The Arctic Monkeys have a line in their new album, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, that reads as follows:
So I tried to write a song to make you blush
But I’ve a feeling that the whole thing
May well just end up too clever for its own good
The way some science fiction does.
Since I first heard those lyrics, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sci-fi genre as a whole and its purpose in popular culture. Sci-fi can communicate a lot of concepts and ideas that other genres can’t. Why? Is it because it usually takes place in the future? Because its fiction has the possibility to actually take place? Or is it because it’s a way to communicate the outcomes of our failings in the present?
Whatever the case, science fiction has a way to make us think, and for decades, sci-fi has been at the forefront of thought and fiction writing: The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Star Wars, Philip K. Dick, and hundreds of other author’s work have captured minds of every age.
But sometimes it can go wrong. Really wrong. When an author or writer gets up their own ass and starts getting too preachy about a concept or idea, it can really take the fun out of a piece of otherwise flawless art. Take the Amazon series Electric Sheep, a modern adaptation of some of Philip K. Dick’s most iconic short stories. Dick’s works have been adapted into some of the most memorable sci-fi films of the last century: Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report were all inspired by stories ranging from 15 pages to 150. The Amazon show decided to make each episode, no matter how long its source material, an hour long.
You know what you don’t do when you don’t have enough from source material and still attribute a work to an author? You don’t make shit up and add 30 minutes of fluff to an otherwise amazing story that would’ve been just fine as a 15/20-minute long episode. I had to stop watching after the show completely ruined one of my favorite of his short stories, The Father-Thing.
My point is this: tell a story. If it takes ten minutes, it takes ten minutes. If it takes ten hours, it takes ten hours. But don’t add in fluff and filler because you feel like you need to flesh it out more. Chances are your filler is just that. Strip it down to bare bones and get your idea across. Nine times out of ten, that’s how you get a successful piece of work. And that’s exactly what Netflix has done with Love, Death, and Robots.
I think the longest episode so far has been 20 minutes, but during those 20 minutes, I felt things that I never once felt when watching through Electric Sheep. Each episode is a snapshot of a story, a beautifully crafted slice of time out of a whole. But within that time, the viewer feels as though they get everything they need to know about the characters and their motivations.
Not only is each episode perfectly crafted, but the art direction is a sight to behold. Each episode’s art style is different: the first is so realistically animated that it looks like it was produced by Industrial Light and Magic, but the most recent episode I’ve watched looked like a poorly produced Saturday morning ’80s cartoon. Each episode is a snapshot, a mini-story that immerses you in the world it’s illustrating. As quick as you enter, you’re thrown out like a drunk at a bar.
Nothing new I’ve seen this year has been as powerful as Love, Death, and Robots. The art (and yes, it is art) has moved me. The stories have made me cry. And the not-so-novel way of telling a story in just the right amount of time is refreshing in an era of hours of nonsense just because Netflix tells you they need 15 episodes at an hour apiece.
Watch Love, Death, and Robots if…
you like stories about love, death, and/or robots.
Don’t watch Love, Death, and Robots if…
your greatest fear is cats overthrowing humanity, driving us to extinction.