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Automata Blu-ray Review

Automata (2014) movie poster Automata

Theatrical Release: October 10, 2014 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Gabe Ibáñez / Writers: Gabe Ibáñez, Igor Legarreta Gomez, Javier Sánchez Donate

Cast: Antonio Banderas (Jacq Vaucan), Dylan McDermott (Wallace), Melanie Griffith (Dr. Susan Dupre, voice of Cleo), Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Rachell Vaucan), Robert Forster (Robert Bold), Christa Campbell (ROC Technician), Tim McInnerny (Vernon Conway), Andy Nyman (Ellis), David Ryall (Dominic Hawk), Geraldine Somerville (Samantha), Javier Bardem (voice of Blue Robot)

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Antonio Banderas has seen his American film career stall a bit in his fifties. Sure, he held the title role in a film that opened in nearly 4,000 theaters and grossed almost $600 million worldwide,
but that was just DreamWorks' Puss in Boots expanding the scene-stealing role he first voiced in Shrek 2. As far as live-action goes, Banderas has been working with his fellow Spaniard, director Pedro Almodovar, on foreign films that haven't strongly connected with American audiences. He's popped up in some of the worst-performing recent films directed by Steven Soderbergh and Woody Allen. And he's acted in a couple of bottom rung wide release action sequels in Machete Kills and this year's The Expendables 3.

Automata, an English language, Spanish-produced science fiction thriller from director Gabe Ibáñez, gives Banderas the solo lead role and pre-title billing. But despite mainstream genre sensibilities and a $15 million budget, this movie did not get much of a North American theatrical release before coming to Blu-ray and DVD earlier this month from Millennium Entertainment.

Down to its almost identically-designed poster art, Automata is in the vein of District 9 and Elysium, the two films directed by South Africa's Neill Blomkamp. It is sci-fi with a social conscience, one that uses a future setting with advanced technology to speak about present-day society and consider how it might evolve.

In "Automata", insurance agent Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) finds himself stranded in a radioactive desert with robots.

In 2044, the Earth's population has been reduced by 99.7% to just about 21 million people, as the planet has largely been reduced to a radioactive desert. Robots, which have become prevalent, are bound by two inalterable safety protocols: they can't harm any form of life and they can't alter themselves or a fellow robot in any way. Jacq Vaucan (Banderas) is an insurance claims agent for ROC, the largest manufacturer of such robots. He responds to claims of malfunctioning robots, always sniffing out fraud.

There is more than fraud at play when Wallace (Dylan McDermott), a rain ponchoed cop-widower who wears sunglasses indoors and at night, shoots a robot claiming he caught it self-repairing. The robot is found to have other robots' parts inside and Vaucan immediately suspects it was altered by a clocksmith in the ghetto. He grows less certain after witnessing a different robot setting itself on fire in front of him.

While his wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is about to give birth to her first daughter, the burned-out Jacq, whose request for a transfer to the coast has been denied, digs deeper into these cases that could hold troubling ramifications for the very survival of his corporation. Jacq finds himself brought to the desert by robots, who won't take him back to the city but do keep him alive with worms for protein and the water their condensers can slowly produce. Out in the desert, Jacq finds himself the target of those seeking the nuclear battery in his possession.

Dylan McDermott uncovers his badass side to play Wallace. Jacq's wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) gives birth to their first child while he is missing.

The screenplay by Ibáñez and two others with similarly limited Spanish film experience, does not always add up or make sense. There are interesting ideas, but the script raises far more questions than it answers, as it puts Jacq in the middle of a revolution it doesn't seem to fully understand.
There is always some intrigue to movies that ponder how robots and humans might co-exist in the future, but this movie doesn't do enough to really captivate, provoke thought, or even simply entertain.

Though his thick accent is tough to comprehend at times, Banderas makes for a fine leading man here, claiming far more screentime than the rest of his human cast, which includes his since-separated wife Melanie Griffith as a robotic human clocksmith and voice of a sex robot and Robert Forster as his boss/father-in-law.

Not bad enough to scream direct-to-video, Automata is nonetheless not good enough for you to wonder why Millennium or a more successful studio didn't try to make this tough sell palatable for either arthouse or mainstream moviegoers.

Automata Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


The case describes Automata as being presented in "16 x 9 Full Screen", which looks like a warning to those who have noticed and lamented Millennium Entertainment's regrettable practice of cropping wider films to fit the current standard television dimensions for Blu-ray and DVD. Fortunately, the packaging's claim the 1.77:1 description of Amazon's listing are inaccurate; Automata is only presented in 16 x 9 Full Screen in the way that all Blu-rays are. The film gladly retains its original 2.40:1 intended aspect ratio, with the usual black horizontal bars making up the difference.

The picture is very good, though a tad soft and pale. The sound is better. It is offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and an alternate Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix is characteristically included for those who care about picture enough to watch Blu-ray but not sound enough to spring for a home theater with surround speakers.

"The Making of 'Automata'" shows behind-the-scenes footage of men in green body suits operating the robots. An automaton looks over Antonio Banderas' shoulder on the Automata Blu-ray menu.


The Blu-ray's only real extra is "The Making of Automata" (4:50, HD), a short featurette. It collects thoughts from writer-director Gabe Ibáñez, Antonio Banderas,
and Dylan McDermott and adds a bit of behind-the-scenes footage showing how the production opted for practical robots puppeted by men in greenscreen suits rather than CGI.

A previews section adds Automata's HD theatrical trailer (2:26) to the SD disc-opening ones for Stonehearst Asylum, Good People, Dead Within, and The Taking of Deborah Logan.

Rain falls as blue-tinted clips play over Antonio Banderas' left shoulder in an animated menu adapted from the cover art. The Region A disc resumes unfinished playback of the film, but does not let you set bookmarks.

No slipcover or inserts join the standard blue keepcase that holds the full-color label-sporting disc.

Insurance claims agent Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) takes a look at a sex robot named Cleo in "Automata."


Science fiction is a genre with much room for stories and ideas unlike anything you've seen before. Though Automata doesn't borrow heavily from those that have come before, it also doesn't bring anything that new and exciting to the table. It's the kind of movie you may watch once on a whim and not regret seeing but not recommend and not remember very long.

Millennium's Blu-ray offers a fine presentation and bare minimum of bonuses. Neither the film nor the disc will do much for anyone.

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Related Reviews:
Antonio Banderas: The Big BangYou Will Meet a Tall Dark StrangerEvitaFour RoomsRuby SparksPuss in Boots
Dylan McDermott: FreezerThe CampaignOlympus Has Fallen
Robert Forster: Jackie BrownThe Black HoleGhosts of Girlfriends PastThe Descendants
District 9ElysiumWALL•ESunshineGravityPacific RimParts Per Billion

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Reviewed November 28, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Millennium Films, Green Moon Producciones, Nu Boyana, Biburno, and Millennium Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.