- Composed by Zacarias M. de la Riva
- MovieScore Media / 2014 / 54m
Automata is set in a post-apocalyptic future where robots are programmed to obey two laws – not to harm the few remaining humans and not to modify themselves in any way. Antonio Banderas plays an insurance investigator who discovers that somebody may have done something to allow some robots to circumvent these rules. Needless to say, things don’t pan out particularly happily. The Spanish/Bulgarian film has attracted decent reviews, inevitably attracting comparisons with Blade Runner and mentions of Isaac Asimov.
The music is provided by Zacarias M. de la Riva, who also scored director Gabe Ibáñez’s previous movie, Hierro. And – just when I thought there weren’t many surprises to be had in film music, de la Riva has provided a big one. His score opens as might be expected – a tense, dissonant passage opens up “The Earth” but rising above the barren landscape is a heavenly choir of light, a stark but beautiful violin solo – and in the next cue, “We Want to Live”, a choral theme of great optimism and spirit, the voices floating over some crystal clear orchestral ruminations which build into an outlandishly lyrical Morricone-style heartmelting melody. This leads into a brief extract of a full choral requiem (which will be developed fully later on), with all the religious connotations that implies. It’s outstanding, striking and memorable.
In the brief “Robot on Fire”, the first hint of the duality at the heart of the score is heard in the striking contrast between dark tension and light hope. “Apology” does the same – an extended variation of the main theme leads into urgent action, frantic orchestra combined with the choir (used imaginatively) and subtle electronics. While none of the elements in isolation is particularly innovative, the combination is striking. I’ve always loved film music that does this kind of things – take two conflicting ideas and explore ways of playing them off against each other.
Despite its name, “Desperation” is strikingly beautiful, expansively sunny and joyous, at least at first, though it does go on to trawl through darker territory. The choir rises again to introduce “Birth of a New Robot”, the lonely call of a trumpet particularly noteworthy as the cue develops, the dramatic arc of the music then taking it through some powerful moments of particular grandeur. There is a dogged spirit running through “Good Luck Jacq” which is combined with traditional emotion-based orchestral scoring in fine style.
“The Precedent”, with shades of Alexandre Desplat, builds a great sense of mystery and intrigue, swirling figures becoming ever more persistent, eventually danger and fear coming to the fore. The tone shifts a little in “A Night Out Dancing”, a keyboard ushering in a bleak soundscape eventually punctuated by the warming embrace of the orchestra, but a throbbing electronic pulse closes the cue in dark fashion. The two-part “The Canyon” begins with a soaring performance of the theme but you can hear there’s something not quite in place and a growing feeling of unease punctuates some of the choral music that follows, sometimes more overt than others. In “Meeting Cleo” the composer again builds from a base of darkness and to some extent sterility, emphasising here the clinical robot world but once more building onto that a moving choral passage providing the raw humanity. This is followed by “Into the Desert”, which begins the score’s starkest sequence – along with “I’m Burnt Out” and “Locker”, we have three cues that don’t offer the usual contrasts until the latter does have the briefest glimmers of light. “New Robot Appears” contrasts some harsh dissonance with the now-familiar human feelings; “Badly Wounded” then brings in some of the score’s most striking moments, piercing stabs of power. The score then ends with the full performance of “Automata Requiem”, a brilliant way of bringing the music round full circle.
I think this is a very fine album, one of 2014’s strongest. Compositionally it is very strong and at its core is a very clearly-told emotional dramatic story – fans of Ennio Morricone and John Williams will find much to enjoy, I would imagine. I love the warmth of the human side contrasting with the clinical starkness of the robot. The album is bolstered further by the crystal-clear recording and great performance by orchestra and choir. I don’t really know why so many extremely talented Spanish film composers have emerged together but it’s great to hear such good music so consistently appearing from that nation and de la Riva is clearly a composer to watch very carefully.
Rating: **** 1/2