Automata (Blu-ray Review)

160coverIsn’t it funny to think that Alex Proyas’ 2004 sci-fi action-thriller I, Robot is already ten years old?  It doesn’t seem that long.  The CG effects don’t look aged.  The actors, save for a young Shia LaBeouf, don’t look like they’ve aged all that much, either.  The story hasn’t aged, as is evidenced by the fact that a 1950 novella by legendary author Isaac Asimov was adapted into an existing screenplay to create the film we know.  In my eyes, it’s a somewhat timeless film, an opinion aided by the film’s smart wardrobe efforts.  So, is ten years too soon for a film with a similar premise, even if the end result is a drastically different film?  Automata makes for an interesting viewing experience, not only for its themes and visuals, but also the questions about its similarities to other films.



2044 AD: the world is destroyed.  Solar storms have turned the Earth’s surface into a radioactive desert.  99.7% of the world’s population has perished.  The Automata Pilgrim 7000, robots made by the ROC Corporation, were tasked in the impossible task of saving humanity and with their failure, have become pariahs, used as living aids by some, but cast out of society by most.  In an Asimovian callback, the Pilgrims have two protocols: they cannot harm any form of life, and they cannot alter themselves or other robots.  Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an investigator for a company providing insurance for these robots, finds himself on dangerous grounds when a robot that can ignore the second protocol is found.

In recommending Automata to anyone, I’d like to state a few caveats.  First, the more one loves I, Robot, the less likely they are to be a fan of this film.  Second, those who want to turn their brain off and watch a popcorn muncher like it were some other robot-driven sci-fi flick should stay as far away as possible.  Automata isn’t an action film.  Even with its layers of suspense, it’s not a thriller.  This is a thinking man’s flick, one that will be dismissed for its similarities, for being “boring,” or even “pointless.”

Automata is a fine tuned machine, making amazing use of its 110 minute runtime, turning almost two hours into what seems like a short, seamless viewing experience, an amazing achievement for what is only director Gabe Ibanez’ second feature-length film.  The title sequence removes all need for exposition, bridging the gap from the world we know to the world we’re about to see, introducing the Pilgrim as a savior and unfair recipient for the rage of a dying world.  We learn of what efforts were made to try to expand and protect humanity, and how they failed, leading us to the gloomy, moody, borderline gothic setting the film takes place in.  The cold opening (ie the scenes preceding the title sequence) show us the intolerance these robots face, yet as the film moves forward, becomes a more and more meaningful and crucial backdrop.  You could not ask for a film to start out better than this.


With the introduction of Banderas’ Vaucan, there is a step back for the obvious need for a relatable subject, whose eyes will be what we see the rest of the film through, and his misery represents that of the world he lives in.  An expectant father who wants to escape the walls of the city to the great unknown, he’s the illusion of freedom in captivity, and he’s tired of accepting the lie.  His transfer is dependent on solving the case of the robot who ignored the second protocol, and his involvement in the case will put his soon-to-be family in the line of fire.  He’s a pure protagonist, one whose own personal beliefs working defending the Roc Corporation’s assets are never questioned, if anything validated through the conflict and climax of the plot.

The villain of Automata isn’t clearly definable, even if there are layers of humanity who work to silence Vaucan and destroy the Pilgrims who are making steps towards true sentience, cop-like characters who represent control and order.  The plight of the Pilgrims, moreso than that of Vaucan, make the class system the true monster.  These robots are humanoid, with some displaying very human-like features, yet they’re treated as disposable convenience, entirely possibly because they’re pacifists by program, and therefore dominated without blowback.

Personally, I found Automata to be a very intriguing, deep film, with some inspired parallels and truly fantastic production values.  Even the settings of this flick have their meanings, as we devolve from the implied but unraveling safety of society to the dangers and solitude of the desert.  It’s not a perfect film, as somewhat ironically the human factor proves to be the film’s weakest point, as some of the acting is less-than inspired.  While Banderas crafts a great, multi-layered performance, his peers seem to mail it in, with the great Robert Forster failing to convince in his role, and most notably, Banderas’ real-life (soon-to-be ex-) wife Melanie Griffith failing to provide any emotion, reading lines like they were scrawled on misspelled cue cards (though her performance, or lack thereof, is redeemed by her turn providing the voice of one of the key Pilgrims, Cleo).  This unique vision doesn’t miss a beat, though, rolling through its faults through the strength of the script and Banderas.



Encoding: AVC MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: Automata sports superbly clean edges, with stray hairs routinely popping with the greatest of ease.  Textures are phenomenal and detail levels are strong and hearty.  Regardless of setting, detail levels aren’t affected, and there is nary a soft shot in the film.

Depth: Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with the picture depth in this flick.  From Banderas’ apartment, we see holographic effects in the sky, but they never have a real depth to them, so we don’t know if they’re truly near by or a bit more off to the distance.  The cityscape is shallow, as well.  In the desert sequences, there’s an infinite depth, but with nothing out in the distance to judge the clarity of said distance, that’s moot.  This flick doesn’t quite lend itself to this presentation quality.

Black Levels: Solid, inky, rich.  This is a brighter film, for the most part, a nuclear type wasteland surrounding the settings (and becoming them in the final act).  The night sequences boast great detail without crush, and the night chase sequence looks superb for what it is, a difficult task.

Color Reproduction: While some will draw comparisons in Automata‘s exterior city sequences to Blade Runner‘s similar settings, there is an added layer (or seven) of wear, grime, and dirt that keep this from being a candy-coated sharp colored flick.  The picture’s colors are solid and stable, but the attention to detail of a worn-out dystopia means the grit wins.

Flesh Tones: A slightly blown out, overcontrasted film means skin tones will be affected, but nothing is glaring or glowing, just a bit of extra warmth.

Noise/Artifacts: An explosion around the 46 minute mark shows artifacting that is so blatant it’s damn near impossible to miss.  There’s also some minor artifacting in the first shown Pilgrim’s head and shoulder region.  Due to the fact both of these instances are digital, it may be a problem with the SFX, not the encode or compression.



Audio Formats: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Volume spikes cleanly, prioritization is proper, and all in all this disc sounds clear, crisp, and sharp.

Low Frequency Extension: The bass levels on this release are more subtle, but are decent with plenty of roar in atmospheric effects.

Surround  Sound Presentation:  Directionality is lightly used, but present.  Surround spread is also sparse, somewhat lacking.  This particular weakness is one that hurts the film greatly, as true absorption into this film would help one stay drawn in to the story, immersed and interested.

Dialogue Reproduction: Spoken word is healthy and beefy, with no effects drowning out any single line of dialogue, and no accent so strong as to be indiscernible.  Some of the Pilgrim voices are tougher, but due to their digital distortion and wear, this is to be expected.

Technical Specifications: BD25 disc, Region A, November 18, 2014 release.



This disc’s weak point is its supplement package, or, really, lack thereof.

Making of Featurette (HD, 4:50): Director Gabe Ibanez discusses the themes of the films, but boy oh boy is he a fast talker who doesn’t quite alliterate between words.  Interspersed with shots from the film, this feature doesn’t exactly delve beyond the surface all that much.

Previews (HD and SD): A trailer for Automata (in HD), as well as the SD trailers that are found in the pre-menu content: Stonehearst Asylum, Good People, Dead Within, and The Taking of Deborah Logan.



In 1963, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc, in protest to the persecution of Buddhists by their government, lit himself ablaze on the streets of Saigon, a moment in history that will forever be remembered due to the personal sacrifice of the event (and the Pulitzer winning photograph that captured the event in its sheer self-brutality).  In Automata, there’s a similar sequence with similar meaning, as a Pilgrim 7000 robot self-immolates, a sacrifice it makes in an attempt to avoid the further persecution of his kind.  It’s artfully done, in a manner that won’t call back to many viewers, and shows the kind of thoughtfulness that the film is full of.  Automata is the antithesis of modern sci-fi, free from the Michael Bay-esque expodegasms, a film that centers its personality on characters that are not allowed to have one.  Like Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, it’s a thinker, a metaphor, and an inspired experience.



Writer/reviewer, gamer, father, technology early adopter. Formerly published on the now-defunct Project-Blu and Highdefdigest.

1 Response to “Automata (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Great thorough review. Despite some of the negative reviews out there, I still want to check this one out!