Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review of AUTOMATA: Rational Robotics


This is a film I had never heard of when it was quietly released in local cinemas this week together with big films like "Birdman" and "Into the Woods." The unique title caught my attention, and despite knowing absolutely nothing about it, I went and watched it. I am actually glad I did.

The story is set in 2044, a dystopian future when solar storms have rendered the earth practically unlivable. A robotics company called ROC produce Automata Pilgrim robots, designed to build the walls protecting the last remaining cities on earth containing the remaining 1% of the human population. Man still controls these robots via two strict protocols. The first protocol prevents robots from harming living organisms. The second protocol prevents robots from altering themselves or other robots.

Jacq Vaucan is a jaded insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation who wants to move to a new city after his wife gives birth. However, he was assigned to investigate cases of robots reported to be violating the safety protocols. In his mission, he encounters a remarkable female robot named Cleo, and later, an even more remarkable male robot, named Blue. They seem to have circumvented the second protocol somehow, and were capable of improving themselves. Will the human race remain safe in the presence of such powerful robots?

Antonio Banderas was able to embody the insouciance and jadedness of this world-weary man Jacq Vaucan very well. This is not to say he was able to avoid performing with his usual acting tics. While these may be a bit distracting, his exaggerated gestures and accented voice made his character more interesting to watch during the long philosophical discourses that marked the film's second half. 

It was good to see Banderas interact on the screen with his real-life spouse Melanie Griffith, whom I have not seen on the big screen for a very long time already.  Griffith plays Dr. Dupre, a "clock-maker", someone who can repair and reprogram robots. Her distinct voice is still squeaky and her acting style still cutesy, it was nostalgic. Too bad her character did not play a longer role in the story. I would have liked to see how someone with Dupre's engineering skills would interact with the self-aware robots in the end.

Dylan McDermott plays Sean Wallace, a hot-headed man quick with his gun. He represented that segment of humanity paranoid about the robots and was not averse to using violence against them. McDermott's character was harsh and vicious. The atmosphere of a scene instantly changes to a charged negative vibe when he is on - scary. 

Writer-Director Gabe Ibanez was able to create a sensitive and contemplative piece about the relationship of man and artificial intelligence. The cinematography is clean with a pale color palette. The script is insightful and thought-provoking. Despite being short on action (this is a European production, not Hollywood), this film can really engage you and draw you into the complex discussions about the essence of humanity and the survival of a race. Check this quiet yet gritty little film out if you are in a thinking mood, it will be time well-spent. 7/10.

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