Wednesday, 22 April 2015


automata opens with a sequence that looks like it could have been a deleted scene from bladerunner - a cop (played by dylan mcdermott of american horror story, who recently appears to be referenced in everything i review) in a plastic raincoat searches out a robot in a decaying future city where huge holographic ads tower above him. the scene sets a gritty, hardboiled tone that the film thankfully abandons halfway through when it mutates into a surreal beckettian thesis on the persistence of evolution.

the hero of automata isn't mcdermott's cop, but a downtrodden insurance investigator played by antonio banderas. banderas isn't the first performer who comes to mind when you think 'downtrodden' but he plays it very well here. he manages to perform every scene like he's on the verge of quitting it all and putting a bullet in his head, and yet is likable enough for us to will him to continue. his character, Jacq Vaucan, is responsible for investigating robot-related insurance claims in a post-apocalyptic world where much of the earth has been destroyed. He dreams of a better life for his wife and their unborn child, and his key to obtaining that life comes in the form of a high profile new case. robots are starting to repair themselves, which in this world is a violation of their protocols. vaucan is charged with unravelling this mystery, and in pulling at that thread he actually comes closer to unravelling the entirety of human civilisation.

automata has a rather odd but ultimately endearing tone, and once it hits its stride feels less like i, robot and more like richard stanley's cult killer robot film hardware (guess who was in hardware? that's right, dylan mcdermott). there are also elements of 70s sci-fi, particularly movies like soylent green and silent running. what these comparisons say to me is that this is a film about ideas; big ideas. it's a film that is quite at home spending it's latter half with antonio banderas being pulled around a desolate desert landscape by four robots (which is where it all goes a bit beckett). it's a film we've probably seen before, but rarely has it been done with so much grace and sincerity.

there is a key line in automata that sums up exactly what the film is about. vaucan is having an argument with his wife over their decision to bring a child into a dying world. his wife tells him 'life always ends up finding a way', referring to the fact that their child will survive no matter where they escape to. this line comes to represent how the robots have evolved, but also suggests that the replacement of the human race by something artificial is inevitable. the film then asks, would this be an entirely bad thing?

what really sells the concept at the heart of the film is the robots themselves. with the exception of a couple of moments all the robots are puppets, so they're actually there in real life, not computer-generated. they look clunky and their movements are slow and laboured, but this works with the world of the story. with the exception of the robots, there are a number of instances of characters relying on outdated technology such as fax machines, pagers and old cars. the industrial nature of the robots fits into this world perfectly, and yet it never detracts from their humanity. by the end the two main robots feel as human as the human characters, possibly helped by the fact that their leader is voiced by javier bardem.

the film is a little too earnest at times and the middle section does drag a little compared to the fast-paced first act, but overall it's refreshing to see a movie with robots that actually tries to make you think about ideas and never resorts to the robots hitting each other to get our attention. this is an impressive attempt at making a small-scale sci-fi with huge ideas at its core and definitely worth checking out if you want to see something a bit different.

automata is released on demand 27th april & blu-ray and dvd 4th may

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