“To die, you got to be alive first.”
The future of our beloved planet doesn't look rosy as Hollywood presents it lately. After a random grab in the bag of apocalyptic films of the last year, you'll get a wide choice of possible misery and disasters that mankind has to endure. In "Elysium" we have an ultra overpopulated Earth whose natural resources have been exhausted and where the super rich have gotten a place on the space station Elysium where they live in luxury. "The Giver" is about a society that after a great war live in communes where feelings and memories are banished. "The Colony" and "Snowpiercer" show a world covered with snow caused by failed experiments to get the climate under control. In "Oblivion" there was a long war with aliens called Scavs that lead to a world in ruins. In "The Divide" a nuclear war is the culprit (just as in "How I live now"). "World War Z" shows a global scourge turning people into bloodthirsty zombies. A meteor means the end in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World". In "Goodbye World" and "Dragon Day" it's computer viruses that cause damnation. "Divergent" and "The Hunger Games" are recent films showing a futuristic dystopia where survivors are divided into classes. You see, there's plenty of choice to destroy humanity.
"Autómata" is set in the eerie near future, the year 2044 to be exact, and Earth is an uninhabitable radioactive desert thanks to solar storms. Most of the world's population was eradicated and nearly 21 million survivors settled in cities. Cities that are walled and equipped with a modern system to protect against radioactive rain and storms. All this was built with millions of robot (Pilgrims), manufactured by the company ROC, all of whom were subjected to protocols : they can't injure a living being and can't repair or improve themselves. It's almost like Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics. And as you would expect, these laws are there to be broken.
Of course there's the feeling of recognition after a while. Self-developing robots which develop a certain consciousness in a dilapidated futuristic world. Both the philosophy as the look and feel immediately makes you think of "Blade Runner" and "A.I.". A dark, gloomy city where the weather forecast report information about the radioactivity of rain and holographic images of half-naked women are projected. Even the plastic overcoats is a recycled fashion from "Blade Runner". Only the umbrellas with a fluorescent lamps were missing. There is a regression in technology which is reflected in the use of reasonable corny-looking printers. This in sharp contrast with the high technology used for the robots on duty, the holographic projections and futuristic looking 3D television. Creatively, there is a noticeable regression because the television show looked abominable and meaningless.
Jacq Vaucan (Banderas) is an insurance agent, employed by ROC and investigating certain cases of rebellious and faltering robots, checking if it could be a case of fraud (as in the opening scene with the dog being hugged to death by a Pilgrim). Jacq suffers of a burn-out and most of all he yearns to leave this depressing town with his pregnant wife and move towards the coast. A carefree existence near the ocean, of which he has visions during stressful times (probably visions from his childhood), which probably doesn't exist anymore in this wasteland. The whole mess begins after Wallace (Dylan McDermott), a ultra-hard cop or bounty hunter (that's not clarified), sends a Pilgrim to the happy hunting grounds with a well-aimed shot through the melon-shaped head after determining it was adapting itself. The company ROC asks Jacq to investigate this case because if there's one thing this multinational detest, it's self-healing robots.
The first part was captivating and was, despite the similarities with previously released SF, excellent portrayed. The predominant chaotic feeling and hopelessness of a crumbling society. A brilliant sketch of how seemingly obedient robots became a part of humanity. Proof of this was the moment when the concerning robot underwent a thorough dissection. It was, as if a human victim was examined, completely with missing or damaged parts and vital juices dripping out. The second part was uninspired and literally and figuratively too dry. There were huge plot holes and illogical things. It seemed as if the screenwriters lost track and didn't know anymore which way to go. A missed opportunity.
Banderas, this time completely bald and acting with a tired look, could convince in the first half, but had to do his utmost to carry the whole film. The additional roles ranged from trivial to unnecessary. Only the design of the robots, which had more in common with those from "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and didn't have an uncanny resemblance to human beings as in "Blade Runner", was successful in my eyes. A hotchpotch of mechanical parts and high-tech electronics and microprocessors with a head in the form of a watermelon. Some, like Cleo, even had strategically placed plastic parts to emphasize the feminine aspect. Cleo was also the most entertaining value in this doom-like SF. Dylan McDermott was a big question mark in terms of its function in the complete story and made such an impression on me as in "Freezer". Not so much. Birgitte Hjort Sorenson, Melanie Griffith and Robert Forster are reduced to extras who didn't contribute very much to the whole.
I did have some demurs afterwards. Why unplug a Pilgrim in such a destructive way while it's dead simple (with one press of a button) to do this by removing the kernel (probably not impressive enough). It's strange that scavengers can survive in the harsh, highly radioactive wasteland. Apparently their evolution progress was of such a nature that they quickly adapted themselves. And the price shooting from the protecting walls at individuals who are trying to survive in the unprotected zone (the chance of survival is still nil) also seemed pretty trite and meaningless. But despite these minor flaws, this is a pure SF without too many frills with a perfect created atmosphere, where the emphasis lies on creating the right feelings instead of massive use of CGI. The robots look adequate and move as dented and dirty machines, sometimes effectively and sometimes clumsy so the physical resemblance of their human counterparts is striking. The end is highly cliched, but eventually it fits the complete setup. An open end with unanswered questions and a final image that reminded me of a fellowship that follows "The Yellow brick road" searching for a heart, a mind, or simply an answer to the question "Who am I". Who knows ...
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