Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata 


Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata had the misfortune of being released in the shadow of another film concerning robotics and artificial intelligence, Ex Machina. It’s hard to compete with the kind of hype that film generated back in 2015, and as such it kind of slipped through the cracks. It’s a shame because there’s much about that’s striking, stylized and fascinating, despite being a bit too elaborate for it’s own good. Drenched in a rainy neon Blade Runner atmosphere, it follows a bleak story involving insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (a bald, somber Antonio Banderas) as he navigates a broken world ravaged by solar storms that have whittled down the human populace to around twenty million. Robots have been employed to rebuild the dying infrastructure, and Jacq keeps tabs in case any of them violate their primary directive, under the stewardship of his boss (Robert Forster). When rogue police officer Wallace (Dylan McDermott is dynamite) shoots a robot he claims was trying to alter itself, Jacq surmises that there’s a ‘clocksmith’ out there trying to give them minds of their own. It’s all very vague and we never really have anything more than illusory whispers or half explained concepts to go on, but these matters find him and the company’s nasty head of security (Tim McInnerney) venturing far out into the desert where a faction of robots, led by Javier Bardem no less, have grossly deviated their protocol and are evolving into… something else. Banders’s once wife Melanie Griffith does double duties as a creepy liaison in their case and the voice of a sympathetic sex slave-bot who plays a key role. I’m not entirely sure what the story arc is supposed to be, as it’s often muddled and dense, but it seems confident that it has one, and isn’t just flying blind into Euro experimental abstract mode as some scenes suggest. It has a point to make, it’s just wrapped that up in enigmatic fashion and cloaked any sense of linear exposition in blankets of atmospheric ambient sound, deliberately indistinct story beats and strangeness. I’m okay with that to an extant, as there’s plenty to enjoy visually, especially with the robots and their design, but many won’t be and will want more than just machine dreams without a manual to guide them. I for one enjoyed the memorable image of bald, parka clad Banderas hunting primordial androids in a washed out, used up wasteland. All that’s missing is a score by Vangelis or Tangerine Dream.  

-Nate Hill

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