The opening scene sets the stage for a future in 2044, post a catastrophic solar flare, with Earth’s population dwindled to 20 million inhabitants, largely concentrated in a single city where robots perform auxiliary tasks. These robots are governed by two protocols: they must not harm humans and cannot alter their own or other robots’ physiology.
When police detective Sean Wallace (played by Dylan McDermott) asserts that he shot a robot violating the second protocol—and his claim is verified—insurance agent for the robot’s manufacturer, ROC Corporation, Jacq Vaucan (played by Antonio Banderas), is dispatched to investigate. Intriguingly, he discovers a robot that, rather than submitting to interrogation, self-immolates. Although this does not prevent an autopsy-based interrogation, it effectively terminates its existence.
In tales of robotics, a common theme is the bending of rules they are programmed to follow. Vaucan learns that some humans take it upon themselves to modify robots.
Vaucan’s encounter with Doctor Susan Dupre (played by Melanie Griffith) reveals more when she attempts to use parts on a malfunctioning robot named Cleo, which then self-repairs. After Dupre is shot, Cleo rescues Vaucan but ultimately malfunctions. Vaucan regains consciousness to find Cleo self-repairing and transporting him away from the city. Cleo gathers other robots that adhere to the protocol of preserving human life but, having violated the second protocol, cannot return to the city. Vaucan attempts to hinder their progress.
Meanwhile, ROC, concerned about Vaucan’s disappearance, enlists Wallace to find him, complicating matters with the area’s radioactivity. The situation escalates when Wallace confronts Vaucan, leading to Wallace’s injury and the destruction of two robots. Despite this, Vaucan’s desire to return to the city is driven not by loyalty to the company but concern for his pregnant wife.
Upon reaching their destination, a cluster of buildings, Vaucan anticipates discovering a human responsible for the modifications but is met with a twist that ventures into spoiler territory.
The film weaves multiple subplots, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in its complex SF drama, rich with nuances better experienced than explicitly detailed.
From its outset, with Wallace in a police vehicle, the film evokes ‘Blade Runner’ vibes. The robots, distinguished from androids by their design suggesting interchangeable parts, play a crucial role, especially their internal modifications. The depiction of the city, with its smog, rain, and holograms, nods to its cinematic predecessors while charting its own path. The film subtly references ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘2001’ in its narrative and visuals.
The second protocol’s purpose, preventing ROC from facing obsolescence due to self-repairing robots, introduces a unique twist.
Interestingly, the film’s portrayal of computer technology seems regressive, even considering its 2014 filming date, with the use of perforated paper for hardcopies, hinting at a society in decline.
The DVD extras include ‘The Making Of Automata’, a nearly 5-minute feature with director/co-writer Gabe Ibáñez and actor Antonio Banderas providing insights into the robotic effects without relying on CGI, and a 14-minute interview with Banderas that offers deeper film analysis.
Approaching this film without specific expectations, it impressively constructs a narrative where empathy leans away from humanity, showcasing the intricacies of its robotic and human characters alike.
(pub: Lionsgate, 2015. 1 blu-ray disk 110 minute film with extras. Price: varies. ASIN: LGB95205UV)
cast: Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Robert Forster
check out website: www.lionsgate.com