I’m always dubious when a film is released almost simultaneously in the cinema and on DVD – are the producers hedging their bets? As a result it was with trepidation that I watched Robotropolis (2011), the new sci-fi adventure / thriller from director Christopher Hatton (who brought us such memorable outings as Sammyville ) and starring Australian sexpot Zoe Naylor.
By the end of the film I was reasonably ambivalent. It’s unlikely you’ll remember much of it after the final credits roll, but mercifully neither does it, at ninety minutes, outstay it’s welcome like so many sci-fi blockbusters.
‘New Town’ is the city of the future. Maintained by robots, the human inhabitants of this prototype metropolis can sit back and enjoy a life of ease, safe in the knowledge that all their physical needs are taken care of by their automated servants. However, when reporter Christiane Nouveau (Naylor) and cameraman Danny Ross (Graham Sibley), are sent by their television boss Jason Brooks (Edward Foy) to report on this new utopia, they get more than they bargained for. Due to a technical malfunction, the once subservient robots turn against their human masters in a vicious revolt. Unable to escape the ensuing carnage, Christiane and Danny witness firsthand what happens when the robots take on minds of their own and wreak bloody revenge on their human masters.
Could a film involving robots gone amok have any originality? After all it’s been seen before in everything from the bizarre Future World (1976), to so many sci-fi television shows it’s hard to keep count. The answer is yes, just, though it’s freshness comes not from the subject matter, but from the way the grisly proceedings are played out. Much of the city based action is seen as though it is a live, televised documentary, giving you the feeling of watching a reality television show – an approach which is still original enough in the medium of film to appear interesting.
Robotropolis also achieves a suitably futuristic, if somewhat bleak atmosphere. ‘New Town’ is a stark mass of glass and steel, interspersed with grassy and forested communal areas where the human inhabitants can relax and interact socially with their robotic servants, as well as get torn limb from limb and pumped full of lead when things begin to go awry. Unfortunately it this aspect which is also the film’s downfall. The soulless air which permeates the city appears to also be the air which its human inhabitants breath. Here you have individuals who are either stereotypical fright film nasties (the powers that be unwilling to let a small thing like people’s safety get in the way of the bigger picture), or two dimensional characters who the viewer will find hard to empathise with even when they are facing death.
I expect some confusion might arise amongst would be viewers as Robotropolis (and I only discovered this after Googling the title) is also the city where much of Sonic The Hedgehog’s adventures take place, possibly leading parents to think that the film is aimed at younger viewers. However with a fifteen certificate, and some quite graphic on-screen gore, I doubt Sonic and his friends would feel at home in the city’s latest incarnation. Though fun, in a blood soaked fashion, Robotropolis ultimately, like ‘New Town’, lacks soul, which is after all, what makes a city a community and a film memorable.