Oh! I have never felt so heartbroken for a film’s failure as I felt for Automata. Ever since its trailers were aired, I loved this film and I wanted to write great things about it. I wanted to love it, I wanted to say that it was better than I Robot which it “kind of” follows after. But Automata betrayed me after making a thousand promises. This film is like that unrequited love affair which might have made you stay up nights dreaming about those fluffy and exemplary dreamy things and then wake up in the morning to find that your love is actually someone else’s.
The story unfolds in a futuristic world where like “so many times before” men have created robots known only as Pilgrims who help them in their endeavor to survive. The robots are bounded by two rules which stop them from harming any humans and performing self alterations. The trouble starts when Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance agent of ROC Robotics Corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot which was shot down by a cop for self repairing. What he discovers in pursuit of answers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity and the robots alike.
The film is a sensational piece of art at many junctures and a horribly undermining experience at some other. While the setting and the beginning of the film is bound to get to your senses it quickly heads down a murder hole of some of the most ridiculous and dumb writing that you will come across. While there is a sequence which shows our protagonist watch from the top of a wall what happens to a man who is scavenging on the other side of the wall. He then walks out into the same area without any prior intimation within moments and then is getting shot at himself. This is the kind of logic that you find at many junctures in the film. These are also the kind of sequences which seriously bring down the film.
The visual representation of the devastated and dark futuristic world is spellbinding and is also one of the high points of the film. The sequences which show Jacq walking home or the view from his condo for that matter, his visit across the wall and finally into the heart of the Robot-land are wonderfully filmed. It’s not only the visual effects but the amount of thought that went into creating the sequences and the presence of a feeling in the visuals which makes me root for these sequences. It also makes me wonder why the same sensibility didn’t exist in the writing of the film which happens to be its biggest downfall.
Antonio Banderas is in supreme command of his character and he is the next biggest reason to watch this film after the visual flair. Looking tattered and tired and out of place, he carries out an investigation which in a matter of days tears apart his life completely. He is not only shocked to find the robots discover humanity but is also disillusioned by the world he has known so far. If only the script supported him a little more. Melanie Griffith as Dupre and the voice of the Sex Toy Cleo is the next best thing. The robots are consciously made a tad bit uneasy in their movements which makes them even more believable and adds that last bit of finesse that I Robot could have done with. The film also boasts of a heart wrenching background score which is potent in its reach. How I wished it to continue for all the way to eternity every-time it started playing.
But as is customary with all films, the lack of a good screenplay more often than not cannot be substituted by visual flair. Even if it was, this is not the kind of film which can survive such an anomaly. Sci-Fi is a genre which is heavily dependent on logic and the writing. These are the two departments where Automata fails miserably and thus whatever it does well in terms of visuals, acting and buildup is nullified. Automata is a gigantic letdown for me. It would be wise to call it a betrayal owing primarily to the expectations that it raised and the flashes of brilliance that it showed proving itself worthy of the expectations and much more but never achieving it in the first place.