Usually when I have to lay my putrid peepers on an arcane anthology things take a turn for the horror biz, but recently I was sent a picture packed with yarns of a sci-fi bent, all with the theme of artificial intelligence as their linking narrative element. Let’s see how the disparate stories (these shorts are presented “as is” with no connecting framing narrative) of A.I. Tales stack up, shall we?
First up comes Seed; the story of a man named Nathan (Nelson Lee, who also wrote and directed the film) who’s family and friends gather to celebrate his birthday, but rather than being a joyous affair things take a turn for the melancholy as our protagonist reflects on the life he has lead with the folks gathered, warts and all. So why is Nathan so glum…why because it is his 40th birthday and there fore he must be reduced to just his consciousness and give up his body in order to conserve the resources of an over-populated future Earth. Will he be able to make that step for those he loves?
More of a drama with science fiction spice sprinkled on top, Seed is an effective character study, and offers a strong emotional impact to the viewer. While definitely not my preferred cup of tea, I nevertheless found this entry to be a well made affair, and should appeal to those that enjoy sci-fi with a strong personal core rather than robots, aliens and pew-pew lasers (please let there be pew pew lasers in this thing…)
Next comes In/Finite by director Kristen Hilkert (who also co-wrote the film with actress Ashlee Mundy. This lil’ ditty tells the story of Jane (the aforementioned Mundy), a lonely woman who decides she wants to get away from it all…like really away from it all and decides she wants to head off into space (which is possible due to her admission in an astronaut program). Not ready to tell her family and friends more than that her journey is a one way trip, she attends an emotional farewell party in her honor.
As with Seed, this too is straight up human drama with the absolute minimum p.h. of sci-fi thrown in. Also like the first story this entry is incredibly well made and acted…but just not my bag baby…I’m not getting my lasers am I?
Moving on we have Phoenix 9 from director Amir Reichart and writer Peer Gopfrich which relates the tale of a group of rag-tag survivors on the surface of a nuked Earth. These brave souls soldier on until they arrive at an abandoned facility on their way to a rumored colony where other survivors are holed up. Once there tensions come to a head before our heroes find a secret room guarded by a high tech computer system. Does this room hold the key to their salvation?
Now this is more like it; a tale of future war and survival with robots and awesome apocalyptic visuals! Also present are some fantastic production design and cinematography, solid acting, and a nice sense of ever mounting tension. Unless the next segment is fantastic, I’m calling Phoenix 9 the best in show…
Last up we have writer/director Vitaly Verlov’s Redux which spins the yarn of a scientist desperately sending messages through time as a S.W.A.T. team advances on his secret lab.
Redux is a taught micro-length thriller with a fun sci-fi premise and a solid cameo from Eric Roberts to boot as the corporate man behind the S.W.A.T. assault. This was my second favorite entry in the collection, and it too features strong visuals, a great premise, and a cool synth score.
All in all A.I. Tales is a solid if a bit uneven anthology. None of the stories present fail to entertain, and all are expertly crafted and acted, but the beginning of the film, with it’s back to back dramatic pieces has a tendency to drag compared to the more suspenseful segments that bring up the second half of the runtime. Bottom line, if you like your sci-fi mixed with a strong human emotional content this anthology will be a great viewing experience for you.
Ahead of this week's premiere of episode 405 this Friday, February 10th, Apple TV+ has shared a new sneak peek clip...