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Automatons (2006) Movie Poster
USA  •    •  83m  •    •  Directed by: James Felix McKenney.  •  Starring: Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm, Brenda Cooney, Jennifer Boutell, Noah DeFilippis, Shell Driver, Larry Fessenden, Benjamin Forster, Matt Huffman, Jeremiah Kipp, John Levene, Laree Love, Daniel Mazikowski.  •  Music by: Noah DeFilippis.
       Somewhere in the distant future, The Girl is alone. She is the last of her people, the others having died in a generations-long war that the girl continues to fight with the assistance of a group of antiquated robot helpers and soldiers. Her only connection to her long-dead people is a collection of recorded journal entries made by the scientist who cared for her as a baby. His is the only friendly human face she's ever seen. The regular transmissions from her enemy's leader are always filled with threats and taunts. The girl responds with an attack of her own, carried out by her mechanical soldiers on the contaminated surface where no human can survive.


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Image from: Automatons (2006)
Image from: Automatons (2006)
Image from: Automatons (2006)
Image from: Automatons (2006)
Image from: Automatons (2006)
Image from: Automatons (2006)
An insert that comes with the DVD of this movie contains a kind of preface by the director about how he came to make the movie and what he intended by it. It is the realization of an idea he formed at age four, of a kind of movie that did not exist. The idea was inspired by the watching of an old movie, only half understood and only half remembered, and by later watchings of other movies, only half seen for spotty television reception. The director spent his early life searching for the movies he had imagined, only to understand in the end that they never had existed. So he finally made one himself.

I understand and sympathize with his objective. Long ago I discovered that the movies one imagines or half-imagines often had more to them than the real thing. Movies--especially fantasy films--which I saw fuzzily and partially satisfied my imagination more thoroughly than when I saw them later, clearly and whole. My imagination had filled in the gaps. In my late childhood I discovered the magazines Famous Monsters of Filmland and Spacemen in their "classic" period, studded with black and white stills from old movies I would not have chances to see for years afterward. What I imagined of them and of the movie history that had generated them--and, as I wrongly extrapolated, others like them--was different, and more, than what they turned out to be.

So I understand why the director would want to realize what he had imagined to exist and which did not. Also why he would want to make a movie from what his own imagination had summoned up, which had excited him more than any near counterpart he ever found in the real world. This movie looks exactly like an attempt--a successful one--to recapture the wonder engendered by a child's viewing of two or three minutes of an old robot movie--Gog, maybe--only half visible because of bad reception, until the signal gave out altogether and the screen went tragically white. The child, still hungry, retained a keen sense of what he had lost--and it is as if now, as a grown-up, he has re-created it in this movie.

The director's field of interest is therefore very narrow; he as much as says so in his preface. But within its limits--which amount to two or three scenes, or impressions of scenes--he has a great eye for composition and for the play of black and white, and is able to work up endless variations of them, which hold the eye and make the movie watchable.

But still, there are those limits. The director has no interest in what is dramatic--which is a benefit in one way, because it is true to fantasy as children receive it in movies, oblivious to screen writing conventions which they have no interest in, and which usually obtrude on what makes the movie worth seeing to them. However, they do like stories, and there is no story in the movie, either. Most of the action consists of a young woman puttering around in a laboratory, with robots (extras in robot suits) which occasionally go haywire and have to be shut off, and an old man on a TV screen recounting a future history of the world. There are also occasional interludes in which toy robots fight on a tabletop model of a barren plain. That, in essence, is the movie.

One might note that, in aiming to re-create and sustain the effect of a single type of childhood experience, the movie is equivalent to a piece of fetishistic pornography. It seeks to recapture and extend one emotional moment--and, once having done so, that is all it can do. It is stuck in the moment. It cannot expand on it, or grow beyond it. It cannot move on.

Also, the movie is not skillful, but perhaps it was not intended to be. Certainly much of its ineptness must have been deliberate. When people are speaking on TV, their lips are out of synch with the sound; the shots of the outside plain are streaked and spotted, like bad TV reception; most of the close-ups are out of focus, and the inserts do not match the long shots. Glitches like these seem designed to help create the atmosphere of a low-budget movie. But I wonder if that is not partly camouflage, since some of the raggedness does not aid in the purpose. The lighting balance changes from shot to shot; and though the old man on the TV screen is a competent actor, the young woman in the lab is not, nor is the other (unless she is the same one) who appears on the screen occasionally to say Resistance is futile. I believe the badness of the performers was brought with them, and not part of the director's recollection; actors in old movies were bad differently.

Ultimately, however, the director has done something that did not need to be done. What he has created is something that did exist, after all--though he would not have known it at age four. In his preface he writes that the TV shows he used to watch included Doctor Who. But the early Whos never played in the U.S., and he would never have gotten to see them. In any case, it is one of those whose atmosphere and technique he has captured, with a fidelity all the more remarkable if it was accidental. This movie is just like the early Dalek and Cybermen stories, minus the narrative--and of course, minus the Doctor. If the director had been able to see them at the time, they would probably have satisfied his childhood wish. But they would also have prevented it from becoming a yearning, then a passion, and then a quest, and so in the end he might have been none the happier.

Review by galensaysyes
from the Internet Movie Database.


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