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Blu-ray discs are definitely getting cheaper - there was a time when I was spending five times as much for a dvd as some shops are charging for a factory-fresh blu-ray package now. I picked up Automata in London on Friday, along with a few others... and as this one's Ultraviolet code was set to expire in a few weeks, unwrapped it, and watched it last night.

It's a rather bleak future that Antonio Banderas takes us to, as star and one of the producers. The other most familiar name is Melanie Griffith, his wife at the time, who plays one of the supporting characters, and supplies the voice of one robot who - befriends him?

Banderas is Jacq Vaucan, an insurance investigator for ROC, the company that manufactures Pilgrims, robots manufactured to help humans survive in the mid 2040s. Solar flares have irradiated most of our planet, killing the vast majority of people - and all those particulate emissions from diesel Volkswagens probably didn't help. Inside the city, life manages to go on, if you have a job and money, while the Pilgrims help build a massive wall around it... not so much to keep the radiation from the desert wilderness out, but more to keep the desperate rabble of people without jobs away. Snipers on top of the wall shoot on sight if they see anyone, and our hero has to be pretty nimble when his investigations take him outside.

There is a touch of Blade Runner, and of I, Robot - but without the (relatively) cheerful, upbeat atmosphere. A review I came across while finding the above image also mentions Max Headroom, but I'd go more for Barb Wire or later Mad Max movies... just with less people. And as the death count rises during the 110 minutes, the number of cast members still alive does fall alarmingly. There are two "laws of robotics" that have been built into every robot, after the first functioning one - they cannot harm any form of life, and they may not repair, modify or alter another robot in any way, to stop them getting too smart and too agile. But, somehow, it seems, some robots are evolving... "You are just a machine," Jacq tells one. "Just a machine? That's like saying you are just an ape."

Jacq gets stranded outside the city in the bleak, sand-blown, radioactive wilderness, and his only hope of survival is in the hands of a few robots, who are travelling to - somewhere. The robots include Dawn (voiced by Melanie Griffiths). But Jacq is being chased by a ruthless group intent on killing him and his robot companions - and they have Jacq's wife and new-born daughter with them.

I don't want to go into too much detail about what happens, but as movies go, it certainly held my attention. Maybe the sf is a bit cliched, and depends on other better-known films, not to mention Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics." But, if the Earth is no longer able to host us humans, maybe it is time to give our creations, the robots, their turn. ..?


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