Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Automata" - A Film Review

The year is 2044. After several years of war, famine, disease and climate change the human population that once dominated the planet at 7 billion persons is now near extinction with only 21 million survivors and even fewer living in conditions of any kind of normal human existence.

Early on during these catastrophic changes a few major corporations banded together with the goal of creating robots to help humans survive the odds and continue as a species. To ensure the bots would continue their programmed purpose two primary protocols were built into their software:

1. At no time, or in any circumstance would a robot harm a human being.

2. At no time, or under any circumstance would a robot hurt another robot, repair a robot except under human supervision and following strict guidelines, and, under no circumstance will a robot engage in self repair or self improvement.

An insurance agency called ROC was instituted to ensure that these two primary protocols would never be violated by humans or robots. The agency was tasked with rooting out any transgressors, be they human or automata. If an infraction was discovered the agent would report to ROC and a human task force of special police would be unleashed to deal with it. As the years progressed the human population continued to dwindle while the robotic numbers increased by the millions across the globe.

In time robotic evolution unfolded to the point where one particular bot became self aware and was no longer limited to the programming initiated by the two primary protocols. This is where the film begins and the adventure starts for one such ROC agent, Jacq Vaucan, portrayed by Antonio Banderas (Desperado, The Expendables 3).

Joining Banderas is a strong supporting cast that include Dylan McDermott (Hostages, Stalker), a ROC security cop with an unbridled hatred for bots, Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Last Man Standing) as Vaucan’s immediate supervisor and friend at ROC and Melanie Griffith (Working Girl, Cherry 2000) who stars as a freelance robotics engineer and also the voice of one of the main robotic characters named Cleo. Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country For Old Men) also lends his voice work to one of the other main robots in the film.

I was torn by this film. It certainly wasn’t one of the finest films Banderas has been in over his long career. With a resume like Philadelphia, The Mambo Kings, Evita, Frida and stage appearances in Phantom of the Opera, making Automata might seem like several steps down the ladder. The film was quite predictable, the script was interesting but certainly not revelatory and the ending also lacked originality ... but ... I still kind of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it enough to sit through 109 minutes of it. I was never bored at any point in the film to turn away and do something else. It did make me want to hang in there until the end credits even though about halfway into it I was pretty sure how it would end ... and I was right in my assumption.

If I rate this films in increments I’m tempted to give it a much higher standing than if I were to scale it on the whole. But, my job is to give an opinion of the entire product from beginning to end and with that in mind on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give Automata a 4. Director Gabe Ibanez had great intentions, the right casting and from the looks of the special effects on the robots he certainly had the money to make a really classic science fiction apocalyptic film but sadly he - or it - fell short.

That all being said, I can still recommend this movie to the die hard sci-fi fan. It is still a relatively entertaining movie (just over look Banderas’ eating unmelted chocolate in searing desert heat). It has already made its very limited US run and isn’t set for a European release until January 2015. However, the hardy fan can find it now on iTunes or on Amazon Instant Video.

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