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Automata (Zacarías M. de la Riva)

November 12, 2014


Zacarías M. de la Riva, 2014, MovieScore Media
18 tracks, 54:11

Don’t you just love it when you find a score by a composer you’ve never heard of, for a film you don’t know… and it turns out to be one of the best things you heard all year?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Antonio Banderas plays the role of Jacq Vaucan, a disillusioned insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation whose job involves the investigation of manipulated robots. Although it seems like another routine case at first, Vaucan soon realizes that his latest mission will have more profound effects on the future of humanity. The film is directed and co-written by Spanish filmmaker Gabe Ibáñez (“Hierro”); and also features Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith and Javier Bardem in a cameo appearance as voices of a robots.

The original score is by Spanish composer Zacarías M. de la Riva. His filmography reveals great variety – “Imago Mortis” (horror), “Tadeo Jones” (adventure), “Voices from Mozambique” (documentary), various shorts and Ibáñez’s thriller “Hierro”. He studied at the Berklee College of Music. On his website his says: “Since I was young, movies have been an important part of my life, I couldn’t think of nothing better than learn music so that I could be involved in movie making.

What does it sound like?

After a minimalistic and eerie opening, De la Riva presents the most gorgeous theme in “We Want to Live”. It’s a beautifully dramatic melody on par with Fernando Velazquez’s best (and I’m using him as a reference, as he is rather well-known for his melodic writing). Written primarily for strings (cello first, violas next and then the violins), it rivals a score like “Lo Imposible” for dramatic intensity – and you’ll remember how nuts we all went for that one. This cue is finished off by modernistic choir. I say ‘modernistic’ because I believe the choir elements, here and throughout the score, sound much more like twentieth century concert music than ‘typical’ film music. If deliberate, I think it’s a genius choice by the composer, as it gives the score a unique edge and it seems to enhance the sci-fi elements of the film. If not deliberate, then… well… the stars must have been aligned favourably for this one.

It is worth mentioning at this stage that the score features the The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish choir Johannebergs Vokalensemble which was contracted for the film by MovieScore Media’s Mikael Carlsson.

“Apology” is a track of two halves, though the first half only covers only one-third of the cue. A somber cello solo is accompanied by soft chords. The cello performance is very moving. The theme reminds me strongly of one of Hans Zimmer’s themes for his “Batman” trilogy – of all things! – but it sounds so much more alive and heartfelt, due to that stellar performance. It returns equally beautifully in “A Night of Dancing”. The other half is much more lively, bordering on action, at times reminiscent of John Williams’ modern writing (such as “Minority Report” and “A.I.”).

“Desperation” also features a beautiful solo for cello, this time delivering a rather lush theme that sees the instrument stretched to its limits as the theme climbs up the scales. The cue finishes with a theme that’s reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s “The Thin Red Line”.

“Birth of a New Robot” opens with a short but magnificent choral statement. Then a solo trumpet plays a melody with a distinct sci-fi twist; perhaps there’s a little bit of “Alien” in there? Then strings and woodwinds take over with a wavering theme that oozes anticipation. The track keeps evolving, as chanting choir and dramatic “Final Fantasy”-like brass chords finish it off. The writing, the orchestrations, the performance all are magnificent. This is fantastic stuff… and we’re only just on track 6!

The movie moves constantly between two different worlds. The world of the sci-fi thriller and the world of the philosophical and metaphysical. The first one deals with Jacq Vaucan’s investigation of malfunctioning robots, the second one deals with the essence of the being and his reality, human or robotic. Music had to resolute this dichotomy, make the coexistence of this two different worlds possible.” – Zacarías M. de la Riva, composer.

It may seem unfair that I’m making all these comparisons to other scores. The similarities are definitely there; whether or not they are deliberate is another matter. More importantly, I don’t mind them. “Automata” has enough of an identity of its own not to be bothered by superficial similarities to other scores.

See, “The Precedent” reminds me of “Aliens” due to its dark chords and specific use of woodwinds and oscillating chords. Yet, it’s much more classical than “Alien” or “Aliens” ever were. So it seems to be taking some of those familiar elements, but uses it in a wholly different arrangement. I don’t mind that – in fact I love it.

The remainder of the score features any of the themes and stylistics the composer has already established, though the last few cues are of a slightly darker nature. The album concludes with “Automata Requiem”, a stunner of a track that sees the main theme go through a number of variations (for piano, for choir, for strings and for a combination of those). If I can throw one more comparison in there, I’d say that the string writing reminds of Thomas Newman.

Is it any good?

Zacarías M. de la Riva’s “Automata” easily sits amongst the very best I have heard this year; and I have no doubt that I’ll be returning to this score many more times. Don’t read anything negative in my many comparisons to other scores, I am merely trying to convey what this score sounds like. It sounds nothing like “Batman” or “The Thin Red Line”, but it does have themes that are reminiscent of them. It’s nothing like “Alien” or “Aliens”, though it does have a similar oscillating melody. It doesn’t sound even remotely like Thomas Newman, but on the odd occasion the strings have a similar kind of warmth. At other times it has an air of Elliot Goldenthal about it; sometimes John Williams; and quite frequently it reminds of Fernando Velazquez.

“Automata” houses a number of beautiful, heartfelt themes. The orchestrations and performance are top-notch. The juxtaposition of classically lush melodies and modernistic choral passages works very well and gives this score a unique edge. The only point of critique for me is that, with so many ideas being presented, there’s isn’t a lot of space to explore each idea further. De la Riva does re-use numerous elements throughout his score, thereby creating a coherent work, but there are several (secondary) themes that I would’ve loved to have heard more of. I guess what I’m saying is: I adore this score and after 54 minutes I want more!

Rating [4,5/5]


1. The Earth (1:52)
2. We Want to Live (2:50)
3. Robot on Fire (1:00)
4. Apology (4:28)
5. Desperation (3:30)
6. Birth of a New Robot (4:14)
7. Good Luck Jack (2:28)
8. The Precedent (4:26)
9. A Night Out Dancing (4:53)
10. The Canyon: Part 1 (2:06)
11. The Canyon: Part 2 (3:52)
12. Meeting Cleo (2:45)
13. Into the Desert (3:30)
14. I’m Burnt Out (1:58)
15. Locker (2:44)
16. New Robot Appears (1:30)
17. Badly Wounded (1:43)
18. Automata Requiem (4:22)


For more information and audio samples visit MovieScore Media‘s website.

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