The vision of the future in movies has always been sort of a downer. When glimpsing forward in time, we are almost always faced with some sort of apocalypse, or another similar dark interpretation of where humanity is headed. Often, exceptional advances in technology are shown, but usually these advancements come with a thematic warning of how the technology will become a danger to us all. In the new intellectual science-fiction thriller, Automata (opening today), the future is as black and hopeless as ever, and familiar themes like man vs. machine are prevalent. But there are a few thought-provoking alterations made to what we are used to in this genre, and the result is a fascinating, bone-chilling, take on the pitfalls associated with the evolution of man, and our ever increasing reliance on technology to solve the world’s problems.
In the opening sequence of Automata, we are painted the bleak picture. Natural environmental disasters looked to wipe out the Earth’s population. In response, the ROC Corporation created “Automata,” which is the plural of Automaton, or in other words, life-size robots, and this robot army was intended to fight and contain the growing threat. But it didn’t work. On a planet with over 4 billion people living on it, the human population was cut down to just two million living souls. Automata still live among them, owned by some and used much like household appliances, with humankind living in small clusters on the streets of post-apocalyptic cities, staying away from the deadly “desert” zones, where radiation roams.
The Automata were created with two prime directives: That they cannot harm any living thing, be it animal or human. The second objective is that they cannot alter or change themselves in any way. This is emphasized over and over, that these robots are unalterable. Very interesting then, that in the first scene of the film, we see one repairing itself, before a vigilante (Dylan McDermott in full bad-ass mode), puts a bullet through its head.
Antonia Banderas plays Jacq Vaucan, an insurance investigator for the ROC Corporation. More and more, he is getting called in to inspect Automata gone rogue, with reports of them killing animals or otherwise acting outside of their programmed protocol. His investigations lead him into a strange conspiracy that puts his and his pregnant wife’s (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) life in danger.
The look of the film is incredibly moving, and the Automata themselves are cold and eery. Banderas gives one of his best performances to date and the layers of compelling intellectual themes makes this one of the more eye-opening science-fiction movies I’ve seen in quite some time.
Just as we are given an instinctive ability to survive, technology is shown to have advanced to such a point where this instinct becomes a reality for the Automata as well. It is also an interesting twist, to consider a future where we are over-run by robots and advanced technology, but these are not evil Terminator-style robots, rather, they are docile creations. The imperative thought here, is that humans will destroy themselves, as they have throughout time.
This is the kind of film that sticks with you and makes you think about it long after you stop watching. Automata sneaks up on you. It isn’t your average science-fiction fare. In fact, it’s far above average.
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith
Co-Written and Directed by Gabe Ibanez (Hierro)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 10, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time