The Best New Sci-Fi Show on Netflix Was Almost Way More Ambitious

In the 2016 short film Scavengersa spaceship explodes, the fiery debris raining down on an inhospitable alien planet. On the surface, two survivors wordlessly interact with the strange flora and fauna, turning spores into binoculars and alien intestines into jet fuel. It’s a bizarrely beautiful symphony of images and sounds, condensed into what feels like an eight-minute fever dream. And animator Joe Bennett, who wrote and directed Scavengers with Charles Huettner, wanted to preserve the fever-dream feeling of the original short in their adaptation of the story into a full-fledged TV series — including the lack of dialogue.

“Maybe the idea of doing no dialogue could be a cool thing,” Bennett tells Inverse of his thought process during the long, uncertain production process for what would become the stunning Max animated series Scavengers Reign (now streaming on Netflix).

Bennett’s idea for a full TV series with no dialogue was based on his original conception of the story as “a visual narrative” that played around “with this Rube Goldberg-style approach.” It was to be the rare sci-fi story where the images led first, and the story could follow after — part of what made the original short film so enrapturing.

But it’s difficult to imagine the full breadth of the show being executed well without dialogue. Scavengers Reign isn’t the most complex story, but its interweaving plotlines of the various survivors — who encounter varying degrees of hostile creatures on the alien planet — would’ve been difficult to pull off without dialogue. Bennett acknowledges that such a high concept approach “would’ve been stifling, in hindsight.”

After the short film made a splash when it was aired on Adult Swim’s Toonami block, Bennett, Huettner, and the team at Titmouse got to work making a pilot for the network. However, Adult Swim immediately pushed back on the no-dialogue idea. “There was pushback on that,” Bennett says. “There were a few new conditions where it was like, ‘I think you guys need to have dialogue and we need to have a little bit more conventional character development,’ which in hindsight, I’m very glad that we did that.”

Bennett describes his and Huettner’s original method for making Scavengers Reign as “a Rube Goldberg-style approach.”

Max

The dialogue-free concept ended up living on in the bewitching trailers for Scavengers Reign, which Bennett says he insisted on cutting himself. In the trailers, much like in the short, the spaceship explodes and a series of intriguing images of its alien planet and the survivors stuck over it follow, all while a spare, haunting piano score plays. The lack of dialogue lends it a pure visceral power — but it would’ve been virtually impossible to maintain that power over the course of 12 episodes, as Scavengers Reign ended up being.

“There would’ve been a lot of limitations if this was a dialogue-less show,” Bennett says. Maybe it’s a challenge that Bennett and co. can tackle if Scavengers Reign ends up getting picked up for a second season.

Scavengers Reign is streaming now on Netflix.

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