A humming hive buzzes with mostly mindless drones intent upon their tasks. The workers think and feel, but their energy is focused on their jobs, of giving their all for the betterment of the colony. Their lives revolve, more or less, around the hive, and they have no complaints. That’s the image corporate bigwigs or productivity experts somewhere in this country have of the ideal workplace: an office environment akin to a hyper-productive hive.
At least, that’s what Drones would have you think, and it’s not too far off the mark. I’m sure there actually is a corporate productivity policy out there that at least uses some hive-related metaphors. Who knows, maybe script writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker heard the metaphor at an office meeting and that’s what first inspired the film.
Brian’s just another office drone. Unlike many movies starring guys like him, though, he’s content with his lot. If he’s not proud of his bee-like status he’s at least happy enough with it. The system works for him; as long as he does his work, his understanding boss Pete leaves him to do what he wants. That includes softening the edges of the work hours by hanging out in the break room with his best buddy Clark, and IM’ing back and forth with Amy, the girl a few cubicles down and to the right.
It’s Clark and Amy who ruin Brian’s peaceful existence as a happy little worker bee. Clark first points out to Brian the flirtatious undertone of his chats with Amy. The possibility of something more, of their relationship developing beyond one that helps pass the time, is what first throws Brian for a loop. He’d managed to find contentment in his routine, and any change to that, including change that could be so good but could also ruin everything, threatens his entire drone-like existence. That’s just the first curve ball; it’s nothing compared to finding out that both Clark and Amy are aliens.
Drones is about what would happen if you found out someone, with whom you spend hours every day, is actually an alien. It’s an intriguing concept: maybe sometimes, numbed by hours spent filing or staring at info-graphics, we’ve wondered that about our co-workers. They can be a bit strange, right? What if? Even with that revelation, Drones is still more Office Space than Independence Day or The X-Files. Brian doesn’t suddenly turn into an action hero and defend his planet against an alien invasion. He doesn’t even become a paranoid conspiracy-theorist, compiling mountains of data on Roswell or the Loch Ness monster.
Brian, being Brian, doesn’t freak out as much as some of us might. He might be thrown out of his content drone existence when he learns there are aliens in his office, but he adjusts to the concept within a day. This is, after all, the guy who was happy for so long as an unquestioning worker bee. Yes, Clark might say that he’s there as an explorer, to send back information his planet can use to eventually enslave humanity, but Clark clarifies that life won’t really change. In fact, since he’ll be in charge at the office, he’ll give Brian a promotion. That’s enough to soothe Brian’s discontent.
The whole alien thing doesn’t really develop into a problem until Brian discovers that Amy’s one too, and not because he’s uncomfortable dating an alien. Her race, different from Clark’s, doesn’t naturally have emotions; she’s just gotten ones in an upgrade. In the interest of openness (something Amy’s learned is a vital part of human relationships), Amy says her planet’s going to destroy Earth. Given her rudimentary understanding of these brand-new human feelings, she doesn’t get why this upsets Brian, especially because she says she’ll take him with her. He likes her, right, so what’s the problem?
One of the strengths of Drones is how it sounds: the characters talk in a vocabulary and cadence that’s reminiscent of Joss Whedon dialog. At first I thought it was just my imagination. Brian is played by Jonathan M. Woodward, one of the few actors to appear in three of Whedon’s series: Buffy, Angel, and Firefly (though he only had more than a single guest appearance on Angel, as Knox in a small season 5 arc). But it’s more than just Woodward; Drones was directed by Amber Benson and Adam Busch, who played Tara and Warren on Buffy. The nerdy references are rounded out by Samm Levine (Clark), who played Neal, one of the eponymous geeks on Freaks and Geeks.
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