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Science Fiction Notebook: Automata


Automata, directed by Gabe Ibanez; Screenplay by Gabe Ibanez, Igor Legretta Gomez, Javier Sanchez Donate; starring Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Dylan McDermott, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Amazon, iTunes)

Summary: Antonio Banderas plays an insurance adjuster who investigates a robot after a cop kills it.

These robots have rules: first do no harm, and second don’t alter any robots. So you can bet those rules will sooner or later break wide open. A thought-provoking film about betrayal, parenthood, and the birth of new species.

Opening image: Pixelated solar flares as if seen through a solar scope, illustrating the premise that the earth has been laid waste and only 21 million people survive. Robots are built to construct structures that can protect people from solar radiation. This scene moves into a cityscape strongly reminiscent of Blade Runner, except much of the technology is regressive. A tough strolls into a bunker, finds a robot who is fixing itself, and then shoots it in the head. This is followed by beginning credits which are overlaid over a delightful montage of sepia b/w newsy images showing the roles of and reactions to the robots… Beautiful graphics, compact backstory reveal.

Middle images: Science labs, offices, businesses.

Ending image: Mother, father, baby, ocean, swim. Also, the humanoid face of robot Cleo in the sand as she and her daughter walk away.

Writing/plotting: Solid. I’m surprised that the film got mediocre reviews and actually I thought it was very good. Probably people want their thrillers fast-paced and violent, rather than slow and pensive.

Sometimes Banderas’ acting was overwrought, but given the character, I felt it was appropriate for him to have fits of frustration. His dilemma of being in a job he doesn’t like, burnt out, but needing to stay employed to support family is a deep problem most middle-aged men can understand… That point when you know the job so well it’s not a learning experience anymore, it’s not interesting anymore, and yet you see you ought to stick with it if you can because your life is good, even though inside yourself you feel somewhat empty and deflated. You rationalize that you should settle, but doing so is emasculating even while you know you are fortunate to be employed. This may not be a theme that 12-year-olds can easily understand, the acceptance of parental responsibility even in the face of mystery and adversity, helping others along the way, if you can. This is no battling robot Transformers; this is a more serious science fiction, if not a bit overacted.

The weakest writing link was the female scientist Dupres, who was characterized as a smirky blonde played by Melanie Griffith. The character plays a pivotal role, however, as does Vuacan’s spouse, and another character’s spouse. All three women are written as intelligent characters, even the feminized robot Cleo.

Within the science fiction genre, the premise of Automata involves familiar territory: what does humanity do when it is surpassed by machine intelligence? In dystopic stories, it’s usually that humanity suffers, gives up, or struggles.

But I think if it ever happened then maybe we should throw a great big party and celebrate. Sort of a great big baby shower for the new intelligence, welcoming it into the world. But would we be able to set aside our fears, our deepest fears being of course the insanity and violence that our own intelligence can create? I’d like to think so. Or at least that interactions with a new-found supreme intelligence would involve some awfully good conversations.

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