Eschewing rampaging mechanoids and ninja assassins, writer/director Greg Pak’s debut feature length is a delightful film that uses robots to explore aspects of the human condition. Ranging across the four ages of man, Robot Stories delves into deep waters but ultimately it is all about love.
The opening credits are conveyed by a short and quirky animation which sets the tone for the rest of the film, and then Robot Stories launches straight into the first of its four tales: “My Robot Baby”. A young couple, Marsha and Roy, plan to adopt a child and are given an egg-shaped robot to care for in order to judge their suitability. When Roy is called away on a business trip, Marsha tries to cheat her responsibilities and finds out that parenthood isnt as easy as she had expected.
“The Robot Fixer” tells of a mothers attempt to reconcile herself with her wayward son after a car accident leaves him in a coma. The only link to his past is his childhood collection of robot toys, and so she embarks on a quest to fix all of his robot toys in the hope that they will bring him back to her.
In “Machine Love”, the year is 2007 and intelligent androids are available for purchase as skilled workers. Archie is one such android, a Sprout G9 iPerson, and he can learn how to integrate himself into the workplace by observing the behaviour of his human colleagues. When his supervisor forgets to turn Archie off one evening, Archie explores the office and begins to question his purpose in life.
“Clay” is the final piece, and is set in 2027 when technological advances have led to the digitisation of human consciousness. When an elderly man is diagnosed with a terminal illness, an appointment is made for him to have his mind scanned and then uploaded into a virtual reality. However, despite the prospect of being reunited with his deceased wife, he is plagued with doubts about spending eternity in a state that he does not consider to be real.
Robot Stories stands out from the majority of its SF contemporaries because it doesn’t leave characterisation by the wayside in favour of jaw-dropping CGI or a complex plot. All of the lead actors give excellent performances, and this is complimented by a good balance between serious drama and moments of absolute hilarity.
“The Robot Fixer” is the most accomplished of the set; a poignant tragedy with a spot-on depiction of the dynamic between the first and second generations of Asian-Americans; closely followed by the touching “My Robot Baby”. Unfortunately, the second half of Robot Stories is noticeably weaker than the first, though for two different reasons: “Machine Love” is let down by a hollow execution, and “Clay” is over-ambitious. There is simply not enough time to convey a sense of the repercussions that would result from such a profound concept as digitised consciousness. When questioned about Robot Stories, Greg Pak has said that “Clay” is the one story that he would choose to expand into a full length film, as there were many ideas that he could not explore in the time available.
Despite these flaws, the format in which Robot Stories is presented creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, and it is a whole that richly deserves attention.