Netflix Robots

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.

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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.

Clara Rugaard plays Daughter. Rose Byrne provides Mother’s voice, but the robot is a costume with actor Luke Hawker inside.

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).

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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.

It’s a bit of fluff, The Spy Who Dumped Me, that’s not too bad entirely because Kate McKinnon is a national treasure, and this movie really lets her work her magic.

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!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

50 responses to “Netflix Robots

  • Athena Minerva

    Thanks for the review as Netflix recommended mother and daughter to me too but I wasn’t sure about it.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think you might enjoy it. If you do watch it, report back and let me know!

      • Athena Minerva

        Ok I will do. What else do you watch?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, in the summer, baseball sucks up a lot of the time I’m willing to sit in front of the TV. (Sometimes, given I have to sit there and watch for three hours, I put the game on one device, sound off, and watch something else at the same time. Getting through my queue of YouTube lectures that way.)

        But I know you’re not into baseball. 😀 I have been watching Veronica Mars on Hulu. That was one of those shows I heard a lot about but never watched. I’m a big fan of Lucifer (now on Netflix). I’m slowly working my way though The Good Wife on Hulu (I watched it when it was on but like enough to re-watch). Likewise 30 Rock and South Park on Hulu.

        Other than that I’ve been sipping at some oldies on Prime: Perry Mason, The Saint, I Spy, etc. Nostalgia, and some of those old shows had really good stories.

        Really I’m pretty eclectic and dabble all over the map, but no reality shows, no game shows, very few documentaries, mostly comedy or drama.

        How about you?

      • Athena Minerva

        I don’t like game shows or reality shows either. I sometimes watch documentaries, comedy and drama but I mostly like historical programs.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Have you ever seen Einstein and Eddington? I quite recommend it! (I’m not normally much one for history, but I really enjoyed this one.)

      • Athena Minerva

        No I haven’t come across them but I’ve only just started having Netflix. I’m late to the game.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Looks like it’s available on Hulu or Prime, but I don’t see it on Netflix. It’s also on HBO Go. I think it’s originally a PBS thing.

      • Athena Minerva

        This is the difference between the us and the uk. Licensing issues prevent some things from working. It’s even worse when in Greece. I don’t have Prime and if it’s PBS it’s going to have so many adverts as it’s American. Hulu doesn’t work too well over here from when I have used it previously. Sorry for the negativity but I have seen adverts for Einstein on TV as I have Sky.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, that’s unfortunate, sorry, I didn’t realize. At least there’s Netflix. Can you get HBO or HBO Go?

      • Athena Minerva

        I had a look for Einstein but it didn’t come up with anything. I don’t think we can get hbo go but we have those hbo programs. I’m not sure about the channel as it’s American.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, it looks like you’re just gonna have to pack it all up and move here if you want decent TV! 😀

        (On the other hand, we got that asshole in the Oval Office right now, so moving here probably isn’t all that attractive.)

        ((But on the other other hand, it seems like the whole world is going crazy, so maybe it doesn’t even matter.))

      • Athena Minerva

        It’s ok I’m moving away from watching tv. It’s just good to have as I travel a lot.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There’s a lot to be said for not watching a lot of TV. I go through phases. When I was married it dropped to zero, but it crept back into my life after. (And there’s baseball. 162 games per year plus post-season, so that’s a lot of TV on its own.)

        Books really are better! My first and always love when it comes to stories (and learning).

        Do you travel for work or fun?

      • Athena Minerva

        Otherworld is a good exploration of using technology to experience life unlike you can now like total recall etc

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m afraid I don’t know what Otherworld is. A book?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I couldn’t find it. Closest I found was OtherLife, which sounds sorta like it might be it. (Sometimes titles are different between the USA and Europe.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Sounds interesting, I’ll keep it in mind. It’s based on a book, which can be a good sign.

      • Athena Minerva

        It’s a bit like cloud atlas in that respect a movie based on a book.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I still haven’t watched Cloud Atlas, but I’ll get around to it one of these days. (Such a long movie!)

      • Athena Minerva

        But you can’t do a short version of something as in depth as that.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, I’m sure not! (I wish they’d taken the long way around when they did Ender’s Game, which is one of the best SF novels ever. The movie left some of the best parts out, although I’m sure how well they would have played. So much of that book is internal.

      • Athena Minerva

        I really liked watching Enders game but I tried to read one of the books and I just couldn’t get into it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        If it wasn’t the first book, Ender’s Game, it would have to be very confusing! The later books really depend on knowing the story from the first one. In general, it’s all very psychological and intricate — definitely not “light summer reading” but something that needs to be studied and thought about.

        Not everyone’s cup of tea, for sure!

      • Athena Minerva

        I’m not sure which it was now as it was just something I saw and started reading. Not summer for sure.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, one can have “light summer reading” any time of year! 🙂 It’s more a metaphor for “easy reading” than an actual reference to summer. Ender’s Game, or any book by Orson Scott Card, ain’t easy reading!

        It’s a revered classic among SF fans, but, if I’m honest, probably isn’t all that accessible if one doesn’t have the background of having read a lot of SF. I can definitely see how it might not grab someone without that background. (And sometimes things are just matters of taste. We don’t all like the same things, obviously.)

        That’s kind of the thing about the movie version. They took the exciting parts that made for a good movie (and didn’t change too much from the book, actually, just removed stuff). Fans of the book would have loved seeing the deeper parts, but, to be honest again, I’m not sure it would have made a very good movie.

      • Athena Minerva

        In reverse if you have read hunger games you know that is actually quite a boring book and they made the movie much more exciting.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m afraid I’ve experienced neither version. I have a weird and instinctive aversion to anything “popular.” 😮

      • Athena Minerva

        That’s good. The divergent movies are much more interesting than the books also.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha, yes, same reply as before. 😀 I’ve given those movies a complete miss, too. (My understanding is that both the Divergent movies and the Hunger Game movies, perhaps the latter especially, are way better than those Twilight movies, which many seemed to find unwatchable. I wasn’t even able to watch all of the Cinema Sins “review” of the Twilight movies, they were that bad. The impression I get is that the Hunger Games movies are the best of that YA SF genre by quite a stretch.)

        But both cases do illustrate, as you say, how much more interesting movies can be. We really are very visual creatures.

      • Athena Minerva

        Oh yes the twilight movies. I tried to watch the second one and I really couldn’t. I’ve never read the books as I’m not into vampires but my mother who loves vampires said the books were really good as she read them all. She’s never going to watch the movies though so I can’t say which is better there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, to each their own! There’s something for everyone, and I love living in a world with so much choice! 😉

      • Athena Minerva

        It is so very good now that we have oodles of things to choose from. Sometimes it is rather overwhelming.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There have been some studies suggesting that too much choice paralyzes us. Many have noted how much time we spend browsing through Netflix trying to choose what to watch. (Which is exactly why those platforms keep pushing suggestions in our face.)

        Hell, sometimes I spend way too many minutes trying to decide which soup to have for dinner…

      • Athena Minerva

        Ah yeah decision paralysis. I am well versed in the problems of that since I encounter it every day. I purposefully spent a lot of time browsing Netflix when I first got it to see what it would come up with without any previous input from me. I have liked the results and I also watch stuff recommended by others.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I purposefully spent a lot of time browsing Netflix when I first got it to see what it would come up with without any previous input from me.”

        Ha! Good thinking!

        I’m maybe 50/50 on their recommendations. My tastes are pretty eclectic, so it probably confuses their algorithm.

        To some extent, the list of things I already know I want to watch means I mostly ignore recommendations from the algorithm or otherwise unless something really strikes me. On Netflix, for instance, a few months ago the advertising for Always a Witch really caught my eye and I watched that series (which was fun; thumbs up).

        But mostly I’m chewing through my own TO WATCH list. 😮

      • Athena Minerva

        The best way to confuse the algorithm is to download foreign programs that have English subtitles then it knows your not the average person.There are some amazing shows if you don’t mind subtitles.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, mos def!

        I was exposed to foreign films (and the proper way to watch them — always with subtitles) when I was in college studying filmmaking. I’ve done it that way ever since. (That show I mentioned, Always a Witch (Siempre Bruja), is a Spanish show, and I watch a fair amount of Japanese Anime and Asian action films. No wonder Netflix is confused!)

      • Athena Minerva

        Yeah I learnt at uni that subtitles are better as I’ve watched a Turkish show here that was dubbed with American actors and it never seems right when they do that.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s always best to hear the original actor’s voices in the scene! Dubs can range from “okay, I guess I can live with this” to just plain awful. The one situation that isn’t too bad is when the original actors do the dub. Then at least you get the right voices even if they are just standing around in front of microphones.

      • Athena Minerva

        Oh the traveling is for both purposes.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Cool! I take it you love to travel. I used to do a lot of travel in the USA for The Company, and I really enjoyed that part of my life.

      • Athena Minerva

        Yes I do like to see what is out there in the world.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Everyone should travel at some point in their lives, especially to places with different cultures. I’d like to believe that expands the mind, but then I think some minds are pretty closed no matter what.

        I’ve wondered if there was a connection between travel and open inquisitive minds, but I’ve begun to wonder if it’s the other way around: those with open and inquisitive minds are more prone to travel to feed those minds.

      • Athena Minerva

        Travel opens the mind but you have to want to discover first so a bit chicken and egg here.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I keep meaning to watch I Am Mother and finish Love, Death & Robots. Maybe tonight.

    I like small scale stories too, but I have to be in the mood for them. If I’m not, it can feel claustrophobic.

    “although I’m not sure about the dog”

    Don’t know about the character, but seems like I read somewhere that the vast majority of dogs used in film are female, even when they’re portraying a male one. Apparently they’re just easier to work with. Of course, these days, they can always just CGI the dog doing whatever they want.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “I like small scale stories too, but I have to be in the mood for them. If I’m not, it can feel claustrophobic.”

      Especially some of the ones based on stage plays with only one set. A couple that spring immediately to mind are Carnage and The Sunset Limited. Both really good, but both really intense.

      In fact, the first time I watch Carnage, I was so impressed I watched it again immediately. I wanted to focus on the blocking of the actors. Their physical positions seemed to reflect the shifting alliances of the plot.

      “I read somewhere that the vast majority of dogs used in film are female, even when they’re portraying a male one.”

      Yeah, all the Lassies, the many dogs that had that role, were female. I’ve always preferred to own female dogs — they do seem easier to work with.

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