second-guessing slate’s sci-fi shorts selections, day 1

I’ve finally got around to checking out Slate.com’s list of the six best sci-fi shorts of 2012, so starting today, I’m taking a look at a short a day.

I don’t have a particular rubric I’m working off of, but for each one of these, I’ll be thinking specifically how the sci-fi element helps/hinders or maybe even hydrates/hogties the storytelling.

I will say, every one of these shorts boasted dazzling FX, at least by the standards of my untrained eye, so I will refrain from sliming on that aspect.

Today’s short is Archetype, from director Aaron Sims.

(Spoilers below, so just watch the movie first.)

It feels mean to focus on the script when the visuals in this are so good — but, oy, the script. Actors are sometimes mocked for asking about their motivation, but it’s often a legitimate question. Take the interrogation scene here: Why is gray-haired interrogator man so mad at what is essentially a walking appliance? If somebody talked to their car like that, you would be some combination of worried and confused.

Then, just as when we’re about to see the sad robot rage-kill the puny flesh puppet, it turns out it was all a simulation. Bet you didn’t see that coming, audience! Maybe at some point it was not a cliche for filmmakers to pull back the curtain at an emotional crescendo to reveal that everything hitherto actually took place inside a computer, but that time has passed and “It was all a simulation” is becoming the new “It was all a dream” — a kind of cheap, expected way to walk back from the life-or-death peril the character has been put into. And just more generally, the dialogue could use some freshening; I doubt even Meryl Streep could rattle off a line like “There’s protocol for safe consciousness retrieval” without sounding like a gassy bag of exposition.

As for the technology, I’m also a little let down. The relevant futuristic thing here is that the military minds of the future can take people’s brains (or maybe bodies — I can’t tell) and turn them into big dumb mechanical warriors that might as well be robots. I see how that’s a neat idea and lets us wonder who these golems might have been in a previous life, but I don’t see as how that’s a good metaphor for anything I care about. I mean, what do you get out of this? The lesson seems to be, you can’t keep the human spirit down, even when you transplant it into a war machine and erase its memory. That does not, shall we say, resonate much with me, but maybe I’m biased, never having had that experience.

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