Rejoice, fans of David Fincher! There is a new movie from your favorite twisted, tech-savvy filmmaker ready for your viewing pleasure, and it is waiting for you on Netflix. No, it is not The Killer, his long-awaited feature film led by Michael Fassbender as a professional assassin who develops a conscience. That one is still set for release later in 2022 or sometime in 2023.
The new work is an animated short film, one of 9 included in the latest season of his Netflix series Love, Death + Robots. Volume III as it is officially known, drops on Friday, May 20, 2022. Because this is an anthology series, every episode tells a self-contained story. You can go straight to episode 3 and enjoy a fantastic period piece about a giant killer crab.
Bad Traveling reunites Fincher with Andrew Kevin Walker, screenwriter for Se7en (1996), the grimy serial-killer thriller that pushed the music video wiz kid to the forefront of Hollywood auteurs. Here, Walker is adapting a short story written by British science fiction author Neal Asher.
Far from his futuristic Polity universe, Asher serves a fable tinged with horror, more steampunk than sci-fi. The crew of a sable-shark hunting vessel is accosted by a giant killer crab, keen on eating them one by one. He communicates using a corpse as a sort of ventriloquist doll. James Preston Rogers plays Jordan, captain of the ship, who strikes a deal with the creature. He wants to save himself and prevent further carnage, but he is not above sacrificing his shipmates. Of course, things do not pan out as one would expect them.
Bad Traveling is Fincher’s first foray into animated fiction cinema, although he dabbled in motion capture on his side hustle directing advertising. The strain of shooting under strict coronavirus-preventing protocols took its toll. “ I understand what's happening, but doing it in COVID, like, you know, going to work every day and having the, you know, yellow, red, orange, green zones. And then, you have your glasses, and your goggles and your face mask on…And then, there are all these people in, you know, onesies with ping pong balls hanging off. And it was kind of, like, I would probably try to work out a better motion capture suit.”
If somebody can revolutionize motion capture, that would be Fincher. The director, who is also one of the creators and producers of Love, Death + Robots, shared his experiences in a special event promoting the launch of Volume III, accompanied by series creator Tim Miller and Supervising Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Three new episodes, including Bad Traveling, were screened with selected shorts from Volume I and II. The screening was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Collider’s Steve Weintraub, giving us deep insight into the production of the series and how Fincher adapted to its process.
“Whether you are doing a music video or commercial, you know, or television episode…it's always kind of the same thing. But I think it's a little daunting to figure out the rhythm of something. You know, if you can figure out 3 to 4 minutes, you know, a music video is kind of in that kind of pocket. I have made movies. I have made a number of movies that are just way too fucking long. But trying to live in this, you know, nine-minute, ten-minute, 20-minute world, it is a really interesting conundrum, because it's how you parse, you know, when you're bringing the audience up to speed, and how long you can tease them."
At 20 minutes, Bad Traveling is the longest of 35 Love, Death + Robots episodes produced so far. Miller brought the house down, framing the relatively long running time as an indulgence demanded by a star director. “It was the first 20-minute thing. Everybody else is nine…Do it at 15... And Dave is like, ‘fuck you, I'm, I'm doing 20. I got to have 20.’”, joked Miller. “There were some limits there, and now he's fucked us. All the directors are going to want to do it”.
In reality, Fincher comes off as an affable fellow, happy to create opportunities for other filmmakers. Short features, with their limited commercial prospects, tend to be very difficult to finance and distribute. “I was a kid in the 1970s, so I was constantly inundated with little shorts, animated shorts. You saw them on the National Film Board and KQED, on Spike & Mike’s Animation Festival or Fantastic Animation Festival. And it was always something that I look forward to.”, said Fincher. “We started talking about 20 years ago about the idea of having a sandbox for people to come and play in.”
Talents of notice, from all over the world, come to play. Make sure you catch Jíbaro, a work from Alberto Mielgo. The Spanish filmmaker got his first Academy Award for Windshield Wiper, his luscious meditation on love and communication. He now offers a fantastical retelling of the conquest of America, with indigenous men as conquerors of a fantastic land ruled by a vengeful water mermaid. She develops a mortal fixation on a deaf warrior, the one man immune to her vocal witchcraft. The politics of the piece might get a little muddled - why does she look like a Hindu goddess? - but the craft, and the pull of the narrative, are irresistible.
Long-time fans of Love, Death + Robots will rejoice at the return of the Three Robots that merrily surveyed post-apocalyptic earth in the first episode of the series. Now, they are back to take a tour of failed survivalist enclaves. Very dark comedy ensues - and a sick burn to Elon Musk.
You cannot accuse Love, Death + Robots of being misleading. Their recipe for success is right in the title. Inspired by the adult cartoons of Heavy Metal, the series is at times gleefully gory and explicitly sexual. If you get disapproving looks from a parent or a spouse, prop up its literary influences. According to Jennifer Yuh Nelson, “most (of the shorts) are from stories that Tim has read over the years. And there's this gigantic stack of short stories all on little index cards on the wall".
“I don't have a lot of friends…books are my companions now,” said Miller sheepishly. “Do you want to know why?”, chortled Fincher.
I am sure that story would make a killer episode.
Love, Death + Robots Vol. I, II & III are available to stream on Netflix.com
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