November 14, 2019

Off the Beaten Path: A TV Review Series

With this inaugural post, I’d like to introduce the concept behind this upcoming series of blog posts by yours truly, called Off the Beaten Path. Here at the Chicago Film Scene, I bet you’ve noticed a growing number of review based podcasts (by the time this is posted we should have two separate shows recorded, if not posted). While they certainly are fun to take part in, there are so many things out there that could be reviewed that we could create thousands of podcasts and still only be scratching the surface. So to fill the time between recording podcasts and working on new films with you all, I thought I’d start reviewing film with the written word for you fellow Chicago Film Scene members.

So, back to Off the Beaten Path. In a nutshell, I will rewatch a season of a TV show that I’ve seen before and give my thoughts about each episode, giving each episode a letter grade. These will be shows that aren’t mainstream, but shows that have been at the very least entertaining watches to me and to me at least deserve our attention. So to start off this blog series, I will review a fairly new show, and probably the most high profile of the shows I have in mind; the Netflix original Love, Death & Robots.

For those who are unaware, Love, Death & Robots (from here on abbreviated as LDR) is an animated anthology show that premiered on Netflix back in March of 2019. The premise of the show is simple enough; each episode adapts a sci-fi short story (though there are 2 original stories in the mix), each episode is animated by a different studio with their own style, and each episode features a combination of love, death, and/or robots. Many people have compared LDR to other anthology shows like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone, but those comparisons are superficial at best. To get a true comparison to LDR, and also where LDR originated from, we need to go back to the bright ol’ year of 1981 with the release of the cult classic movie Heavy Metal.

“In other words, exploitation presented as the perfect encapsulation of a pubescent nerd’s fever dream.”

Heavy Metal, like LDR, is an adult animated anthology movie, told in a number of animated segments. Like LDR each segment was adapted from previous source material; in this case from the french comic book magazine of the same name. When it was released, Heavy Metal rose and fell without making a huge blip. This isn’t surprising in hindsight. It came out during the tail end of the dark age on animation, so the general audience didn’t take it seriously because it was an animated movie geared solely for adults. That said, it gathered enough of a cult following over the years that there was a sequel made, Heavy Metal 2000, which bombed with critics and audiences alike and was quickly forgotten. Fast forward to the current millennium, David Fincher took the reigns from Robert Rodriguez and became the latest in a long line of high profile directors tapped to direct the long gestating reboot of Heavy Metal. Progress was slow to start, but at some point producer Tim Miller came onboard. Together, they actually made enough progress to begin production of a number of scripts they had acquired. Over time, the project grew and grew to the point where a movie was no longer feasible, so it was changed into an anthology show, and was renamed Love, Death & Robots.

I first watched LDR shortly after it premiered back in March. I remember I was stoned to the gills, and the trailer looked interesting so I started watching. Next thing I knew, it was almost 4 hours later, I was ¾ of the way through. I couldn’t finish the series in one sitting (I wanted to get to bed before the Sun started to rise), but finished it almost immediately after waking up. My initial impression was that the show was truly the evolution of Heavy Metal; the original DNA of the movie was there, but it had grown into something greater, distinct, and entirely its own. Like the original movie, this show (with the exception of a few) is not for the whole family. Along with the requisite sci-fi and fantasy, there is a ton of gore, a lot of drugs, and so many naked boobs and dicks that you could count on one hand the number of episodes that don’t feature them. In other words, exploitation presented as the perfect encapsulation of a pubescent nerd’s fever dream. Also like the movie, LDR also inherited many of the faults of the movie: some of the episodes felt more like excuses for titillation and exploitation rather than to create good stories; some had some interesting ideas that couldn’t be expanded upon due to the short format. Despite this, LDR did something Heavy Metal wasn’t truly able to achieve; create truly special stories that stay in your mind long after watching accompanied by some truly beautiful animation. Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect with this rewatch, but I know I’ll enjoy the ride bumps and all, and I hope you, the reader, do too. 

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by Joseph MacMaster

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