Automatons

2006, Movie, NR, 83 mins

Review

AUTOMATONS | DEATH TO THE AUTOMATONS
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Imagine THE TERMINATOR (1984) made for a sum that wouldn't have bought that modestly budgeted film's raw stock, and you'll have some idea what to expect from James Felix McKenney's DYI sci-fi allegory. Sometime in the future, the Earth has been poisoned by generations of unending war. One survivor — a nameless young woman (Christine Spencer) — lives alone in a bunker and listens to tapes made by her mentor (Angus Scrimm), a long-dead scientist, while surrounded by the robots — some battle models, some designed as household help — that he helped design. The robots themselves recall old-fashioned B-movies like the Commander Cody serial RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON (1952), PHANTOM FROM SPACE (1953), TOBOR THE GREAT and GOG (both 1954): Tin men with metal-hose arms and legs and claw hands. Though his messages to her start out filled with optimism that his battle machines will soon defeat their enemies, the later tapes are increasingly dour and tempered by his realization that the war has been futile and that his own government has systematically lied about the nature of the conflict. The girl carries on the fight, repairing old robots and building new ones, occasionally taunted by video transmissions from the enemy leader (Brenda Cooney), whose own technicians are always devising ways to turn the girl's own machines against her. The film seems aimed at the forgotten 10-year-old within who thrills at the thought of watching stop-motion animated robots blow each other up in smudgy black-and-white — the kind of thing some overprotective babysitter didn't let them watch on TV because it might trigger nightmares. And in this case, the babysitter might have been right. In the climax, the girl's metal army storms the enemy compound, their everyday grasping hands replaced by a lethal array of swords, circular saws and maces they don't hesitate to use on the puny humans. The acting is flat, and the scientist's ideological speeches too bluntly designed to mirror post-9/11 rhetoric. But there's a dreamy fascination to the iconic images of machines fighting a perpetual war for the human creators they'll inevitably outlast. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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