A few weeks back we learned about the new Amazon series, Tales from the Loop, released last Thursday. The artist on whose work Tales is based, Simon Stålenhag, is known for his mastery of a niche in sci-fi, atmospheric landscapes. I remember stumbling upon his work back in college. It was inspiring. It had an ambient and ethereal feel to it. I imagined larger than life creations fading into the past.
I can see quite clearly where Tales’s creators tried to render those surreal visions in the medium of film. The music, along with the long and mellow shots, explores each tale as though it were painting one of Stålenhag’s pictures, creating a thing of beauty. Each episode is loosely enough tied to the next that they can be watched out of order. With each tale, there comes a sense of awe and wonder at the unknown.
Deep underneath a small town in Ohio there exists the Loop, a facility created to explore the mysteries of the universe. No one really knows for sure what is going on at the Loop though we are given glimpses. Strange events occur on Earth’s surface as a result. Each episode explores one of those events.
As with many TV series and films, I had my likes and dislikes. By now, it would almost be naive to assume that a big streaming studio wouldn’t plaster some kind of political or ideological message into their original content. With Tales from the Loop, the Messages didn’t seem as forced or obvious. Sure, there are little bits of dialogue or even several episodes that just made me roll my eyes but they weren’t stopping the show in its tracks.
But some episodes just failed to interest me because of differences of belief. Big streaming studios make original content that constantly paints the world as though their beliefs are the norm and everything else is an outlier. Do I let that deter me from enjoying good film or tv? Not always. If you’re like me, my recommendation would be to just skip episodes three and six.
In general, Amazon’s rating system can be helpful if you want to know whether an episode or movie might have content that you would rather not view. If an episode has a content rating of 16+ it means there will likely be some objectionable sexual content (why people think that’s perfectly acceptable content for a sixteen year old to be exposed to is beyond me, but also my personal belief). If an episode has a content rating of 18+, however, it means there will certainly be explicit sexual content. Both episodes, three and six, have objectionable and explicit sexual content respectively.
Other than those few eye rollers, there is a lot to love about Tales from the Loop. However, I’m not sure if, judging by the trailer above, it is targeted at the right demographic. is closer to a work of art than it is to a traditional sci-fi epic. It’s not that sci-fi fans, in general, love terrible media. No, just that not all sci-fi is the same. I was expecting something along the lines of Black Mirror, and a large portion of the demographic drawn in by the trailer may not be prepared to appreciate what Stålenhag’s work is trying to convey. To get a sense of it, I invite you to scroll through one of his galleries while listening to something atmospheric like Helios or Slow Meadow.
Overall, if you prefer action sci fi, then this is not for you. However, if you enjoy sci fi that is often slow and methodical then Tales from the Loop might be right down your alley.
Here are some recent “wait out COVID-19″ binges, courtesy Sci-Fi Saturday at Mind Matters News:
Shelter in Place? Your Sci-Fi Video Game Binge List: You’ll never know where the long hours went. Has your ISP lifted bandwidth limits in your area due to thousands more Americans working from home? Great news for gamers too! Here’s my list of top-notch sci-fi apocalypse games.
How sci-fi treats pandemics Five sci-fi apocalypses to help you wait out COVID-19
One thing for sure, all those doomsday preppers, at whom we silently rolled our eyes years ago, are now crackin’ a secret smile. Never mind, us sci-fi buffs are going to need more than fizzy water and disinfectant. We need food for the mind! Here’s a sci-fi binge list, to keep our minds occupied.
Still stuck indoors and viewing the world through the silver screen? Here are some of Adam Nieri’s other recommendations and reflections:
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.
Dirty Machines: Short time travel flick exceeds expectations
A Mind Matters Short Film Review: A tense soundtrack, intriguing ending, and thoughtful stylistic choices make Dirty Machines: The End of History a thoughtful exploration of a logically tricky subject. Now, if the director can just resist the temptation to get woke…
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.
War of the Worlds gets personal. And it works! Wells’s alien invasion (state of emergency, lockdowns) feels familiar in the world of COVID-19. Although the new series is set in Europe, the dialogue is mostly in English. We follow the paths of several apocalypse survivors who seek refuge from the alien robots that are killing any remaining humans. I love the tension that the show conveys and the characters it seeks to develop.
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?