands on an asteroid and makes his way to a derelict ship where he attempts to signal for a rescue. Unfortunately for the pilot, the ship’s automated robot malfunctions, identifying him as hostile and nearly killing him. Using a mix of flashbacks to tell how the pilot got into this circumstance and tension as thick as humidity in a Florida summer, “Life Hutch” balances the death and robot tropes common in the anthology to good effect, particularly since it’s largely up to Michael B. Jordan’s understated and non-verbal performance to carry the story.

My favorite out of the new collection is “All Through the House”. It’s Christmas Eve and two children wake up when they hear sounds coming from downstairs. Thinking they’ll get a glimpse of Santa Claus, the two quietly sneak downstairs only to discover a grotesque monster. The design of the monster is deeply disturbing (some high-octane nightmare fuel, if I’m being completely honest). The monster backs the children into a corner, then identifies them as “good” children, which leads to the monster regurgitating presents for both of them. Laying in bed after their encounter, the children wonder what would have happened if the monster identified them as “bad”. From the art style of the piece to the subversion of classic Christmas time storytelling, I loved this one from start to finish, particularly the ending where the question of what the children’s fate would have been if they’d been “bad” left up in the air.

While not as good as the first collection, there are some gems in the second series of Love, Death, and Robots. If you enjoy rich and detailed science-fiction stories, I’d highly recommend checking out both the first and second series. The beauty of an anthology series like this is that while you may not enjoy all the entries, you’ll be able to find ones that suit your tastes and perhaps expand your palette based on exposure to the others. Netflix has announced a third collection of eight stories will be released sometime in 2022, so I’m intrigued to see what else the series can produce. For now, take a step into the often hilarious and often disturbing futures produced by Love, Death, and Robots.

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