Autómata (2014) – Review

Directed by Gabe Ibáñez
Written by Gabe Ibáñez, Igor Legarreta, Javier Sánchez Donat
Starring Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Melanie Griffith 
Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

So, as dystopian futures go, Automata’s vision is not exactly original or unique. Nonetheless, this vision is still compelling. Not riveting, certainly, but intriguing enough for those that have an interest in this type of thing to stick with it for the duration, just to see what happens by the end. 
Film-makers as a rule, when posed with the theme of the near future are surprisingly lacklustre in the creativity department. Surprisingly, as these people are allegedly creative types, after all, but too often what we get in return for our faith in the imaginations of our appointed dream-makers is something that, if we’re honest, we probably could have done better with ourselves.
If you’re over twenty or so, you’re probably already familiar with the themes of robots being bad and prone to malfunctioning in the area of moral fortitude. If you’re a little older, then you’ll also have seen or read some Isaac Asimov, the man responsible for the three laws of robotics. Automata chops these rules down to two and furthermore, mucks about with them a bit for good measure. Essentially, the main things you need to remember about the robots here – and this is INALTERABLE (as per the opening sequence) – is that robots are unable to harm any form of life and secondly, that no robot can make alterations to itself or other robots. Hmm, I can’t possibly imagine what’s going to happen here then…sigh.
And if you’re sighing along with me, then you have either also seen this or know what’s coming without having to bother. And you’re not wrong. I hark back to my previous comment about originality and uniqueness. Interesting? Yes. Insightful? Potentially. Considered? Probably not.
However, what it almost certainly lacks in the admittedly clogged up genre of near-future-sci-fi-so-close-that-you-can-almost-smell-it, it does itself no harm at all in the areas of cinematography and design. It looks like a horrible time and place to live, the skies scorched by solar powered death rain and the population reduced by 97% per cent to a trifling twenty-one million souls, all having a really shit day, every day. Granted, there may be more police officers on duty than binmen picking up litter (this is everywhere, incidentally) but is this not the best way to inform an audience that society has spiraled so far downwards as to make this kind of filth barely noticeable? Or at least, completely unimportant? 
“How do we make this street look even more weathered and decrepit, chief? Director grimaces for just a moment (and in my best Spanish accent). “Hmm, go anda graba a roll ofa bin-bags froma Aldi anda filla them witha Melanie Griffith’s written denials ova plastic surgery anda all of the-a CVs she’sa sent out since-a Working Girla. That shoulda do the trick.” (not racist, can’t sue me).
Anyway, aside from the risible performance from the woman who quite probably can no longer actually smile believably, even if she wanted to, the rest of the cast aren’t all that bad. Granted, the script is a little stilted and often oaky enough for woodworm to be found lurking within its pages, but it will just about do. It may not make much sense (why would all of these apparently expensive robots just all be left outside for tramps to steal the legs and arms off, for example?) and is about as refreshing a taking a bath in Susan Boyle’s lukewarm left over water after an aggressive bout of exfoliation, but then again, nobody said there would be tulips and rainbows, now did they?
The biggest problem with Automata, however, is its seemingly abject failure to live up to its lofty aspirations. These are big things here that it is proposing. Well, trying to. Potentially, very real things in the not too distant future. Sure, it does grimy very well, but how often have we seen a grubby near future done much better. More innovative ideas from film-makers just as talented have been here and done this with more flair and a good deal more thought has gone into their presentation. Certainly, there is the requisite amount of sinister menace which is absolutely necessary when trying to scare your audience into believing that there is actual proper peril at work, but somehow this never translates into a convincing whole.

In short, I love dystopian sci-fi and admire those that are passionate enough to tell the stories about our possible futures, lavishing philosophical and scientific potential into our hungry, modern souls, looking for direction. I did not love this because it failed to achieve any of those things I love about the genre.

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