Look, you're a busy person, I understand -- but that doesn't mean you can't make time for your passions. And assuming your "passion" is passively consuming nerd-media, then maybe it's time to make time for some quality new science fiction. But you don't have 30 hours to burn on Alphas (which was way better than you think), or even 10 to rewatch Firefly -- you have, at most, an hour on your lunch break to cram as much dork into your skull as possible. Well, I'm here to help: Here's the best new science fiction you can consume in less time than it takes to bake a Hot Pocket (as though anybody does anything but microwave them. Honestly, Hot Pockets, you aspire beyond your station).
Abe is a simple little flick by London filmmaker Rob McLellan, taking just the few intense minutes out of Silence of the Lambs where Buffalo Bill is addressing the girl in the well, but recasting the sexually infuriated psychopathic transvestite with a Robot Butler. If you're not sold on that blurb alone, then you need to pack up your Spock ears and get the fuck out of nerd town before the Asimov posse -- the Asimosse -- gets wind of it.
We don't cotton to your ilk around here.
Good sci-fi is all about pushing boundaries, and while "the murderous robot" certainly isn't a new trope, it hasn't been pulled off in this fashion, or this well, in any mainstream movie I've seen. Maybe it's the lack of greater context that makes Abe so effectively creepy, or maybe it's the design -- the hunched posture, the unerring immediacy with which he slices that moth in half, the wide, unblinking eyes -- or maybe it's just the British accent.
Seriously, Brits, do you not see what we Americans did to you? It was a subtle revenge: For a few decades there we had an inarguable stranglehold on pop culture, and we used it to cast every single British person as a disturbing sociopath masquerading as an esteemed gentleman. The Hollywood blockade is breaking apart now, but the damage is done: Even the evil robots in your own films are posh now. Don't you see what we've done? You're starting to consider yourselves the villains!
Don't believe me? Fine. Re-dub Abe with a hillbilly drawl and see what the effect is:
"Well, I tell you whut: I ain't got no lovin' from y'all, so I reckon I'ma cut you in the face till I get some."
Still a bit disturbing, but it's less "brilliant, psychotic machine warped by love" and more "somebody built a fuck-bot and accidentally gave it a knife."
#4. The Device
There are better shorts on this list -- some have higher production value, some have more impressive effects, some have more believable acting -- but The Device is my favorite. It's incredibly brief, true, but it's also incredibly complete. Maybe it's the loose connotations of quantum physics and teleportation, but I get a distinctly Portal-esque vibe from this short film. The two properties approach their storytelling in much the same way: with a sparse minimalism that never takes itself too seriously. It's a simple comedy flick without much of a message, but they say brevity is the soul of wit, and if that's true, then The Device is a platter full of quantum-fried chicken.
Try to stop and appreciate all that this film accomplishes in about two minutes. You get a real sense of who the main character is -- even if it's just that he's bored, lonely, and kind of a dork, and he wants to travel. That's not revolutionary character building or anything, but those are four more character traits than you got from 90 minutes of Will Smith in I, Robot. And all that in less time than a long stoplight, and with the only dialogue being "yes" and "woo!" We also are introduced to, and come to completely understand the unique mechanic of, the titular device -- what it is, what it does, how it works -- and this is accomplished entirely without painful exposition.
If there are any aspiring filmmakers out there, take note: When they say "show and not tell," they don't mean cut all the dialogue and replace it with explosions -- they mean do stuff like this.
#3. The Gate (For the Love of God, Stop Watching at 6:46)
That's a weird parenthetical in the heading, I know. Let me explain: The Gate does most everything right, but if it's not too late already, do me a favor and stop the video at exactly 6:46. Close the video at that point, and violently assault anybody who ever suggests that you watch any further. It takes shockingly little to ruin an entire work. In Blade Runner, it was Harrison Ford's lifeless, unnecessary voice-over. In the new Battlestar Galactica, it was a single Bob Dylan song. In Lost, it was, like, the entire last episode of Lost. In The Gate, it's the handful of cards at the end extolling the subtext with the heaviest hand this side of a Rockbiter.
If you stop The Gate at 6:46, the ending seems a little anticlimactic, and maybe a bit abrupt, but you're still left with the sense that this is a good step toward a greater, more compelling horror/sci-fi universe. It's like reading a Lovecraft short: You don't get the whole story from just one, but you do get the sense that there's something larger going on, far beyond the scope of what you've been shown thus far. And you want to know what that something is. That's a tough trick to pull off in any medium, and The Gate does it very well (for a short). Excellent, unique monster design, quality effects, gripping atmosphere, a world fleshed out with smaller details -- the special soldiers who get flown in to deal with what I can only optimistically call the Foot-Monster imply that this sort of thing happens enough to have a task force assigned to it -- it all adds up to make for some killer sci-fi.
And then somebody, presumably the director's dull-but-well-meaning father who put up the seed money for the film, said, "I don't get it." A few months and a few sentences later, and you've got a monster-themed PSA that looks like it was funded by the Obvious Conspiracy Division of Big Pharma. But not if you stop at exactly 6:46 -- listen to the parenthetical! Trust in the parenthetical!
OBEY THE PARENTHETICAL.