Shaun Munro reviews season 3 of Love, Death & Robots…
Netflix’s acclaimed animated anthology series Love, Death & Robots is back for its third season, and while this collection of nine episodes is likely the weakest of the bunch to date, there’s still much to marvel at both in terms of its provocative storytelling and especially the diverse, alluring animation on offer throughout.
As a two-hour compendium of adult-orientated animated stories, the spark is certainly still there, even if season three’s shorts largely lack the eye-watering impact of the previous seasons’ more memorable works.
With that in mind, here’s all of the season’s nine shorts ranked from worst to best.
9. Kill Team Kill
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
A slightly underwhelming effort from Kung Fu Panda filmmaker Jennifer Yuh Nelson, “Kill Team Kill” is the second of two 2D-animated shorts in this year’s volume, serving as a pastiche of testosterone-fuelled action films of the 1980s such as Predator, while stylistically indebted to classic adult 2D animation like Heavy Metal.
The short follows a group of hyper-masculine soldiers who end up facing off against… a cyborg grizzly bear. It could never be accused of taking itself too seriously and the voice cast – including Joel McHale, Seth Green, and Gabriel Luna – absolutely understood the assignment, yet there’s very little to it beyond its superficial setup and throughline.
It’s cool while you’re watching it, but doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression at all.
8. In Vaulted Halls Entombed
Directed by Jerome Chen.
Oscar-nominated VFX artist Jerome Chen helms this sci-fi horror romp in which a squad of soldiers in Afghanistan get far more than they bargained for while attempting to retrieve a hostage from terrorists; they’re greeted by a fleet of cannibalistic cockroaches with humanoid faces. Yup.
What follows is a pretty standard issue bug hunt that flirts with something more interesting, though like many of the shorts this season ends on a frustratingly ambiguous note. Animation-wise this one falls a little short in the human rendering department; the digital recreations of name actors such as Joe Manganiello and Jai Courtney don’t feel nearly as convincing as what we’ve seen elsewhere (especially season two’s Michael B. Jordan-starring short “Life Hutch”), ultimately failing to escape the uncanny valley.
Still, there’s some appealingly gross gore and neat environmental designs to savour.
7. Mason’s Rats
Directed by Carlos Stevens.
Mason (Craig Ferguson) is a frustrated Scottish farmer desperately attempting to deal with an infestation of intelligent, evolved rats at his farm. And so, he’s convinced to install cutting-edge TrapTech pest control hardware, only to discover that the rats are better-equipped to fight back than he ever expected.
The plot and “message” are pretty straight-forward – that technology allows humans to become more efficient barbarians – but the outrageously over-the-top gore is a lot of fun, as are the vocal performances from Ferguson and Dan Stevens, the latter playing a snivelling British TrapTech rep.
Sensibly brief at around 10 minutes, “Mason’s Rats” gets in and out before it can wear itself thin.
6. Three Robots: Exit Strategies
Directed by Patrick Osborne.
This follow-up to the first season’s short “Three Robots” continues the robotic trio’s journey through a post-apocalyptic Earth, as they visit various monuments to human failure such as a survivalist camp and a libertarian tech “utopia.”
It certainly gets no points for subtlety where its political satire is concerned, thumbing its nose at human complacency in its many frustrating forms, but benefits from its cute, expressive trio of protagonists, and an amusing final reveal that circles back to the first short in unexpected fashion.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “cameo” from series creator Tim Miller. While not a highlight of the season, this is nevertheless a charming enough effort from Oscar-winning filmmaker Patrick Osborne, enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing more from the three bots next time.
5. The Very Pulse of the Machine
Directed by Emily Dean.
Adapted from Michael Swanwick’s Hugo Award-winning short story of the same name, “The Very Pulse of the Machine” follows astronaut Martha Kivelsen (Mackenzie Davis), who becomes stranded on Jupiter’s moon Io after her rover crashes there.
The other 2D-animated short this season, The Very Pulse of the Machine immediately stands out visually, and is generally focused more on trippy visuals than it is weaving a massively involved story. Its ambitious ideas about human consciousness are certainly intriguing, and Mackenzie Davis gives a typically solid performance as Martha, yet this is largely an aesthetic feast, abetted by an ethereal musical score.
Directed by Tim Miller.
Bruce Sterling’s acclaimed 1982 short story “Swarm” provides a firm base for Tim Miller’s own short, which boasts the most photoreal human animation of all the shorts this season. Jason Winston George and Rosario Dawson portray a pair of scientists studying an insectoid alien race, whose motives and philosophies on what to do with them differ wildly.
The script is rather expository and doesn’t offer too many surprises, yet smartly shows as much as it tells, weaving an intriguing story about arrogant human exceptionalism and genetic memory.
If more successful as an animation showcase – per the lifelike human renders and neato creature designs – this is an enticing, thoughtful slice of sci-fi all the same.
3. Night of the Mini Dead
Directed by Robert Bisi and Andy Lyon.
At just seven minutes long, this “Night of the Mini Dead” is this season’s shortest film, yet given its breezy, mile-a-minute, tableau-like structure and presentation, that suits it just fine.
The short depicts the beginnings and insane inevitability of a zombie apocalypse on Earth, with the filmmakers employing a tilt shift-esque technique to depict the action as though from a series of miniature scenes, not entirely unlike an isometric video game.
A darkly funny satire of both the zombie movie and society’s utter uselessness in a disaster scenario, this is stylistically inspired, brutal, funny, and can never be accused of outstaying its welcome.
Directed by Alberto Mielgo.
The final short of the season – helmed by recent Oscar winner Alberto Mielgo – ends things on a high, depicting the battle of wills between a mysterious, siren-like golden woman and the titular deaf knight who doesn’t fall prey to her deadly song.
This is far and away the most visually creative of all the shorts, between its extremely photoreal animation and rendering – especially of the tropical setting – and also its unconventional cinematic style.
Mielgo employs fast shutter speeds, frantic editing, and plentiful camera shake, which while a little annoying at times is effective in conveying the sensory disorientation and sheer strangeness of the scenario.
The golden woman, a peculiar yet undeniably seductive temptress, is by far the most impressive and memorable CGI entity this season, even if some might be left rather baffled by the short’s ending.
1. Bad Travelling
Directed by David Fincher.
It won’t surprise many that David Fincher ends up delivering the best short of the bunch. “Bad Travelling” follows a group of fishermen who are attacked by an oversized crustacean creature referred to as a “thanapod” while out on the open water.
The ship’s captain, Torrin (a brilliant Troy Baker), attempts to save his own skin by cutting a dangerous deal with the entity, keeping it fed in exchange for his ongoing survival. Naturally paranoia spreads fast throughout the ship as their number quickly dwindles, realised with brutal beauty by some stunning animation.
At 22 minutes this is the longest of the shorts but absolutely earns it, delivering gnarly twists and turns on a visually mesmeric canvas. The impressionistic human character designs aren’t aiming for realism but something slightly off, in turn accentuating the unnerving weirdness of the entire exercise.
Beyond Troy Baker’s strong vocal performance there’s also fine work from a bevy of talented actors, including Fred Tatasciore, Jason Flemyng, and Elodie Yung.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more TV rambling.