Spanish title: Autómata
Country: Bulgaria (80%) | Spain (20%)
Genre: Science Fiction
Director: Gabe Ibáñez
Produced by Antonio Banderas, Axl Brusberg, Sandra Hermida, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner and Les Weldon for Green Moon, Nu Boyana Viburno
Story and screenplay: Gabe Ibáñez, Igor Legarreta, Javier Sánchez Donate
Music: Zacarías M. de la Riva
Cinematographer: Alejandro Martínez
Editor: Sergio Rozas
Art director: Kes Bonnet
Cast: Antonio Banderas (Jacq Vaucan), Dylan McDermott (Sean Wallace), Melanie Griffith (Duprè), Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Rachel Vaucan), Robert Forster (Robert Bold), Tim McInnerny (Vernon Conway), David Ryall (Dominic Hawk), Javier Bardem (Blue Robot (voice)), Boris Kabakchiev (Boy #3), Lyubomir Neikov (Poot), Krasimir Kutsurapov (Palance), Anton Lamrev (Unknown Boy), Geraldine Somerville (Samantha), Harry Anichkin (Clift), Stanislav Pishtalov (Lance), Daniela Dancheva (Guide), Danny Kirrane (Muniesa the Technician), Christina Tam (Morgue Technician), Andrew Tiernan (Manager), Benjamin Phillips (Johnny), Andy Nyman (Tom Ellis), David Koral (Boy #2), Micah Phillips (Bobby), Christa Campbell (Technician #2), Tim Barlow (Organizer), Philip Rosch (Client), Hristo Mitzkov (Cab Driver #3), Darianna Krasteva (Ghetto Girl), Valentina Ivanova (Midget), Anton Trendafilov (Tramp), Stoyan Angelov (Policeman #1), Velizar Velizarov (Policeman #2), Bashar Rahal (Doctor), Dan Cade (White Collar Worker), Albena Stavreva (Client’s Wife), Carla Rodrigo (Bold’s Secretary), Alejandro Serna (Criminal in Car), Dimitar Ilkov (Policeman)
Spanish takings: €307.456,67
Spanish spectators: 49,483
Budget: $7,000,000 (estimated)
Set in a future where much of mankind has been wiped out and a large proportion of the surface of the earth is uninhabitable, people manage to survive thanks to huge numbers of robots which act as servants, scouts, builders and explorers. These robots are programmed with two core laws: they are not able to harm a human being and they cannot re-programme or modify themselves in any way. This makes the report of a trigger happy cop (Dylan McDermott) – who claims to have seen one of these robots repairing itself – rather worrying, and insurance agent Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is given the task of investigating. He discovers more than he expects…
There’s no questioning the ambition of Automata – after all, this is a largely European production which is attempting to beat big budget US science fiction films at their own game – but unfortunately it isn’t quite able to live up to its intentions. Financed in Spain , shot in Bulgaria and featuring a curious range of international actors, it was made for an estimated $7 million, a fraction of the $178 million spent on Edge of Tomorrow or $120 million on Oblivion, and it does a pretty good job of matching both of them in terms of art direction and ideas, even if it lacks some of their spectacular, adrenaline-rush sequences.
Automata has a lot in common with other contemporary android films such as Ex Machina and The Machine in that its main concern is the boundary between artificial intelligence and, well, life. It frames this within a noir-style storyline modeled on Bladerunner, with Banderas stepping into the Harrison Ford role, and its debts to that film are palpable. As such it’s not particularly original and the world it depicts seems to be a peculiarly old fashioned vision of the future but, despite this, it’s certainly enjoyable enough. Director Gabe Ibáñez made the superior Hierro (2009) and he keeps things visually interesting, while the supporting cast includes the likes of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) and Melanie Griffith.
Review by Matt Blake, 2016
What the critics said
“The lure of making a full-blown English-lingo futuristic thriller must have been particularly seductive, and Bulgarian locations, with Nu Boyana’s seasoned studio crew, no doubt allowed costs to stay within reason. The production designer’s vision, however, isn’t enough to anchor a fantasy story: Even for sci-fi, some logic has to enter the plot, which also needs to be devoid of major holes if it’s not to fall into ridiculousness, and that, unfortunately, is where “Automata” lies.” Jay Weissberg, Variety.
“The overwrought, uncontrolled sci-fi thriller Automata is a disappointing example of a film that lacks the imagination to follow persuasively through on its engaging initial premise. Featuring Antonio Banderas as a hero whose bravery in putting his name to the project as both producer and lead far outstrips any valor he displays in the film itself, this is one dystopian drama that goes up in flames about midway despite solid work initially and a lively sense of visuals.” Jonathan Holland, Hollywood Reporter.
“From the beginning, we knew that the film was going to have two very different parts. We shot them differently, with different frames and types of lighting. Even the characters work differently in the two halves. These are two different worlds. The first, as you say, has more noir references. The second is stripped down, fewer references, more like a twilight Western. My friend Nacho [Vigalondo] says it works like two different movies, and I did have more control over the second half, which I prefer.” Interview: Automata director Gabe Ibáñez Talks Banderas, Robots, And The Future, ScreenAnarchy.