Saturday, May 30, 2015

Film Review: Automata (2014)

Automata (Review)
Spain/Bulgaria/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The story may lack a unique personality, but its world and character are great."

2044: The world's remaining population has dwindled to mere millions due to solar flares. Most of the world has been dominated by desert. The survivors have settled in safe hub cities, and have developed robots called Pilgrims to aid them. The Pilgrims have two protocols: they can't hurt a human and they can't repair themselves.

Automata follows Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance investigator for ROC — the company that develops the Pilgrims. Jacq sees very little hope in his drab home, but he trudges forward for his wife and yet-to-be born daughter. As part of an assignment, Jacq stumbles upon a robot that has broken protocol — a robot that was caught reparing itself. So, Jacq begins investigating and soon finds himself outside city boundaries as he tries to locate the clocksmith responsible. As he digs deeper, he soon finds himself entering uncharted territory in the desert with altered robots. Even worse, his company believes he's responsible for the broken protocols. Although interesting, it's really nothing we haven't seen before. The ending was predictable, but not too flawed otherwise.

For me, Automata's biggest draw was this dark, futuristic world. I loved watching Jacq investigating in the apartments and slums; I loved watching the larger-than-life hologram advertisements and watching the Pilgrims work. The setting eventually switches to the desert landscapes, which was slightly disappointing. However, the Pilgrims still have a large presence. On that point, I really enjoyed the life within the Pilgrims. Jacq finds himself being helped by a Pilgrim named Cleo. These may not be human characters, but they certainly have a lot of life and character. I should note, this is more of a drama-mystery than an action film. There are a few action sequences, though — a chase here and a shootout there. They're serviceable, but they didn't really standout, though.

So, I loved the setting and characters. (The characters are not absolutely perfect, but I liked them.) The story, on the other hand, has a few notable flaws. For one, it has a striking similarity with many SciFi films before it. This makes the film feel less personal and engaging, it makes it feel like a... Well, like a Pilgrim. It's a film comprised of other films. Also, the film does lose some of its steam during the second half. It feels like it started to stretch itself thin by the end. And, of course, the film ends exactly as you'd expect. Every film doesn't need a jaw-dropping twist, but couple this with the other generic pieces in the film and you've got a fairly disappointing finale. I won't say I disliked the story, because I didn't, but it does leave you yearning for more, especially after introducing this awesome world.

Antonio Banderas is a great leading man. He has great conviction and charisma. The supporting cast, on the other hand, are more hit-or-miss. Some are great, some are wooden. Fortunately, most of the film focuses on Antonio Banderas and the pilgrims. The film is shot very well. The music is also great — it helps the film get some of its own identity while creating an effective sound. The special effects are also great, especially when you consider the "tiny" budget. It certainly isn't Blade Runner, but it's not a poorly-constructed film at all. Director Gabe Ibáñez crafts a wonderful world, but the narrative is lacking. He takes a lot of inspiration from many SciFi classics before him, but fails to develop a distinct identity for his film — it feels more like their film. It's not the worst thing a director can do, but it leaves some unfulfilled desires.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Automata. I was fully immersed into this world and, despite the predictability in the plot, I was fully engaged in the "mystery." The story may lack a unique personality, but its world and character are great. The themes and philosophy concerning life, albeit cliché, are also welcomed. If you love immersive SciFi worlds and don't mind treading the "robots can't kill humans" rule again, this is worth viewing.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

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