It has been a while since I’ve reviewed a short sci-fi film. So when this gem, Dirty Machines: The End of History, , which centers on time travel, showed up in my YouTube Recommended feed, I decided to give it a gander.
I’m a fan of short films (and, full disclosure, am even working on a few of my own). But shorts can be hit or miss when it comes to quality sci-fi. However, this one, proferred by Short of the Week, was good stuff.
The main character is, as we very quickly find out, the discoverer of time travel, observed through the eyes of a time traveler. The audience is brought along for the ride… through a podcast. As the time traveler inconspicuously follows our protagonist as she discovers time travel, he throws in a pair of earbuds and a narration begins. This narration walks us through every detail of the events, from the moment the scientist discovers the formula for time travel to the small details that prevent the time traveler from compromising the time line. The execution was brilliant.
Overall, the soundtrack is tense and the ending intriguing. From the photography to the stylistic choices of the future, I was unexpectedly impressed so I looked around for the director, David Matthew Olson. Olson hopes Dirty Machines spins off into a franchise “à la Game of Thrones / Star Wars”.
He also says, in the “Show More” notes, that he hopes to the franchise will be about “…time travel and arthouse and woke and won’t go to sh*t for a cash grab in the end.”
Now I’m going to be honest: I like what I see so far but if “woke,” in a political or cultural context, is what Olson has in mind, I’ll probably be looking for the exit after a while. I’m not interested in pseudo-art screaming the same old message everyone has heard a hundred times by now. I’m open to being led into reflection about any issue through sci-fi. However, “woke” films and TV are often not as interested in exploring issues and changing minds as in endlessly restating talking points and reminding viewers to conform. It’s a waste of good art.
Note: Short of the Week. is an excellent resource for quality short film lovers. As a “… launchpad for a new generation of filmmakers to share their stories on a larger stage,” it simplifies short film submission and puts up great new content on a weekly basis. If, like me, you’re looking for quick access to newly released content, Short of the Week is a great place to bookmark. Dust, a YouTube channel that showcases sci-fi from up-and-coming filmmakers and also produces its own content, is another great source of both hits and misses.
If you enjoyed these reflections by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through his sci-fi reviews below— brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:
2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.
Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.
Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.
Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.
The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.
The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far? A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for. Season 4 is, as critic Zac Giaimo notes, integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. I gave it 9/10 in an earlier review. However, I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show, preferably beginning in Season 5.
The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?
Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?
How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.
Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.
Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch
Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.
The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.
Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery. The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).
Star Trek: Picard — On second thought, some serious quibbles. Now that I’m four episodes in, I’ve gotta say, the “haters” might be onto something. Not everything but something. Why does Picard seem to be obsessed with Commander Data? And what happened to The Federation? Star Trek fans are quick to point out that Star Trek: Picard takes an unnecessary malevolent tone towards The Federation. Why do the Romulans look different? I’m still watching but I’d like some answers.
Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.
Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.
Tales of the Loop: Pushing the boundaries of the possible. Simon Stålenhag’s captivating post-apocalyptic landscapes remind us that the world could, at any time, be different from what we think it is. Science fiction, as an art, has always meant to inspire. It’s meant to push the boundaries of the possible. And Stålenhag’s world isn’t just different, it’s unique.
Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.
Also, a defense of science fiction fans: Does science fiction encourage narcissism? As a sci-fi critic, I think most fans are just looking for a genre where they can understand and be understood. It’s true that many people who are attracted to science fiction feel like outcasts or disconnected from mainstream popular culture. And many of them feel welcome, loved, accepted, and validated in the sci-fi community. Does that really make them narcissists?