Automata DVD Review
Written by Simon Bland.
DVD released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Directed by Gabe Ibáñez
Written by Gabe Ibáñez, Igor Legarreta, Javier Sánchez, Donate
2014, Region 2 (PAL), 109 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 4th May 2015
Antonio Banderas as Jacq Vaucan
Dylan McDermott as Sean Wallace
Robert Forster as Robert Bold
Melanie Griffith as Dupré
Tim McInnerny as Vernon Conway
Javier Bardem as Blue Robot (Voice)
Strictly speaking, Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata isn’t a horror movie at all. Enter into it looking for blood, ghosts or big scares and you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, Ibáñez offers up something much more powerful and terrifying - a sobering look at the limitations and possibilities of life on Earth and the idea that humans may not be integral to its future. It’s heavy stuff for any filmmaker to tackle, never mind one like Ibáñez who only has two features under his belt (Automata included). That said, the Spanish newcomer pulls off his sophomore feature with aplomb; producing a confident, stylishly shot sci-fi with Blade Runner-levels of brains.
This last point is re-assuring. Watch Automata’s bonus features and you’ll catch Ibáñez sporting a ‘USS Nostromo’ tee shirt, telling us that he’s clearly a fan of Ridley Scott and his talent for creating smart sci-fi. It certainly shows. In an age where anyone can create movies, it’s nice to see a talent that takes the time to create fully fleshed out worlds, and who better to study in order to reach that goal than Ridley Scott?
Automata is set in a fully functioning and extremely detailed dystopian future, where the fall-out from solar storms has killed off 99.7% of the world’s population and forced the survivors to huddle together in a cramped, dirty metropolis. In between tech-age hustlers and holographic billboards are countless robots (or ‘Clunkers’ to the city’s bot-prejudiced inhabitants), created by the powers that be to help humanity survive and rebuild their radioactive world. The city Ibáñez has created is living, breathing and beautifully shot; each scene framed like a futuristic neo-noir.
It’s in this world that we meet insurance agent Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an employee of the company that created the Pilgrim 7000 robots tasked with cracking the case of a Bot breaking the unbreakable second protocol: fixing itself. Assuming it's a rogue robot tamperer (or ‘Clocksmith’ as they’re called) reprogramming the bots for personal use, Vaucan sets out to solve the mystery. However, when disaster strikes while following a lead, he soon finds himself stranded in the outer reaches of the city's radioactive wasteland with a group of Bots that are much smarter than they seem.
There’s been a noticeable shift back to practical effects in recent years following the accessibility of shoddy CG and Ibáñez embraces this with open arms. All of his robots are practical, brought to life via green screen puppeteers who are removed in post production and the film benefits from this massively, adding an extra level of tangibility to an already tangible sci-fi environment.
It also asks big questions about A.I (something that’s becoming increasingly more relevant) and human responsibility, as well as placing an interesting cast of recognised vets (Robert Forster, Dylan McDermott), left-field choices (Blackadder’s Tim McInnerny) and talented unknowns around its solid lead. Automata's attention to detail is admirable, familiar and new all at the same time - right down to that Alien-esque score - and the end result resonates beyond the credits. Gabe Ibáñez has shown us what he sees in our future but as film fans, we can’t wait to see what his has in store for his own.
There's not much in the way of extras on this disc; A short but sweet 'Making Of' documentary (that's a little quiet) and a full interview with star Antonio Banderas discussing his involvement in the film.