AUTÓMATA. Good ideas put on autopilot.

Automata

Gabe Ibáñez’s (Hierro) Autómata was shown this year at the Brussels International Festival for Fantastic Films (BIFFF) but was not released theatrically in Belgium.

The film starts of with quite an extensive on screen exposition setting up it’s premise: It’s 2044 AD,  solar storms have killed 99.7 % of the world’s population and only 21 million people survived. The survivors have designed and built robots called Automata Pilgrims to help to rebuild the world. These robots have two security protocols; they can neither harm humans nor alter themselves or other robots.

Antonio Banderas plays an insurance investigator who has to check-up on owners claims of malfunction of their Automata robots which always turn out to be false. All of a sudden a robot is found who’s clearly trying to repair and even make improvements on himself showing a remarkable intelligence.

The film is clearly inspired by famous predecessors, both in film and in Sci-Fi literature. The opening images are pure Blade Runner and Sci-Fi experts have pointed out that the 2 protocols are derived from Isaac Asimov’s (a.o. I Robot) ‘Three Laws of Robtics’:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

You can see the influence of these ‘laws’ on other films, mainly Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

At the very end of the end credits you can hear a part of an instrumental version of Daisy Bell which is a nod to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey who were in turn referring to the earliest song sung using computer speech synthesis: “Daisy, Daisy / Give me your answer, do. / I’m half crazy / all for the love of you, … a bicycle built for two”. If you’ve ever seen 2001 you won’t be able to forget the scene in which HAL 9000 is pleading for ‘his life’.

In this mainly European production (besides Banderas) you’ll recognise Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (from the popular Danish TV series Borgen) and a couple of interesting American actors like Robert Foster (Medium Cool and his comeback film Jackie Brown), Dylan McDermott (In the Line of Fire and the TV series American Horror Story) and Melanie Griffith (just prior to her divorce with Banderas).

Despite the interesting premise the film is a bit too uneven and the budget a bit too small to really pull of all it’s ambitions. The film is certainly not bad but it’s not as good as it should have been.

Jan Bollen

 

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