Automata - Banderas' Shy Sci-Fi
Sometime in 2014, Antonio Banderas produced, starred and premiered a Spanish-Bulgarian film about the extinction of humanity and evolved androids. And for some crazy reason, that wasn't news. The movie wasn't panned or hated. It wasn't admired or rewarded. Automata was simply ignored.
The biggest problem of this Gabe Ibáñez's effort is that it isn't memorable. In a genre like Science Fiction, innovation is key. Automata is fitting, visually pleasing and has some interesting ideas. Nothing else. Maybe in any other genre that would have been more than enough.
The protagonist of Automata is Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance investigator for ROC company. In the near future, solar flares have got out of control, eliminating 99% of the population and creating vast deserts all over the planet. The radiation is so strong that all the atmosphere-related technology has become obsolete. In this version of our world, there are no airplanes or satellites.
This technological regression has forced the survivors to start from scratch and take refuge in new special cities. ROC, the company where Jacq works, specializes in creating/maintaining androids called "Pilgrims," responsible for the manual labor that humans cannot longer do due to the lethal environment. The Pilgrims only have two protocols: They 1) cannot hurt any living being and 2) cannot modify, repair or alter any robot.
Of course, the plot begins to move forward with the appearance of several reports about modified pilgrims. Jacq, weary of his job, with a pregnant wife (Rachel, played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), dreams of a more "natural" place where he can "see the ocean." For now, he must fulfill his work and investigate those reports: It would be economically catastrophic for ROC if the pilgrims start repairing themselves.
What's Your Rating For Automata?
Automata doesn't take the easy route of making androids look so human-like that they easily pass the Turing Test. The Pilgrims are clearly rudimentary robots, widening the barrier of empathy. It's easier to disregard life while looking at a piece of metal.
And that's one of Automata's biggest merit. The viewer empathizes with the Stephen-Hawkings-voice clumsy-looking robots. The story raises an interesting robot evolution argument: Pilgrims aren't interested in emulating humans. They aren't interested in killing/controlling them. They don't even want to be treated as equals or coexist in the same space as people. The progression of robots is, if you will, "organic." "It just happens" as one of the droids said. The Pilgrims, faithful to its first protocol, don't want to hurt any living being. But with the second protocol bypassed, they just want to live apart, in a place so radioactive that humans cannot set foot there. They don't want to survive ("that's irrelevant"), they just want to… live.
Of course, the economic power sees the Pilgrims as property and property only. "Have you ever considered just how fortunate you are?" is the mantra used by the humans that have some amount of power over others. First, is Jacq's chief Robert Bold (Robert Foster) who says it. Later, when Robert questions ROC's plans, it's his boss Dominic Hawk (David Ryall) who says the phrase. It's the fallacy of guilt in full effect, designed to mitigate resistance and quench any criticism to the status quo.
With a balanced yet somewhat dispersed ending, Automata offers nothing new. Its themes have already been showcased in superior films. It'll never be a classic and probably won't even reach "cult" reputation. But sci-fi followers, automatons enthusiasts and sympathizers of everything related to the moral debate on artificial intelligence will enjoy this solid and modest film.
Release Year: 2014
Director(s): Gabe Ibáñez
Actors: Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Dylan McDermott, a.o.