Love Death + Robots: All 18 episodes of Netflix animated series ranked, from Blindspot to Zima Blue

Anupam Kant Verma

Mar 26, 2019 18:44:07 IST

The eighteen short films comprising Love Death and Robots, the new Netflix animated series, are by turns humorous, dark, derivative, boundlessly imaginative, droll, and in at least one case, transcendental. As is wont with anthologies, the films differ in quality of storytelling, editing, direction and ambition. What unites them, however, is spellbinding animation that strives to push the envelope, often successfully flirting with photo-realism and achieving a satisfying marriage of form and content.

Love Death + Robots: All 18 episodes of Netflix animated series ranked, from Blindspot to Zima Blue

Stills from various shorts in Love Death and Robots. Netflix

With creative forces the pedigree of Tim Miller and David Fincher at the helm, one could be forgiven for expecting more than usual from this Netflix offering. LD&R seeks to provide something for everyone, from the geek to the casual viewer and the artist expecting a profound exploration of the human condition. It never shies away from graphic sex and nudity, bundling it with the dollops of violence that modern audiences have become immune towards.

LD&R may leave audiences variously satisfied or wanting something more substantial. But one cannot ignore the swagger with which it carves a distinct space for itself within an animation landscape dominated by Disney and Pixar. Time and again, Netflix announces itself as the apt home for ideas that would be considered near demented by the traditional studios. In a sense, one can discern in LD&R a microcosm of Netflix’s roster, both in terms of quality and its stated goal to keep audiences bingeing indefinitely.

This personal ranking of the short films that make up Love Death and Robots aims to keep the list, arranged in ascending order of quality, as spoiler-free as possible.

18. Blindspot

Good old American robbery. Only this one features cyborg thieves battling supersized machines while defending their own. An extended fight sequence in essence, it is dovetailed by a twist whose existence is necessitated by the dryness of the preceding narrative. The Transformers series comes to mind. And that can’t be a compliment.

17. Suits

Suits. Netflix

Suits. Netflix

Good old American everymen and women defending their land against an army of aliens. Only these folk have homemade Ironman-like suits to aid them. Us versus them. Good versus bad. A few against a battalion. All the ingredients of a traditional story full of perils and high stakes plays out in the most predictable manner. The characters will remind you of those you know from countless films and the action sequences won’t necessarily knock you out.

16. Sucker of Souls

An archaeological dig unleashes ruthless demons that threaten to kill the researcher and the mercenaries tasked with protecting him. Not the most original of stories featuring stock characters doing predictable things.

15. Sonnie’s Edge

Fittingly, LD&R begins with a short film that captures the pros and cons of the sci-fi anthology as a whole. Eye-poppingly immersive animation joins hands with run-of-the-mill storytelling to create what can aptly be described as a game nerd’s wet dream. Narratively speaking, the anthology is off an ominous start. A wronged woman seeking revenge against her tormentors and those of their kind establishes herself as the most feared gladiator in the arena of robotic creature fighting. A suave, dubious and dangerous rich man seeks to find her winning secret to harrowing effects.

14. Fish Night

Still from Fish Night. Netflix

Still from Fish Night. Netflix

A classic case of a highly imaginative idea wasted on a mediocre story. Fish Night is the story of two salesmen, one young and optimistic, the other old and cautious, whose car breaks down in the desert. That night, they are visited by apparitions of marine creatures from millions of years ago when the area used to be covered by the sea. The writers seem confused about the direction they’re supposed to take with the idea, resulting in a malformed segment that soars momentarily alongside the creatures and tanks at the end of the night.

13. Shape-Shifters

Your appraisal of this segment will depend on the part of the world you’re from or your political leanings, or both. It brings the heat and swelter of Afghanistan to life with marvellous animation. The performances of the two supernaturally endowed Marines and their banter is endearing, if not original. But the story it tells is unsavoury at best and its critique of war lopsided. It works as a story of friendship and loyalty to our more human attributes, but the theatre it’s set in mitigates its impact.

12. The Dump

The cheeky, vicarious humour this segment employs to tell the story of the ruthless march of civilisation and the refuse it leaves in its wake makes it eminently watchable. No points for originality here as far as the narrative is concerned. But the protagonist’s determination to stand his ground amidst widespread capitulation to progress and the unlikely friend by his side turns it into an endearing, immensely enjoyable tale.

11. Alternate Histories

I wanted to like this segment more than I did. Perhaps that clouds my appraisal. It imagines multiple ways in which Adolf Hitler may have been killed before he ever rose to power and how they would have changed the 21st century for good. It is rambunctious, ribald and unafraid to throw caution to the winds. The film equivalent of an alternative history website, its algorithm of absurdness unfolds with delicious humour. It is good fun while it lasts and that’s the best one can say about it.

10. The Secret War

This segment will definitely appeal to everyone. It is a riveting, if oft-told, tale of military valour set in a Russia besieged by an unstoppable horde of evil creatures. The last segment in the anthology is a grandly and painstakingly animated work of visual richness. The straightforward story is anchored by a gripping central performance by the general leading his troops to a last stand in the face of an enemy whose might they can’t possibly match. It is a war story whose visual and narrative detail bring its massive canvas to life, endearing us to the soldiers’ cause.

9. When the Yogurt Took Over

When the Yogurt Took Over. Netflix

When the Yogurt Took Over. Netflix

This short film could have been interesting owing solely to its supremely absurd premise: yogurt taking over the world in a bid to rescue it from human frailty and its implications. Delightful to watch unfold, the segment proceeds to take its odd premise to its seemingly logical conclusion in a brisk manner. There is fun to be had, disappointment over humans’ studied ignorance of things that lie just ahead of them and eventual acceptance of the final fate that awaits those in power.

8. Helping Hand

And the title of the best title in the anthology goes to… Helping Hand is terrifying in a way only outer space can be. Viewers who walked away gratified by Gravity would find a lot to chew on here. The basic idea is the same. An astronaut is suspended in outer space and must find her way back to her ship lest she gets lost in the deep forever. Her adventure leaves a scar as lasting as her determination to survive, in effect giving us another peek into our species’ primal will to claw out of the deepest pits.

7. The Witness

The cityscape of Hong Kong exerts a supernatural pull for animators’ imaginations. This loopy tale of a woman who witnesses a murder springs to gritty, psychedelic and concretised life by turns, held aloft by dizzying animation. The world conjured has that most rare of qualities: it is forbidding yet endlessly alluring. One cannot but wish to surrender to its ramshackle charms and the promise of intrigue that one surmises must lie around every corner. The story is appositely winding, offering viewers the unique possibility of being unstuck in time just like the protagonists.

6. Ice Age

Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Ice Age. Netflix

Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Ice Age. Netflix

Tim Miller directs this miniature movie featuring a miniature unfolding of human civilisation inside a couple’s old refrigerator. Initially awe-inspiring, it slowly proceeds toward an ending that can be variously inferred as justified, fitting or hopeful. This segment is outstanding for its boundless ambition and imagination. It also features the only human cast of the series.

5. Three Robots

This segment features the funniest dialogue in the anthology. Three robots navigate a post-human wasteland while trying to grasp the extent of our civilisation from its remnants. Their banter is exceedingly funny, often sharply satirical about the simplistic notions that drove humans apart from each other, resulting in eventual extermination. I’m not quite on-board with the final twist, however inanely, even inspiredly, justified it seems. But it is a whole lot of edifying fun while it lasts.

4. Lucky 13

We now enter the zone of the most emotionally rewarding segments in the anthology. We begin with a tender story of our relationship with machines. A female rookie fighter pilot forms an unlikely bond with a ship that’s considered unlucky by her colleagues. It isn’t the most logically sound story. Perhaps it is even a bit sentimental. But the germaneness of the human-machine bond it bats for stands out amidst the climate of fear that surrounds the rise of the machines in our time. In doing so, it nods towards the uniquely human ability to empathise with those who live and breathe and those who don’t, even as the world is reduced to rubble around us.

3. Beyond the Aquila Rift

Time, space and expectations are bent willy-nilly in a mind-bending tale of love, loss and endless determination set in outer space. Gorgeously built, the segment’s world is inhabited by characters losing grip on sanity and the notion of time. A routine flight light years into the universe seems to have gone awry. The captain and his crew have landed in an unknown place and greeted by an erstwhile lover. His quest for truth makes him witness to a fabric of reality that is riven by illusion, often resulting in the blurring of lines between the two. What is eternity, the segment asks? Is it something to be pursued or be terrified of?

2. Good Hunting

Another uniquely outstanding love story, Good Hunting is an ambitious tale of tenderness struggling harder than ever to survive and flourish within a cruel world. It has spirit-like creatures, a determined inventor, love, greed and hate, all commingling and jostling for space under the lengthening shadow of colonialism. A steampunk tale to instil faith in humanity, it reveals the many shades of our species, packing beauty and ugliness in equal measure within a short tale that rewards multiple viewings.

1. Zima Blue

Zima Blue. Netflix

Zima Blue. Netflix

With Zima Blue, LD&R achieves momentary transcendence. It uses the story of a supernaturally gifted artist to explore and question notions of inspiration, beauty, vaulting ambition and the core of the human condition, simultaneously investigating how our creations mirror their creators, sometimes surpassing them. It is a paean to creation - to art and the endless search for transcendence in artistic ambition. Zima Blue packs in so many ideas into its ten minutes, and so effectively manages to do justice to them, that one can’t help but be overwhelmed. It isn’t simply the best segment in LD&R, but also one of the most inspired short films I have encountered and a great note on which to end this article.

Updated Date: Mar 26, 2019 18:44:07 IST

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