Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Archive: When Robots Learn to Feel

George Almore’s robots do not always act in accordance with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, but he didn’t design them to be robotic. His intention was to make them as human as possible. So far, he has been successful in rather awkward ways, but nowhere near enough to accomplish his ultimate goal. He hopes to provide a vessel for his late wife Jules, but the clock is ticking in director-screenwriter Gavin Rothery’s Archive, which releases this Friday on VOD.

It is a couple decades into the future and artificial intelligence is still a work in process. Amore has accepted a position reopening his company’s mothballed facility in frosty northern Japan, because he can also use the facilities for his cutting-edge robotic research. He has a little bit of company in his blocky first two prototypes, J1 and J2, who do not look very human. More importantly, he can also communicate with the “download” of Jules’ consciousness, which has been saved through proprietary technology developed by the Archive company.

The idea is to transfer Jules into a compatible robot host. Unfortunately, it has never been done before and archives degrade quickly, making contact increasingly intermittent, before their inevitable expiration. Legally, he should not be tinkering with another company’s IP, but Almore is well past the point of caring, but he must hide his work from his suspicious boss.

Archive is a smart sf film that takes an intriguing premise and fully develops it during the course of the narrative. It is also visually impressive, thanks to the terrific robot designs and the striking mountain backdrops. Most notably, Rothery’s treatment of the robot characters might be the smartest seen in a feature film since Jake Schreier’s Robot and Frank. There are times when J1 and J2 really deliver an emotional walloping, which is saying something, since they are even boxier than Robbie the Robot, but Rothery earns it.

Of course, he gets some key help from Theo James, who fully commits in his scenes with his robotic co-stars. Ironically, the flashbacks with his wife and the sequences trying to perfect his third prototype, J3, both played by Stacy Martin (who also supplied J2’s voice), do not have the same degree of dramatic potency. Regardless, the acute tragedy that unfolds will definitely stick with viewers. Plus, as a nice bonus, Peter Ferdinando parachutes in and out to make a delightfully malevolent genre cameo as Tagg, the company’s “risk assessor.”

Frankly, most experienced sf fans will be hoping Rothery will not spring the obvious twist ending, but indeed he does. Nevertheless, the portrayal of human-robotic-AI relationships is so strong, it cannot be undermined by the final gotcha. Thematically, Archive would pair up well with the short film Beautiful Dreamer, which should be getting second looks with the release of Kore-eda’s The Truth, which kind-of, sort-of incorporates the same short story. Technically, it is a solid package, with cinematographer Laurie Rose making it all look cool, in every sense of the word. Highly recommended for science fiction fans, Archive releases this Friday (7/10), on VOD platforms.