Jacq (Antonio Banderas) is an insurance agent in an earth of the future ravaged by calamities both man and nature created. His job is to investigate and assess complaints made against his employers robotic workforce. Most insurance claims are false, but his latest case just might change the world.
Director Gabe Ibáñez co-wrote this Asimov inspired tale about a world maintained by androids where the robots rebel against their programming. There are a number of marked differences between how this plot unfolds and the original “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov, but anyone that’s read (or even watched the film adaptation) will immediately recognize the similarities. Though on the surface this film seems to be about robots, the underlying narrative asks more of humanity and their role in their brave new world.
Humanity without its Humanity
The film opens to a text scroll and montage that explains how this earth of the future was almost destroyed by wars and natures destructive forces. The remaining humans build an android workforce first in order to repair the ecosystem and when that plan fails, the robots were re-purposed to maintain much of the leftover infrastructure and population.
Antonio Banderas’ Jacq Vaucan is an insurance investigator who spends his days confirming and paying off (or denying as the case may be) android related insurance claims reported by consumers. When we meet his character, the robots have been around for decades and humans both resent these mechanical aux pairs, as well as rely on them for the most basic of tasks.
Jacq is really good at his job, but he’s been doing it for so long that he’s practically sleepwalking through it. He’s burning out and just wants to move on to something else. This is our proper introduction not only to the way robots work, but also to the state of mankind in this society.
It’s a pretty by the numbers sequence where we’re introduced to the androids and how they work, but also how the humans have fared in this robotic future.
It’s an interesting dichotomy where the humans appear to have devolved to their baser instincts while the robots have found a way to break out of their bonded ruleset to evolve their own programming and advance their own society. It’s a fascinating journey (both figuratively and literally) that I won’t spoil any further.
Awesome for the Money
Visually the film is pretty darn good considering the low budget nature (around 7 mil according to IMDB). The movie takes place in one of the remaining walled cities on earth, in the surrounding desert wasteland outside the walls, and then finally in an abandoned factory. Everything looks to be in a deep level of disrepair. Very reminiscent of cold war era Soviet Union…or Detroit. The poor live outside the walls in District 9 style shanties while the middle and upper-class live in skyscrapers within the walls. Life isn’t too much better on the inside, however. The rooms are Euro-tiny; falling apart and the streets are filthy, damp, and on their last legs. Using real-life locations no doubt contributed to the savings in the budget and helped contribute to the post-apocalyptic looks. The locals, however, are dressed up using Matte paintings and CG effects to resemble a Blade Runner-esque landscape with 24hr advertising.
The highlight of the film is the practically built robot cast. Though not listed in the credits, it sounded like stars Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas each voiced one of the two principle androids in addition to their existing human characters. Griffith voices a sexbot (Chloe) and Banderas voices an important droid later in the film. The robots of the film appear to be rod puppeteered ala Terminator, with the human pupeteers being removed in post. You get a distinct 1990s vibe from their movement, but the surprisingly nuanced performance offered up by both actors has you forgetting how silly the bots look. There are also quite a few robots throughout the film and a handful of autopsy scenes where we quite literally delve into the guts of the machines.
Science Fiction is at its best when it makes as it’s goal an attempt to present more than eye candied explosions. Automata at least tries to do so and even succeeds to some small effect. For those with Netflix streaming accounts, the film is only a search and click away. It won’t win any oscars, but it’s definitely worthy of your Watch List queue.