Review: Automata (2014) VOD/DVD

Out: VOD 27th April and DVD 4th May / 2014 / 98 mins / 15 rating / Lions Gate / Dir. Gabe Ibáňez

Antonio Banderas stars in this sci-fi action thriller set in the year 2044. After solar flares damaged the Earth and wiped out the majority of the human population those who survived began to use robots, made by the ROC Corporation, to help them rebuild their lives. The robots are programmed to protect human life and are incapable of altering themselves or their fellow machines in any way. However, when police officer Wallace (Dylan McDermott) reports that he shot a robot because it was modifying itself, ROC insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (Banderas) comes to believe that there could be a ‘clocksmith’ who is changing the automata’s protocol, allowing them to make alterations. As Jacq investigates further he makes an unlikely ally in the form of altered robot Cleo (voice of Melanie Griffith) and comes to realise who the real enemy is… – Lions Gate.

Those familiar with sci fi, or even those who have a casual interest, will find Automata has influences and imagery within it more associated with classic sci fi features. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Aliens and many more all seem to creep into Automata’s plot and the aesthetics as well. This gives it a rich visual dynamic, the movie has plenty of eyecandy. However it is a disadvantage for the story as it will feel by-the-numbers from the use of a somewhat predictable plot.

Banderas is ‘insurance investigator’ Jacq, the character having to find out if the robots that serve humans have broken their programming or there is another reason for it. The idea of artificial life being able to turn against ‘real’ life has been used in cinema before with I, Robot (2004) being the most recent. Jacq then interacts heavily with some of these same robots but can he trust them? They aren’t meant to hurt a human but if they have been altered he could be risking his life.

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While the plot takes in elements from the above mentioned films it seems the biggest culprit is Blade Runner, giving the story an even greater feeling of deja vu. At some points it feels as if the movie has slipped into Ridley Scott’s movie, such is the influence of that particular sci-fi. Having said that, it may be difficult for a feature in this genre to be original given the post modern times of cinema. It should be stressed that it doesn’t feel as if Automata is ripping off the other works, just paying homage. But it may feel unoriginal to some viewers, regardless.

There is an issue with the robots, labelled as Pilgrims, that creates one very awkward scene towards the end of Automata. The machines are obviously just that: machines. But in this movie some are given masks and wigs to wear that make them appear female, the machines have been assigned genders. Even in the future gender inequality exists as the ‘female’ robots carry out tasks that women are stereotyped as carrying out. Rather worringly these ‘bots also have breasts (no nipples, thankfully). This leads to the awkward scene, it creates the unintentional comedy moment of the feature: a female machine slow dances with Jacq. 

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Despite these issues Automata is a highly entertaining movie. Taking in the impressive effects and admiring some of the great camera angles that Gabe Ibáňez make the movie visually pleasing. This may be due to Ibáňez having done visual effects on several features, as well as having a Image Science BA. He certainly has an eye for some slick graphics and scenery. 

Special Features (availble on the DVD release).
The Making of (4 mins) – A brief but informative featurette in which Automata’s star and director talk on set about the movie. Both seem to think of it as a film noir. This is somewhat true although due to the Blade Runner influence it may be somewhat accidentally (that movie is often labelled a sci-fi film noir).

Interview with Antonio Banderas (13 mins) – The star again compares Automata to a film noir, plus talks about working with the cast and director.

Verdict.
Story wise this isn’t too original yet Automata is exciting and visually rewarding.

Pre-order the DVD here