I know what you’re thinking – it’s yet-another film about robots! And while we’ve certainly seen plenty of automated sci-fi in the last few months, ‘Automata’ is without a doubt one of the gems.
Set in the near future, we meet Jacq Voucan, played by Antonio Banderas – an insurance agent who is responsible for investigating claims of malfunctioning robots. Of course, he works for the ROC Corporation – the company which makes the robots the entire world depends upon. And so his job essentially means trying to find someone else to blame. But with all robots unable to harm human beings, it’s a fairly straight-forward job.
And almost instantly, you get the sense of mind-numbing boredom in Jacq’s life.
But everything is about to get turned upside down when he stumbles upon an unusual case that might just change the course of human history… yep, it really is that big of a deal.
In the world of ‘Automata’, all robots are subject to the Two Protocols. No guessing where that idea comes from. It’s essentially their version of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. But while they’ve certainly been simplified, there’s a rather interesting addition…
The first protocol is to be expected – A robot cannot harm any form of life. But the second is something else entirely – A robot cannot alter itself or others. This protocol proves to be one of the most important when Jacq is called in to investigate the case of a robot which was shot by a police officer…
The office (played by Dylan McDermott) claims that he saw the robot repairing itself. Of course, this would be in direct violation of the second law, and while the police department attempts to avoid responsibility for the unit, Jacq uncovers something far more disturbing.
After examination of the robot, it’s found that it has numerous parts fitted to the chassis which do not belong… and when tracking down one of the robots those parts were taken from, Jacq witnesses a violation with his own eyes. Setting itself on fire, the robot clearly attempts to avoid questioning.
Of course, things soon take a turn for the worse and Jacq finds himself thrust into the midst of a worrying conspiracy. He believes that the Clocksmith is responsible – an almost mythical figure behind numerous cases of robot enhancement. And it’s up to Jacq to get to the bottom of it all.
But it’s just not that simple…
As you can probably tell, ‘Automata’ is just a stone’s throw away from the gritty, noir tones of ‘Blade Runner’. But with hints of an Asimovian future, it’s an interesting concept. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the most original stories of robots and A.I. that we’ve seen in recent years.
And more importantly, it’s a very enjoyable film.
Antonio Banderas is the best we’ve seen him in a long time… and his portrayal of Jacq Vaucan is full of subtlety. He’s a man tortured by the thought of a better life, and with a new addition to his family on the way, he’s determined to get them the life they deserve – heading to the coast, far away from the city.
And the city itself is rather well done… even if it is a tad derivative. I mean, let’s face it – it’s essentially the Los Angeles we know from ‘Blade Runner’, complete with risqué holograms, neon signage and that unmistakable rough and ready exterior.
Which brings us nicely to the robots themselves…
Although the robots were presumably once sleek and futuristic, they are now battered and grubby, rough around the edges. It gives us a sense that not only are the robots very much the workhorses of society. In fact, almost every element of society is automated. “They build our walls, drive our cars… even wipe our asses when we get old.” Everything is run by robotic assistance – even beggars send their robots out onto the street to beg for food.
But while they’re indispensable, it seems the robots are also looked down upon.
Often beaten, vandalised and torn apart, the robots are mankind’s saviours… but are treated like nothing more than slaves. It’s a much harsher, stark view of robotics compared to the likes of ‘I, Robot’. And it paints a far more noir vision of the future.
Of course, the film eventually comes full circle – presenting the conspiracy as something else entirely. It turns out that the robots aren’t all they’re cracked up to be… and when we finally get to the bottom of them, it seems they’re just like us. Well, sort of.
“Surviving is not relevant,” they claim. “Living is. We want to live.”
Unfortunately, by the time we get to this point, ‘Automata’ takes a slightly odd turn. The claustrophobic city that we spent the first half of the film within is long gone… and we find ourselves, much like Jacq, thrust out into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Although the film almost delivers on its premise, I can’t help feeling it falls just short of being absolutely perfect. But that’s not to say it isn’t a great movie… and it’s peppered with some truly iconic scenes – watching various robots removing their faces reinforces how little they need to appease their human masters in the end. And the image of a robotic beggar with its homeless owner huddled next to it will stay with me for a long time.
It’s a haunting vision of the future backed up with a brilliant script and superb acting. Let’s just hope ‘Automata’ teaches humanity a lesson before it’s too late.