Not enough sci-fi movies have adorable robots these days. Sure, Baymax and BB-8 are fab enough that we can forgive Ridley Scott for not giving Matt Damon a robo-buddy in The Martian – but generally the world needs all the cute droids it can get its hands on. Luckily, Planet Unknown has read my mind, and writer-director Shawn Wang gives two for the price of one in this sweet little adventure short.
The plot is simple – two space rovers run into bother while testing an unknown planet for how well it can sustain life – but manages to tug on the heartstrings even within the 10-minute runtime. The throwback adventure feel is matched by a great animated style, as absurdly detailed robots whiz through a more rounded and impressionistic landscape.
Hopefully Wang chooses to explore the world he has created further, as it would be a shame not to do more with these intricate designs. The “nSeed” device is a real highlight; every whirring mechanism actually seems purposeful, rather than just being animated bells and whistles. The two rovers are the stars of the show though, grabbing your attention with their clicky pincers and not letting go until the credits roll.
Wang credits Interstellar as the original inspiration for this short, which was also his final thesis at the Communication University of China. There’s also clearly a lot of Wall-E in here, and for any fans of that Pixar gem this is a must-see.
Lovely sound work by Tom Gilbert and Davin Johnston brings everything together, impressively managing to amp up the tension in a limited timeframe. Planet Unknown has already picked up awards and buzz on the festival circuit, and serves as a great debut for Shawn Wang. Watch out for more great things in the future.
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DIRECTOR: Shawn ‘Zixiao’ Wang
WRITER: Shawn ‘Zixiao’ Wang
SYNOPSIS: At the end of the 21st Century, mankind faced global resource shortages. Space Rovers were sent out to find potentially inhabitable planets.