Artificial intelligence turns on humanity in this unique Antonio Banderas-starring production
2044 is not a pleasant year for humans. Solar storms blasted our reliance on technology. Growing deserts pushed already cluttered cities together. The population in down to over six billion. Robots are necessities.
Those robots are tricky though. They’re self-aware, or are going to be. Roc Corporation’s Automatic Pilgrim 7000s are evolution in disguise.
Automata has vision, more than its low budget would let on. Physical puppetry adds a sense of life to the Pilgrims, with Antonio Banderas interacting naturally on-set. First half conflicts, with their unorthodox cinematography, splashing rains, and sizable holograms, ping Blade Runner as if most future sci-fi doesn’t already.
And then it shifts. Moving away from vision-heavy city centers and corporate monoliths, Automata turns dry. Banderas, cold and distant as one of Roc’s insurance agents, Jacq Vaucan, is plucked from his homestead. Inadvertently, Vaucan becomes the center of an evolutionary war and stern parable on artificial intelligence.
Mood and plodding dreariness silence much of the first act set-up which is all too important to miss. Second and third acts become equally hung up, but things happen. Automata’s progression and alluring style are captivating even if bit part performances flounder.
Production design is appealing to the sameness of a Replicant future, but there is more here. Radioactive sun flares distanced humanity from technology. Pagers and dot matrix printers replace internet communications alongside these upright walking, perceptive machines. Contrast is powerful, even crucial. Automata is leading toward an inescapable future through questions of philosophical life, and when removed from clingy smartphones, perspective is altered.
The film is unusually serious. Spanish director/writer Gabe Ibanez ignores the mainstream allure of comedic softening. There are no one-liners or catch phrases; Automata is hard sci-fi. Some of it is even distressing. But, this pieces breathes its own air, outside of the obvious cinematic connecting points. It’s unique, even brave in how sure of itself it becomes. Final minutes are a steady stream of conscious thought put to screen, enabling questions we may have been asked before, but not with this much independent bravado.
Shot throughout the inviting film landscapes of Bulgaria, post production work hammers the imagery. Visual effects are certainly a piece. Few shots contain location footage which hasn’t been altered in some way.
More so though, it’s color. Automata is restrictively pale, using blasts of teal in future cities, and washing out everything in super heated deserts. Black levels are whipped up into gray segments, disallowing depth in an exchange for atmosphere. Some of the only saturated color comes from the yellow paint used on the model 7000s.
Some noise is evident on the source, comparable to a light grain structure were it not so inconsistent. No harm to fidelity, no foul.
Of concern is Millennium’s encode. Bitrates are pitiful, and results are apparent. A cycle of smearing, banding, and compression is unfortunately common. Close-ups waver between pristine detail and patchy murkiness. Even an in-between would have been preferable. That’s not the case though.
If budgetary control is anywhere, the TrueHD track is evidence. Future worlds are never given any future touches. Cities, despite a visual space which says forward thinking, contains minimal ambiance. Outside of rains, exteriors are quiet. Part of it is an intended human population drop. The other is almost certainly financial.
Audio work does show some flair. Voices convincingly swirl at one point and shotguns carry a tinge of LFE when firing. Some electronica in the score also has a fun stereo bounce effect where notes twitch between channels rapidly. It’s appropriately disorienting.
One miniscule five minute behind-the-scenes featurette and trailers are the lonely – very lonely – bonuses.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.