Automata is a gritty science-fiction film set thirty years in the future, starring Antonio Banderas (Spy Kids) , Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story) , Melanie Griffith (Hawaii-Five-O) and Javier Bardem (Skyfall).
The year is 2044 and due to solar flares the Earth is slowly being turned into a desert. Despite technology having regressed, humanity now has robots called Pilgrims, which were created to help mankind survive the new environment. These robots, made and maintained by the ROC corporation, and are used in mainly construction, care and jobs of that nature. Like Asimov’s robots the Pilgrims have a set of protocols – the first is not to harm a living thing, the second is not to alter themselves or any other robot. It is illegal for anyone except ROC to do so.
That is the future that our hero, Jacq Vaucan lives. He is an insurance investigator for ROC, looking into claims of malfunctioning robots. He is called to the police station to look at a robot without an owner, which an officer has shot – believing it to be fixing itself at the time – and discovers that the Pilgrim does indeed contain parts from different robots. Tracking these down to the wall round the city, he follows another robot out into the rubbish tip like ghetto – where he sees it set itself on fire. Convinced something strange is going, that the robots are acting ‘alive’, Jacq starts to dig deeper – all the while having to deal with the impending responsibility of becoming a father.
I thought this film wasn’t bad. It has a typical ‘evolving robots are a threat’ plot, and a world a little reminiscent of Blade Runner, though most sci-fi futures are somewhat reminiscent of Blade Runner now. The bleached, gritty, desert look of the outside world and the rain-coats-cum-trench-coats I thought stood out as rather original. I have to say that I really liked how realistic the robots in this film were. Instead of going all CGI and shinny, the Pilgrims seemed be actually mechanical props most of the time, making them look very realistic. They felt like the type of machine you might see being sold one day in the future.
I also like the fact this film hinges on the protocol that says robots should not repair themselves, instead of the first one which dictates they can’t hurt a living thing – killer robots being the more conventional route. Though the humans are still afraid that this ability to will lead to greater intelligence and then the robots out evolving them, its interesting to see this angle taken – the idea that self-sufficiency and being allowed to think about themselves will lead to self-awareness and consciousness.
This is typical but fine sci-fi fare, with good performances all round. Antonio Banderas gives a particularly serious and believable performance as Jacq, who is intrigued by the case, though distracted by thoughts of leaving the city. The film is also worth seeing to appreciate the realistic looking robots.
Automata is being released On Demand on April 27, and on Blu-Ray and DVD on 11 May.