December 13, 2019

Love, Death & Robots “Ice Age” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Man, what to say about Ice Age? It’s the first of two back to back breather episodes that help cap off the first season of Love, Death & Robots. More apparent though, is that this episode contrasts a lot of what came before in the season. This episode is as benign in content and subject matter as others are edgy and exploitative. It’s as relaxed in pace as others are frenetic. Most importantly though it’s primarily live-action instead of animation. So the question is, does this episode work as an episode of Love, Death & Robots?

The Episode Summary 

Based on a short story written by Michael Swanwick,  it follows a young couple, Gail (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Rob (by Topher Grace). On the day they move into their new apartment, they learn they have an antique refrigerator. To toast their arrival, Rob gets some ice from the ice-clogged freezer for their wine. To their astonishment, they find what looks like a tiny wooly mammoth frozen in the ice. They dig through the ice and find what appears to be a functioning civilization in their freezer. Fascinated, they then watch as decades of progress in the freezer elapse in mere seconds.

After burying the tiny mammoth in a flower pot, they go back to the freezer to watch the civilization develop to the point they go to nuclear war. Sad at the fate of the freezer civilization, they order in food before checking the freezer again. Once there they find that the civilization has survived. The civilization is advancing into a future society so fast they quickly reach their technological singularity and ascend to a higher plane of existence. They decide to call it a night and unplug the fridge. The next morning, they check the freezer again, finding a prehistoric world.

My Thoughts

When I first watched this episode, the only thing that kept it in my mind was the live-action. When I rewatched it the other day, my big question going in was “does this fit into the universe of Love, Death & Robots?” instead of “how is this episode”. The answer to the first question is sort of.

The set up is very similar to The Simpsons episode The Genesis Tub and Twilight Zone episode The Little People, what with the miniature civilization that speeds through history. In that regard, it does fit the sci-fi angle of Love, Death & Robots, but what about the animation? While the episode is primarily live-action everything inside the fridge, including shots from the perspective of the denizens of the freezer world, are lifelike 3D CGI, provided by a combination of Digic Pictures, Studio Blur, and Atomic Fiction. So yes, the episode, through some technicalities, can be regarded as fully as an episode of Love, Death & Robots (at least they strive to be unique).

So what about the quality of the episode itself? As for that, I’d say the episode is more on the lower end of the comedy episodes so far. My biggest gripe, and what drags down Ice Age for me, is the plot of the episode itself. While the central conceit of the episode sounds fun, literally nothing happens. The whole episode is just Gail and Rob watching this civilization rather blithely, making small comments and jokes about what they see. Sure, there are some chuckle-worthy jokes in there, but there’s no arc, no action, just commentary, and solely commentary does not a narrative make.

I can see two ways of how this could be fixed. First, they could give Rob and Gail some differing opinions as to what to do with the civilization, which could give the story some dramatic tension based around both the couple’s dynamic and some deep sci-fi questions about societal intervention. Second, they could give the freezer civilization more to do. Maybe give some of their denizens some personalities of their own and have them interact with the couple. In the end, I’m just spitballing here, but these would take the episode from the cinematic equivalent of a lazy river to at least a fun wave pool.

But like a lazy river, this episode can be enjoyable. The acting is perfectly adequate. Winstead and Grace are believable as a young couple who have been together a bit, and they do deliver their funnier observations well. There is also some good humor based on subverting the premise. For example, the couple wondering if the freezer denizens consider them gods, then immediately cutting to some of said denizens, who consider them anything but.

In Conclusion

So to quickly recap, Ice Age may work too well as a breather. It does its job of resetting us after some truly hard-hitting episodes with a decent dose of humor. Sadly though, it acts more as a vehicle for observations and jokes than an interesting, thoughtful comedy like Three Robots and When the Yogurt Took Over. While the idea is solid and ripe for exploration, it doesn’t go anywhere with it, which I find rather disappointing. Hopefully, if the same team works on another live action-animation crossover episode in season two, they choose another story with some dramatic weight behind it.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats   

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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