This weekend I completed my watch of the Amazon Prime series Tales From The Loop.
It explores people living in a midwestern community. Underground is a mysterious physics research facility. I found it compelling. More human than about 95% of science fiction available either in video or book format. Probably a disappointment to people looking for flash-bang effects and ultra-quick video action. There was a lot to like about it. Briefly …
As science fiction, it works within my principle: take one single change in the universe and plant a person near the change. For the most part, each story manages to limit itself to one “weird” thing. Time travel, parallel universe, artificial life–things like that. Again, for the most part, it blends in one human situation: love, death, aging, etc.. The viewer sits back and sees where the story goes. As sf, it doesn’t overdo.
As filmmaking, it’s quite excellent. Attention to detail. The use of lighting. It’s very cinematic. Special effects are obvious: robots, artificial limbs, technology in advance of the current age while fashion, interior design, and architecture are very much mid-20th century.
I suppose a 22nd century sf fan would see it as steampunk. Also I enjoyed the music, partly by Philip Glass. Understated, as you might expect.
The acting and directing are of a high quality. Duncan Joiner plays a young boy who takes a lead role in three of the episodes is excellent as an actor. One of the middle stories stands out as he struggles with his grandfather’s death.
The older man takes him to an “echosphere,” one of many weird objects that just happen to be strewn outside of town. You can speak into the sphere, then count the echoes to get an idea of the length of years one will live. The boy hears several echoes. He insists his grandfather give it a try. The man demurs, but then accedes to the insistence. The boy is old enough to understand what the lack of any echo means. As the older man fades through an ugly incapacitation and into death, the boy is distraught. One simple idea: counting the echoes to know one’s life length. But many human elements: love, family, death, loss, and perhaps guilt.
There are also curious anachronisms: late 80s personal computers, but the decor and clothing look 50s. That didn’t really bother me. That a serious scientific research facility would leave dangerous technological devices strewn about in a forest seems a bit farfetched.
The series is good, but not perfect. In one episode a teenager finds a device that stops time. The director goofs in one fairly important scene where the wind blows her hair. (And don’t get me started on how people can walk through air when time has frozen. I don’t think that’s possible.) A few narrative possibilities are left unexplored. One character meets a somewhat unsatisfying end, though a heroic one.
Tales From The Loop reminds me of two other sf series from about a decade ago. This new show takes the material more seriously. When I asked my wife what it recalled for her, she said The Twilight Zone. I can see that too. I’d balance a grade for Loop about midway between A-minus and B-plus. For tv, that’s good. For science fiction, better than expected.