Spanish director Gabe Ibanez makes an impressive sci-fi entry with his sophomore feature, Automata, an exploration of ethical treatment of more technologically advanced creations that supersede our own intelligence. Meanwhile, the end of mankind is nigh. Though it’s sure to be compared to any number of classic sci-fi efforts, most notably Isaac Asimov’s famed robot in revolt chronicle I, Robot, which received the Hollywood gloss treatment a decade ago with Alex Proyas at the helm, Ibanez strikes an interesting comparison to another recent indie sci-fi release, James Caradog’s The Machine, an exploration of the inevitable outcome of self-awareness in creatures artificial or otherwise. In a sea of recycled cinematic endeavors, Ibanez stands out as an exciting new voice in the genre with this emotionally resonant and thematically rich film.
In the not too distant future, the depletion of the ozone, paired with solar storms, have burnt out most of human existence, turning Earth into a dessert, and reducing the global population to 21 million. Those remaining have been forced into a few major cities where new artificial intelligence has been developed. Basically, robots known as the ‘automata’ have been designed to build man made cloud coverage, but it’s a scheme that’s proven to be unsuccessful, though the employment of the robots has delayed human extinction. As a safety hazard, the robots have two protocols. First that they can never harm a living thing and, secondly, they cannot change or manipulate themselves in any way, which stops them from exceeding the intellectual ceiling of their human creators. But when cruel bounty hunter Wallace (Dylan McDermott) shoots a robot in the head that he finds in the midst of self-repairing, the insurance company investigates to determine who will pay for the machine. Robert Bold (Robert Forrester), assigns Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), who soon picks up on a quickly unravelling thread.
Ibanez has created a smoky, nightmarish tableau housing the remaining bits of humanity, downsized to cities with manufactured cloud coverage not quite working as it should be. Towering holograms glance across the city sky, looking like smeared graffiti across a jagged, crumbling building. Vaucan’s pregnant wife represents one of several innate conundrums to the depletion of humanity, a situation that questions the need to bring new life to a world that’s on the brink of ending. In essence, it points to humans as a species not being able to help themselves or collectively make the right decisions. Automata manages to present a compelling and moving scenario, seemingly a logical modernization of Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film, On the Beach.
With the exception of his role in The Skin I Live In (2011), it’s hard to recall a more unpredictably enjoyable performance from Antonio Banderas than his shorn insurance agent, Jacq. His much publicized separation from wife Melanie Griffith rather lends their interaction some additional heft, though her presence can sometimes be distracting. Griffith’s role as Dr. Dupre is a small one, and she’s instead distilled into the prostitute android, Cleo, which utilizes her wispy murmur. Automata‘s final moments, though maybe not surprising, are imbued with a melancholy resonance, though to say exactly why would be unfair to give away.