2020, No MPAA rating, 100 mins.
Theo James as George / Stacy Martin as Julie and J-3 / Rona Mitra as SimoneWritten and directed by Gavin Rothery
cheaply produced, but ambitious indie sci-fi drama ARCHIVE is certainly derivative of about half a dozen other genre efforts, not to
mention that its final third doesn't quite equal the quality of its
Despite some wobbly scripting at times, though, writer/director
Gavin Rothery's debut effort emerges as a rather thoughtful and engaging
piece about A.I. and themes of love, loss, and moving on. That, and it
contains a genuinely surprising twist ending that feels legitimately
unforced and earned.
And unlike so many countless examples of science fiction these days
- which focuses on bombastic action and visual effects overkill first and
foremost above everything else - I found ARCHIVE's spare approach so much
With a healthy
dosage of past sci-fi films like EX MACHINA,
SILENT RUNNING, and even TRANSCENDENCE
(I'll elaborate in a bit), ARCHIVE offers up a familiar premise that's
made endlessly intriguing because of the unique tweaks that
Rothery engages in here to mix things up.
Set some time in the dystopian future of the 2030s, the story
introduces us to intrepid scientist George Almore (DIVERGENT's
Theo James), who's attempting to explore the boundaries of what's possible
with robotics, artificial intelligence, and - in pure Frankenstein fashion
- bringing the dead back to life. He works in a secluded and secret Japanese research
facility out in the middle of nowhere, and his superior (Rona Mitra) tasks
him with engineering assignments. Like
a similar character dealing with solitude in SILENT RUNNING, George has
robotic companions to keep him company and to help with his research.
One of them is the angular J-1 and the other is the more advanced
prototype J-2, which possesses, shall we say, an ability to comprehend the
complexity of human emotions.
There's one other
being, if one could call it that, that is housed in the facility: the
spirit of George's dead wife, Julie (Stacy Martin), who died tragically under
horrible circumstances, but is kept alive because of the latest breakthroughs in
"archive" technology. This allows the dead to be able to
communicate to the living, but with a limited amount of time before they
are lost forever (quite an intriguing hook, if you ask me).
Now, this is where ARCHIVE gets interesting: George has been
secretly working on the third robot prototype, J-3 (also played by
Martin), something that he does without his boss' knowledge.
His hopes is that he'll be able to fully remove Julie's essence
and spirit out of the archive and into this more humanoid android, thus
resurrecting her from the grave and hopefully keep her indefinitely alive
familiar with the work of Mary Shelley will understand that any scientist
playing God and with the laws of Mother Nature usually face horrendous
consequences for their actions.
One of the best
things about ARCHIVE is that it takes its time with character
introductions and expositional particulars.
Rothery utilizes a slow burn and patient approach to the material
early on that's quite commendable, especially during the introductory
moments cementing viewers within the tightly controlled microcosm that is
George's research facility. He's
essentially cut off from most of humanity, with his robot helpers being
his only real friends and confidants.
We are not made abundantly clear up front what George is really
doing at this station, why he has these robots, and so forth, but Rothery
allows for the screenplay to develop things organically, which mostly
fluid flashbacks that provide details into George's past family traumas. The core dynamics between George and his J-robots are the
dramatic epicenter of the piece, made most compelling with J-2, who
possesses an intelligence and emotional range that borders an adolescent.
And the robot begins to act up like an unruly teenager, which
complicates George's work life as well as his clandestine mission to
transfer Julia's mind into the J-3 unit.
Making matters worse is that the older, more increasingly obsolete
J models begin to resent the presence of the J-3, making George's daily
grind an increasingly tricky one.
It's been said
that copying is the most sincere form of artistic flattery, and ARCHIVE
absolutely borrows - rather heavily, as mentioned - from a host of other
sci-fi flicks, but at least Rothery appropriates from the best of them.
The stressful interplay between man and creepily humanoid machine
is the stuff of EX MACHINA and even BLADE
RUNNER, and even the J-3 robot design herself (which thanklessly
combines practical makeup on Martin as well as what I'm assuming are some CG
augmentations) looks C3P0-like. There
are even elements of the crippling nature of solitude while on a mission,
highlighted in the aforementioned SILENT RUNNING or even the original
SOLARIS. And, of course, ARCHIVE
seems to echo a lot of TRANSCENDENCE, another movie
about scientists using state of the art technology to transfer a human
being's consciousness into an synthetic being.
ARCHIVE feels made up of a hodgepodge of other past films, but it
at least tries to homogenize them all with innovative and crafty touches.
easy to overlook performances in films like this, but ARCHIVE benefits
greatly by James' soulful and melancholic turn as this limitlessly
intelligent, but desperate scientist and engineer that makes decisions
that some could easily label as ethically questionable.
We're made to relate to this man's intense levels of hurt that
he's experienced in the wake of losing the love of his life, but the film
never makes him a righteous and noble figure.
There are the clear cut issues of whether he's justified or not
bringing his wife back in another form, which leads into a whole slew
of questions and problems about the nature of life and death and what
constitutes the soul. James is low key and restrained throughout most of ARCHIVE, but you can tell the
hidden and problematic layers that reside within George throughout (plus,
ARCHIVE is mostly a one-man acting show, for the most part, and James
seems commitment to the challenge). Opposite
of him is Martin in the dual role of George's wife and J-3, and she does a
superb job of encapsulating the latter's growing self-actualization about
what she is and what her purpose is with her creator.