AUTÓMATA is interesting, but could have been more so. It’s competently directed, with a good eye for detail, but you find yourself craving more originality and tighter plotting overall.
In the face of disaster caused by environmental decay and warfare, humanity has turned to mass-producing robots to do their dirty work, until they mysteriously begin to fight against their programming and leave their maters to their self-made fate. Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is employed by the sole manufacturer of automatons to find the “clocksmith” responsible for the world’s robots disobeying their masters.
The film borrows liberally from earlier, arguably better examples of Science-fiction. Robots are used as a labour force, particularly in hazardous areas, much like in DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?/BLADE RUNNER and protocols are input to prevent them rising up against their fleshy masters, like in I, ROBOT. Asimov and Philip K Dick clearly have some big fans, but if you have to copy someone then it might as well be the two of the best, right?
Again, like in Ridley Scott’s filmed Blade Runner, this world is one near-constantly drenched by a depressing downpour, and the put-upon mechanical sub-class dream of something better. Tone-wise it’s similar to something like DELICATESSEN with its unsavoury, devolved and dying out society. The whole thing feels very European, which it should with the talent in front and behind the camera (writer-director Gabe Ibáñez, Banderas being only the two most prominent). So why on Earth is the thing in English? The only possible reason can be commercial, which is a shame because it might have been interesting to see a post-apocalyptic Spain for a change.
The film perhaps better explains, and demonstrates Asimov’s laws of robotics in practice than the Alex Proyas-directed adaptation of the author’s own I, Robot did, though it’s a little lame that the excuse given for why automatons can’t break their protocols to begin with is simply “because they can’t”, but it sets the plot in motion.
There’s some nice futuristic imagery here, as well as some interesting ideas for how this near-dead world might function – a holographic boxing match where we see the two fighters briefly towering over a city before a knockout; everyone using retro-future phone-pagers; home ultrasound kits; rain that “can be hazardous for your health”; the robots looking like toaster-humanoids with Stephen Hawking’s voice and red pinprick eyes, until they discard their blank faces to reveal insectoid inner workings as they are liberated.
For the most part it’s a decent enough industrial noir. I always like exploring the dramatic potential of seeing how wrong a supposedly “perfect” system can go. In this future law enforcers are halfway between cops and insurance brokers, which makes sense as both industries are protecting against something, one with the wellbeing of others more in mind than the other. The company Banderas works for are a bit like Blade Runners, only nastier. There’s not really much moral conflict that goes on in their brains, even when long-held theories are shattered. They’ve got a job to do and they will see it done.
Speaking of ROC robotics company, the figures that make up the upper echelons are an…interesting selection. The story is motoring nicely along, Jacq is well on with his ill-defined quest, then all of a sudden Tim McInnerny turns up rocking a terrible Americsn accent, along with a very confused-looking Grandad from OUTNUMBERED (David Ryall).
The plot does become scrambled as we go on, especially in terms of character motivation – who wants what and why? I’m not sure I understood anything at all in the last 20 minutes of the film, aside from the general emotional reaction I think Ibáñez was going for.
Confused and derivative as it can be, I like the spirit and visuals of Autómata, and the ambition it has to explore the concept of an AI learning to be as selfish as their human creators to ensure their own survival. It’s a good pastiche with high points, but it likely won’t stand the test of time. SSP