By Karol Krok
Automata is yet another dystopian s-f story about humans creating artificial intelligence that attains a consciousness of its own. In this film, directed by Gabe Ibáñez , Antonio Banderas plays an insurance agent Jacq Vaucan who investigates cases of robots developing an ability to fix themselves. As expected, what he discovers changes his perspective not only on technology but – more importantly – on very meaning of life itself. The film received quite poor reviews from most critics. However, many state it could (and should) have been much better, even with the familiar ingredients filmmakers re-used from many other classic entries in this genre.
Whatever the novelty and freshness issues one might have with this film, the original score from Spanish composer Zacarías M. de da Riva is anything but a routine job. While the filmmakers paint a stark and unforgiving landscape of future world, the music goes into an entirely different place. It’s warm and spiritual, addressing many of subplots and themes. The typical s-f aspects of wannabe blockbusters remain almost ignored, which can only be refreshing.
The start of the album suggest something else, however. ‘The Earth’ begins with a moment of unease – the creepy glissandi strings in different registers bring a sense of dread to this dystopian world. But then, they are joined by an angelic female chorus and solo cello. It’s a surprising development, quite unlike to what most s-f scores would offer a listener these days. There is an almost a Christmas-like sense of warmth to most of those (quite frequent) passages. Indeed, the religious elements seems to speak to concept of life in this film. Pieces like ‘Desperation’, ‘The Precedent’ and ‘Birth of a New Robot’ are perfect examples – they brim with wonder and awe of creation. The latter would employ also some grander orchestral gestures that recall Elliot Goldenthal’s Batman Forever and Final Fantasy in those epic brass chords.
What can be a bit of a disappointment is that this is not the type of score that one bases around many striking themes. It’s strengths lie mostly in textural ideas and interesting orchestration. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t any melodic elements in it. ‘We Want to Live’ presents a warm hymnal theme seemingly representing the spiritual elements of the story. There also a few recurring choral motifs that de la Riva employs throughout his work (one of them appears at the very start of ‘Into the Desert’).
‘Apology’ offers one of few moments of action – tense Danny Elfman-like rhythmic ostinato and vocal writing exhilarate the pace slightly. The more ominous ‘The Canyon’ sequence, in its latter part, brings those back in an even more impressive fashion. Given this films’ thriller premise, there is curiously little masculine moments of danger and intrigue. Which is partially what makes de la Riva’s score so interesting to seasoned film music listener.
Towards the end of this soundtrack album, the mood darkness and becomes more introspective. In ‘I’m Burnt Out’ strings and droning synths speak to weariness and resignation. Towards the end of ‘Locker’, piano leads a tense ostinato that is soon picked up by an entire orchestra, in a way that Alexandre Desplat would have done it. In fact, some melodic elements here and there are quite reminiscent of this composer’s work. ‘New Robot Appears’ ventures into an even bleaker territory and that element of terror carries over to the next piece (‘Badly Wounded’, in which the snarling brass and swarming strings create a moment of chaos.
Finally, ‘Automata Requiem’ changes the mood completely – the theme from ‘We Want to Live’ comes back to offer comfort and a sense of denouement. It starts off gently with a piano. There’s fulfilling moment of redemption and resolution in the string section as it takes over in an arrangement that brings Thomas Newman to mind. Full chorus enters, chanting in Latin, accompanied by noble low brass. After a brief return of solo piano and synth, yet another gorgeous vocal statement closes the track in a satisfying fashion. A wonderful epilogue to a great score.
MovieScore Media released this 54-minute album. While many big blockbuster films of Hollywood bore listeners to death with their repetitive and watered-down banalities, some of the best genre music is being written for less know films by really talented people no one talks about. It might not immediately strike you with its melodic personality but offers rewards that you’ll discover with each new listen. If Automata is anything to go by, we should definitely watch Zacarías M. de da Riva’ career very closely from now on. Wonderful surprise treat.
Automata is out now as a digital album from MovieScore Media and will be available soon on CD