For Sci-Fi Saturday I thought I’d mention how much I’ve enjoyed some recent Netflix original productions about robots (the very intelligent kind). As usual, I’m a little late to the party. For most people with Netflix, the post’s title probably immediately evoked either or both shows.
I’m speaking, of course, of Love, Death & Robots, an anthology of animated shorts, and of I Am Mother, a movie about a robot raising a child (humanity’s last best hope). I was delighted by the former immediately, but with the latter it wasn’t until I knew the entire story that my opinion changed from poor to good. Through most of the movie it seemed to be a rather flawed story I wasn’t sure I liked.
But the ending put all the plot holes in much better light!
I have always had a taste for “smaller” stories, and that taste has grown in the face of the modern blockbuster, which I generally find “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I’m especially turned off by the lack of attention given to plot consistency — in so many stories, things happen because script demands it, logic be damned. (Last night I watched a movie that seems to lampshade this. I’ll mention it in closing.)
Small stories — by which I mean small in scope — don’t have the distractions of big set pieces, the big battles (that always seem to boil down to fist fights), the giant explosions, the collapsing buildings. Small stories have to use plot and character.
I Am Mother is a small story. It turns almost entirely on two characters: the robot, named Mother, and the young human woman, named Daughter.
Hilary Swank appears in a supporting role as Woman. There is also a dog.
It’s kind of nice to see an all-female cast (although I’m not sure about the dog). We’re seeing more and more good female hero stories. (Other than slasher films.) Annihilation was another good one — I give it a strong Ah! rating.
Speaking of ratings, I also give I Am Mother an Ah! rating. It’s good, I’d recommend it, but I likely wouldn’t watch it again or screen it for friends (whereas I’ve seen Annihilation twice, the second time screening it for friends).
The story involves a post-apocalyptic future in which most of humanity has apparently been wiped out — either through its own actions or from a robot uprising.
An extinction event activates an underground bunker, activates Mother. The robot selects a single embryo from a large bank of them and places it in an artificial womb (which apparently works rapidly).
The robot then proceeds to raise the child (both confined to the bunker due to environmental hazards outside — there isn’t even a view outside).
When Daughter naturally asks Mother why only one child, Mother explains that her neural net needs practice in raising a child. Once she feels confident in her ability, then the others can be raised.
Then, one day, Woman (Swank) shows up at the airlock needing medical help. This new element disturbs the dynamic and kicks off the story.
In particular, it creates conflict between Mother and Daughter.
What turned my opinion around was how the ending explained a number of things that seemed awfully plot-convenient while watching.
For example, at the risk of a small spoiler, when Woman shows up, and Daughter (against Mother’s very explicit instructions) opens the air lock, this sets off an alarm that alerts Mother.
Who starts running towards the air lock.
For a very long time.
Several cuts back and forth between the two women in the air lock and Mother running.
It goes on for a while.
And then mother finally shows up.
It made me think their underground bunker must be huge. It made me wonder why Mother didn’t control the air lock in the first place. It seemed awfully convenient that Woman and Daughter had enough time to talk so that Woman could sow the first seeds of suspicion and doubt.
Once you know what’s really going on there, it makes more sense.
One glaring plot hole I thought I saw was: Who fed the dog while Woman was in the bunker? Several days elapsed.
But even that can be explained in the context of the ending.
So it’s very worth watching, but don’t let apparent flaws stop you from watching the whole thing. The ending clears it all up.
I don’t have all that much to say about Love, Death & Robots other than I really loved it.
It gets a Wow! rating (albeit perhaps a lowish one compared to other works that really blew the doors off).
It’s an anthology of 18 different animated stories, all under 20 minutes in length.
It’s like a bag of tasty snacks. Or that infamous box of chocolates, each one a new surprise.
I’m a fan of animation in general (but don’t we all like cartoons?), and I especially like good science fiction animation. I have very high regard for classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Cowboy Bebop (all of which get a strong Wow! rating).
One aspect I especially appreciated is that each one of the 18 isn’t just a completely different story, it’s a completely different animation style.
Those styles range from old-fashioned 2D drawings to very realistic 3D renderings. The exploration of animations styles is as much fun as the different stories.
In contrast with Black Mirror (another Netflix original I really like), the stories here don’t end on downer notes. Some do, but many don’t.
Some, like “Three Robots” or “When the Yogurt Took Over” are pretty funny.
It really is like a box of chocolates. Tasty treats all. I’m just sorry I’ve eaten them all, but the nice thing about these is I can eat them again!
In closing I want to mention a movie I watched just the other night.
And the pair, Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon, make a very good comedy match-up, because Kunis is an excellent straight to McKinnon’s wacky.
That said, the movie is ridiculous, but fun. I’ve seen a lot of comedy in my life, so I’m a “tough house” when it comes to laughing out loud, but some of the scenes had me really going. (Others did make me groan.)
It’s a comedy that swings into action and the gory from time to time. I’m fine with that. But the plot makes little sense, and things go so far beyond convenient that I think it’s deliberate silliness on the part of the script.
For example, Kunis and McKinnon, captured by Bad Guys, are to be interrogated by this nut-ball assassin hard-case with acrobat skills (Ivanna Sakhno) and, all of a sudden, with no explanation, there are two of those drapery ropes acrobats use hanging down where she’s standing.
Any tool they need (dart guns, for instance) they seem to have access to (despite being on the run from everyone and in a foreign country), so I think it’s not sloppy writing so much as intentional lampshading.
I give it an Eh! rating, but McKinnon is well worth the price of admission.
Stay watching the good ones, my friends!