Directed by: James Felix McKenney
Runtime: 83 min
Sound Mix: Stereo
What a joy! Automatons could have easily become a refurbished parody or homage to numerous classic films and television shows from over half a century ago, but instead, it stands stably on its own two metallic, shimmying, corrugated legs.
The setup, which is told to us in a most discerning way through recorded videos being played back by The Girl, our resident robot repairer, is that the timeframe in which this story takes place, on either this planet or an entirely fictional one, only two remaining ’super-powers’ exist in the world. Each of the remaining factions has it’s own supply of monstorous mechanical soldiers, and neither appears to be giving in any time soon.
Our heroin goes on about her most dubious way and repairs the robots battle after glorious, explosive battle. The exposition taking place constantly as a voice-over by video playback unravels the history of this world. B-veteran Angus Scrimm provides that voice, and manages to keep the movie rolling along briskly with his delivery as an arrogant, fascist scientist bent on stomping out insurgents, terrorists, and eventually, just plain ‘foreigners’. Where have I seen this before….
Getting Serious: Because of the moderate production, it carries with it something dearly missing at the theaters these days; simplicity. You may receive vivid nuances of the brilliance of Alien and Blade Runner while watching Automatons, and, much like those two quintessential sci-fi flicks, pacing plays a terrific role in this film. Its slow, deliberate shots cause the viewer to become immersed in the scene. A lingering image of a lone robot wandering on an open plain, for instance, causes us to shed the comedic value of the realization that we are viewing simple robot puppets. Most of the other scenes involving miniatures and technical readouts achieve realism in a similar fashion; by extending the length of the shot and therefore forcing the audience to pay closer attention to the situation, which creates tension instead of laughter. Also, the wonderfully realistic and timeless sound effects are very effective in convincing us that we are seeing something other than tiny tin toys and fireworks. A mild hum of electronic warmth can easily transport the audience to the home of our heroin, a robot chop-shop.
Lighten Up: This is the way true B-movies should be made, even today. All sense of sleek computer effects have been stricken from vision. The familiar jump and flicker of the frame are delightful to see. This movie contains everything that the “new and improved” George Lucas is missing. It has charm, and it has character. Also, Automatons has guts!!! Just when you thought the anti-war, anti-imperialistic message might end with a whimper, it ends with a BANG. Not to take away from the allegorical importance of the flick, but this show has some incredible, shocking gore. Gore-a-philes out there requiring your daily dose of venting vitals will delight in the multiple robo rampages.
After it’s all said and done, Automatons leaves you extremely satisfied. Nothing is lacking in this unique vision of the future. It delivers an interesting story and intriguing characters, simple as that. Budget hardly enters into it. (unless you giggle when 3-inch robots get blasted in the face with sparklers and melted with roman candles)
POLITICAL MESSAGE: Different year, same problems.
VIOLENCE: You’ll never look at power tools the same way.
NOAH DeFILIPPIS: Just broke the all-time end credit record.
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