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Automata (2014)
Director: Gabe Ibáñez

review by Steven Hampton
Spoiler alert!
Blade Runner meets I, Robot in this dystopian fable of machine evolution, the first English language feature by the Spanish director of stylish mystery Hierro (2009).

Jacq (Antonio Banderas) is a corporate insurance investigator in a cyberpunk city of the depopulated world, where various clunkers of the Pilgrim series are beginning to defy the Asimovian programming of their bio-kernel protocols that prohibit any self-repair and/ or alteration. Suspecting that a rogue 'clocksmith' in the ghetto is behind apparently illegal re-engineering, Jacq's detective work puts himself and his pregnant wife in danger from the vicious mercenary baddies intent on protecting the business (a monopoly?) that supplies droids to civic authorities.

The robo-rebellion starts amusingly enough with a car chase, although the filmmaker is at pains to present us with a philosophical back-story for a lengthy quasi-biblical trek through the cursed earth of a 'sandbox' territory beyond the city limits, along with as many arty/ visual compositions as the $15 million budget for a movie shot in Bulgaria will allow. But is the new machine autonomy a threat to just the manufacturing company's profits from maintenance, or a steely menace to the continued survival of humankind?

While the hero's journey crumples into wild western clichés of betrayal and a shootout-finale, the technofear miracle of robot independence - that is usually viewed as a coldly evil nemesis to scientific hubris - gives way here to something altogether deeper, sort of ineffable, and vaguely spiritual in tone if not in content. The impressive cast includes a stalwart Robert Forster delivering sterling support as Jacq's sympathetic boss Bold, and Melanie Griffith has a great cameo as a loner techie in the urban wasteland.

Even as British effort, Alex Garland's Ex Machina, wins a considerable, well-deserved critical acclaim for its engaging sci-fi drama about Turing tests, this fine contribution to an often maligned subgenre, so frequently down-marketed with the empty spectacle of action-thriller antics, should not be overlooked by fans or pass un-praised.


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