Love, Death and Robots Vol. 3 is available now on Netflix.
Netflix’s ongoing animation anthology Love, Death and Robots returns for a third volume of brand-new shorts with the unofficial mandate of turning the violence dial to 11. Executive produced and curated by David Fincher, Tim Miller, and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, this season also has all three each directing one of the nine stories. The mission of the anthology has always been to push the boundaries of the animation without the traditional tethers of having to tell family-friendly stories. In theory, this “gloves off” approach opens the door for an exciting blank canvas of exploration, but this third season rather boringly favors computer-generated animation and glories in orgiastic levels of gore rather than great storytelling.
In terms of craftsmanship, all of the nine shorts are brought to life by teams of incredibly talented artists who are mostly representing the spectrum of CG styles right now, from the hyper-realistic to the ultra-stylized and even the comedic. While there’s still plenty of uncanny valley problems in this collection, especially when human faces are concerned, there are also some ground-breaking techniques on display that prove that computer animators are still making inroads in regards to making that visual chasm smaller and smaller. Where this season flounders is in the depth of its storytelling. With the amount of man hours it takes to bring these shorts to life, it’s a real head-scratcher as to why so many of them are just fixated on brainless carnage instead of crafting a story that uses violence to say something profound.
The only short that manages to achieve that this round is writer/director Alberto Mielgo’s “Jibaro.” Featuring a mix of hyper-realistic and sometimes stylized CG animation, the story is an adaptation of a folk tale about a deaf knight and an ancient siren who become locked in a violent dance of death. As a piece, “Jibaro” is a stunner. Gorgeously animated with a color palette full of rich colors and eye-catching metallics, Mielgo also goes for broke when it comes to pushing boundaries with his camera, challenging the audience with sound design that captures the deaf soldier’s perspective and a score that helps land the emotion at the heart of the story. It’s the crown jewel of the entire collection.
The next most resonant story of the lot comes from Fincher with his adaptation of Neal Asher’s short story, “Bad Traveling.” Equal parts sea monster and human monster story, Fincher tells this morality tale like it’s a Rembrandt on the sea. Animated with chiaroscuro lighting, Fincher brings his cinematic eye to every frame, making the shadows of the hull the playground for a brutal horror story about man’s inhumanity to man. It’s exceptionally gory but there’s a dark beauty to the animation style that leans into the angled, world-weary expressiveness on the faces of the crew as they struggle with an actual monster amongst them.
“The Very Pulse of the Machine” gets a lot of points for being one of the few shorts to feature 2D animation. Director Emily Dean adapts Michael Swanwick’s short story about two astronauts exploring Jupiter’s moon of IO when tragedy strikes. The animation style harkens back to the Liquid Television classic, Aeon Flux, with its sci-fi meets feminine pop art aesthetic. The story becomes entirely existential and the swirling landscapes and trippy visuals will appeal to anyone who has an affinity for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Miller brings to life “Swarm” from Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling, which is impressive for its full-out sci-fi visuals. But it also suffers from uncanny valley issues with the human faces, which makes it feel like an expensive cut scene from a video game. And ultimately, the story feels well worn as it reveals humanity’s recurring impulse to destroy other species in order to selfishly fulfill its needs for survival.
The rest have some elements to admire, but ultimately are a mush of guns, chunks of evicera, and not-that-great jokes. “Night of the Mini Dead” is the shortest of the pack and it’s actually perfectly timed to land what is essentially a nihilistic fart joke with squeaky voices. “Kill Team Kill” is the most R-rated G.I. Joe episode you can imagine, except you don’t care if any of the squad makes it out alive. Points for the 2D animation, but the orgy of blood and detailed evisceration gets tedious quickly.
“Mason’s Rats” is another thin story about a Scottish farmer who goes to tech war with his barn rats. Again, there’s no nuance or comedy unless you like watching chunks of rats fly around. And “In Vaulted Hall Entombed” stands out because the hyper-realistic CG incorporates the facial features of the voice cast, including Joe Manganiello and Christian Serratos, into the design of the Call of Duty-esque squadron, who might as well be following the exact footsteps of the Colonial Marines in Aliens. And “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” is a comedic post-apocalyptic telling of the fall of man by three visiting robots which is cute, but is ultimately building up to a joke reveal that’s underwhelming for the level of animation featured.