So I hate to break it to you guys, but…today is the last day of NOOOOvember. Please try not to cry too much, okay? Or wait–are those tears of joy because you’re ready to hear about movies that AREN’T disappointing…? Well, for better or worse, today we shall bid adieu to this series. After today, NOOOOvember shall go into hibernation for 11 months, giving us time to watch more disappointing movies and store up more frustration to expel in an angry burst of writing come November 2015. Sound good? Awesome. Anyway, time to introduce my last guest! Stopping by today is The Fluff Is Raging‘s own Niall! He’s here to vent about one that I actually remember thinking looked really cool, but…well, you can guess the rest. You’re up, Niall!
There may well come a time when the dominant life-form on the planet is not carbon-based, but silicon-based. It is a possibility that philosophers and scientists say could follow the Singularity, the moment when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware and takes on all the aspects of consciousness and identity that we hold is the preserve of humanity. It is a rich source for science-fiction storytellers, and it has been mined again and again, and at this point there doesn’t seem to be anything new to say on the topic. We have had robot slave uprisings, robots in philosophical search of their maker, robots sent back in time to ensure their victory in a future war, and a computer with a self-conscious OS, which outgrows its owner.
Automata attempts to carry the idea of the Singularity to its logical conclusion: robots deserting their makers and creating robots of their own. When I saw the trailer, I got very excited, as it looked like after many years of bad films about robots, we finally had a decent one. Well, if you haven’t seen Automata, let me save you the price of a movie ticket and tell you it’s just not very good. It’s a solid if uninspired entry into the sub-genre of Singularity sci-fi. It’s no Her, but it’s a damn sight better than I, Robot (then again, what isn’t?)
Parts of it are interesting and original, and it has a central performance by Antonio Banderas that is filled with sadness and confusion and just the right level of hamminess for this sort of thing, but it is hampered by an unoriginal plot and an unevenness of tone, and it borrows from so many genres I am not sure if it knows what sort of film it wants to be.
Set in 2044 after solar flares have irradiated most of the planet, reducing the population to mere millions, at times this dystopian future looks like a cheap knock-off of Blade Runner, with a grim cityscape and acid rain falling out of the poisoned air, but most of the technology looks like it’s from now, or even earlier, so although robots and holograms are ubiquitous, there are no flying cars or teleportation devices (actually, more than anything it resembles the glum future as seen from the standpoint of the mid-1980s of Max Headroom.) There is a clunkiness to the robots (they’re even nicknamed clunkers) instead of the smooth and sexless mannequins that we usually see in sci-fi, and Banderas lives in an ugly apartment with a hideous view. No wonder he dreams of the ocean – is it a dream or a memory? – and he desperately wants to take his wife and unborn child to the coast.
Banderas is an insurance investigator for the corporation that makes the robots (originally designed to be used to build the mechanical clouds that protect people from solar radiation.) The machines are used as domestics and also as construction crew on the walls of the city (outside the city is a forbidden no-man’s-land of garbage and radiation.) In a variant of Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, the robots are controlled by two protocols: they cannot harm any form of life, and they cannot be altered. So when it looks like some machines arerepairing themselves and improving their design, Banderas investigates.
The film runs through several of the cliches of the genre. TV weather forecasts include pollution and acid rain warnings. Computer boffins from central casting fiddle with machines. Nobody knows what lies out there in the desert. There is a ghetto in the city where robots can be illegally altered and repurposed as prostitutes, and Banderas pokes his nose in like an old gumshoe detective.
The robots, which are nicely designed and rendered by the visual effects, are voiced by the likes of Javier Bardem. There is a lot of standard-issue “you’re just a machine, you don’t know what it is to feel” dialogue. Banderas gets drunk and dances with a female robot to the sounds of “La Mer”: the scene ends sadly. If that idea sounds familiar, it’s because it’s just another variation on something you’ve seen lots of times: do you remember Kenneth Branagh and back-from-the-dead Helena Bonham-Carter dancing in Frankenstein?
The film has some odd casting and horrific performances from some of the supporting players. A remarkably bland Melanie Griffith shows up to provide a lot of exposition and move the plot forward. There is also a disgruntled cop who hates robots (for unexplained reasons.) He’s played by Dylan McDermott in a trenchcoat, slicked greasy hair, stubble and sunglasses (remember Stallone in Cobra? He looks like that.) He’s terrible in the role, and he behaves as if he’s in a different movie. Similarly miscast is Tim McInnerny, who trades in his plummy tones and plays a nasty and cartoonish villain with a strangled mid-Atlantic accent. Robert Forster is also in the picture, looking weary and probably wondering if Tarantino is ever going to call again.
Man. What a bummer, Niall! Well, guess this what NOOOOvember is all about, huh? Speaking of what this series is about–what it’s really, truly about is all of the awesome people who take the time to contribute to it. I was abominably lazy this year and wrote a single post for this series, but thanks to all of the super cool guests who dropped in, I barely had to lift a finger! So let me just take a minute to acknowledge all of those lovely people. In order of appearance, they are…
- Luke of Oracle of Film, who contributed a spectacular opening video
- Brittany of The White’s List, who gave us her two cents of Maleficent–a disappointment I can def agree with
- Tom of Digital Shortbread, who vented about Cumberbatch’s worst decision, The Fifth Estate
- Table 9 Mutant of Cinema Parrot Disco, who shared her frustration about the surprisingly disappointing In A World (I say “surprisingly” because I remember thinking it sounded interesting…sad day)
- Anna of Film Grimoire, who said, “NOOOO!!!” to robots vs. monsters in Pacific Rim (and, honestly, I can’t blame her)
- Rob of MovieRob, who ambitiously took on TWO disappointments: The Da Vinci Code and Apt Pupil
- Eric of Isaacs Picture Conclusion, who broke out of his basement prison to film this epic video re-enacting moments from Only God Forgives
- Zoë of The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger, who brought the whole office in on deciding some of the biggest film letdowns
- Dell of Dell on Movies, who had a thing or two to say about monster-lite monster movie, Godzilla
- And, last but not least, the gentleman we just heard from, Niall!
Alas, the lot of you are spread across the globe, so I couldn’t possibly send you bottles of champagne to toast an excellent series (because YIKES that’s expensive), but just raise an imaginary glass for me and I’ll say this: Thank you, you are the greatest, and may no movies let you down as much as these disappointments! *clink*
Enjoy your weekend, everyone! I’ll be back tomorrow with a little reblog for you to nibble on…and, yes, the “nibble” is a hint. 😉