Forty years into the future, an Earth scared by massive solar flares sets the stage for a film-noir sci-fi adventure, which is at once both new and familiar. Automata, written and directed by Gabe Ibáñez, evokes both Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner, but goes much deeper in its exploration of what it means to be human. In this future world, a much diminished human race is served by a multitude of robots provided by the ROC Corporation.
The cast is remarkable. A collection of stars and veteran character actors whom you’ve seen many times bring a gritty reality to this fantasy world.
Antonio Banderas plays insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan, who works for ROC and routinely investigates claims of robot malfunctions. He is unhappy in the city – violent and vice ridden – and wants to get out before his wife, played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, gives birth to their child. His boss, Robert Bold, played by Robert Forster, talks him into conducting one more investigation. It seems that someone is hacking robot brains and getting them to violate the protocols of robotics which prevent the robots from harming any kind of life and from altering themselves or any other robot.
Both Vaucan and Bold are caught between the mystery on the street and political cronyism. This is not your typical “evil corporation” Hollywood plot. No one sets out to be bad. But no one is sure what is happening, and if it gets out that the robots are malfunctioning, ROC could lose its exclusive contract with the city. David Ryall plays Dominic Hawk, ROC’s CEO. He is determined to find someone to blame for the problem – as long as it isn’t him — and isn’t above using street thugs to resolve his dilemma.
The actors portraying the thugs, Dylan McDermott, Tim McInnerny, and Andy Nyman, all manage to project their vile corrupt natures by their looks alone – a futuristic Irish-Italian mafia in ill-fitting suits. It gets worse when they move in to strong-arm Vaucan’s wife and child.
McDermott plays the thug leader, a violent, corrupt, alcoholic policeman. That’s a bit of a change for McDermott, who is usually playing good guys. In information provided by Millennium Entertainment, McDermott explained: “This idea of evolution — from the chimpanzee to man, and now to the robot gaining consciousness — I just thought that this movie was really well written and had poetry in it and had a great metaphor in it. The film is original. And it’s hard to make an original movie.”
As his investigation proceeds, Vaucan discovers the lab of robot researcher Dr. Dupre, played by Melanie Griffith. Dupre, who can change the programming of robot brains, provides Vaucan with clues and connects him with pleasure robot Cleo. Griffith also provides the voice for Cleo. Eventually, Cleo connects Vaucan with the mastermind Blue Robot, voiced by Javier Bardem.
So, with all this talent, does the film work? It’s not as original as it claims, owing inspiration to Isaac Asimov and Phillip K. Dick. Asimov came up with the laws of robotics and if Ridley Scott had the special effects technology in 1982 available now, the future L.A. of Blade Runner would have looked like Automata’s city. If Asimov and Dick were still around, Ibáñez would at least owe them a dinner.
With that said, the story of insurance investigator Vaucan, struggling with his job, the birth of a child, and, ultimately, for the life of his family, is a powerful, gripping story. Combine that with the mysterious robots, questions about the nature of the soul, and what it means to be alive and you have a thought provoking film, worth going to a theater to see.
Automata, rated R, will be released in theaters and to VOD on October 10, 2014.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=055338256X,B00005JN0T,B008M4MB8K]