Okay…it’s time for one of those little thought experiments that make life so downright puzzling. What do you make of a movie that loudly proclaims that it’s “Filmed in Robo-Monstervision”, which is apparently code for “Dude, you’d better not have epilepsy when you watch the first two minutes of this” and also features Angus Scrimm–the ever-lovin’ Tall Man himself–as a scientist? The answer is clear…”Automatons” is an excellent homage to the movies of yesteryear, and will be quite a thrill for anyone who misses those old days.
“Automatons” has not only the look but also the plot of a mid-twentieth century science fiction movie. Fifties or sixties–I’d call either a fair guess. Basically, a war has boiled off the Earth’s atmosphere, and this yielded massive depopulation, massive sterilization, and attempts to repopulate the Earth with human clones. The “enemy”, meanwhile, has figured out several ways to co-opt “our” equipment via radio transmission, and that includes robots. For one valiant holdout living in a cave with a handful of robots, this could mean quite a few problems.
I do wonder, however, how serious the risk actually is for epileptics who see “Automatons”. The screen regularly flashes and rolls like the Litton Light Test gone berserk. Though I’m not personally fond of old movies, I can’t say that there’s really all that much wrong with “Automatons”. The robot battle scenes are the grandest style of kitsch, amd the interstitials between robot ventures are packed with bluster, bravado, and dialogue that makes it clear no one has a clue what they’re talking about. Listening to Angus Scrimm talk is like listening to someone who’s been watching way, way too much Fox News, one minute saying “the enemy hates our freedom” and the next saying “oh, yeah, we had to institute curfews for everybody”. Which was probably at least part of the point…nothing like a little political allegory to spark up an otherwise dull movie.
I’m not a big fan of retro tech with flashing screens every few minutes, and the pacing is as slow as syrup–I remember looking at the time counter and being amazed that I’d only cleared a half-hour, and still had over an hour to go!
I never wished so hard that I had the ‘bots from the Satellite of Love hanging around, because this was the kind of movie Doc Forrester should be launching at me. And when watched from that peculiar perspective, suddenly “Automatons” takes on a whole new life of its own. What would Joel and / or Mike have done with this? I’m not sure, but I bet they would’ve had a field day with the fifteen minutes of empty space at the end. I’m not kidding, either–fifteen minutes after the credits roll is just empty black space.
All in all, if you’re into retro tech, or just retro sci-fi, or damn good MiSTie fodder, then you’re going to love “Automatons”, which definitely has the look, feel, and plot of a two-reeler popcorn muncher down at the Bijou. It would’ve gone really well right alongside “I Was A Teenage Something-Or-Other”, and if nothing else, you can get some mileage out of the old Servo and Crow puppets you built back in the eighth grade.