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Ex Machina (2015)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/14/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/17/2015
I like to think that true movie fans are the ones who scan the credits during trailers or when seeing a new movie poster looking for familiar names. We want to see if someone that we like or admire is involved in the film. (Or possibly making sure that it's not some hack whose talents we doubt.) Similarly, we play "Six Degrees..." and often note names of filmmakers who have worked with other professionals that we like. The assumption here is that the individuals will have similar tastes or that one would have learned tricks from the other. That was my assumption when I approached Ex Machina. Boy, was I wrong.
Caleb (Dohmhall Gleeson) is working at his desk as a programmer, when he receives word that he's won a contest. He soon finds himself on a helicopter, where he whisked away to the home of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of his company. Caleb is fascinated to be at the isolate home of this reclusive genius. especially when Nathan appears to be a regular guy who welcome Caleb as a friend. Caleb soon learns the purpose of his visit -- Nathan has made advanced leaps in artificial intelligence and he wants Caleb to give his creation The Turing Test, in which one attempts to challenge AI on its self-awareness. Caleb is surprised to see that the machine is a female humanoid creation named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is to spend time speaking to Ava and then report back to Nathan. This leads Nathan to two discoveries. First, Ava does seem to be self-aware and she doesn't like being help captive, and second, Nathan is prone to drinking and seems to be hiding something.
Ex Machina comes from Alex Garland, a writer who have worked with Director Danny Boyle in the past on the films The Beach,28 Days Later..., and Sunshine. (In addition, Garland wrote adaptations for Dredd and Never Let Me Go.) Boyle is know for his hyper-kinetic style and his ability to transcend genres. And, if nothing else, even when Boyle's movies miss the mark, as with Trance, they are never dull. So, I made the assumption that when making his directorial debut with Ex Machina, Garland would have learned from his mentor how to make a well-paced, engaging film. Again, Boyle can go from Oscar bait to genre movies and make it look easy. Apparently it's very difficult.
I say this because Ex Machina is incredibly boring. I literally fell asleep twice during the first act of the movie. I applaud Garland for wanting to make an intelligent science-fiction film which has asks some deep philosophical questions, but the bulk of the film is simply people talking...about the same stuff over and over again. Now, this is the part where the haters will jump in and say that I "didn't get it" or that "I'm not smart enough", but trust me, that isn't the case. The question of AI is certainly an interesting one, especially those which pertain to just how dangerous AI could be. But, this movie doesn't have much that is new to say on the subject, and what it does, isn't all that revelatory. This is further confounded by the fact that the characters aren't very interesting or unique. Caleb is your standard innocent, Nathan is your standard eccentric, and Ava is your standard robot. The movie does offer some action during the third act, but it's already too late by that point. The ending is meant to be chilling and I suppose that it would have been had I cared.
In the end, Ex Machina isn't much of a movie. However, I think that it would make an excellent play, as we essentially have only three characters (Nathan has a housekeeper, but she's mute) and there is a ton of dialogue. The movie is meant to be suspenseful and a mystery, but it's also one of those movies where the truth is one of two options, so at least half of the audience won't be surprised. I wanted to like the film, as I admire any film which doesn't talk down to the audience and wants to seem intelligent. But, I also needed the film to be better paced and not simply glide along, as I waited for something to happen. Note to those who want to be directors: If you get the chance to work with an Oscar-winning director, take notes.
Ex Machina doesn't really explain how Nathan perfected artificial skin on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good (look at the grass in the opening scene) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent, as we can see lines on the actor's faces, and the depth is notable -- the actors are clearly separate from the background. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As the bulk of the film takes place in Nathan's house, there are plenty of opportunities for the track to show off sounds coming from throughout the place in the stereo and surround speakers. The subwoofer effects are also noticeable, most notably during the power outages.
The Ex Machina Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of features. "Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina" (40 minutes) is an in-depth featurette which begins with Writer/Director Alex Garland describing the origin of the story and how the film got together. From there, we get comments from the actors on their characters and the film's themes. There is a nice amount of on-set footage here and a pleasing look at the film's production. "SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew" (61 minutes) is a chat session from March, 2015 in which the filmmakers discuss the making of the movie. "Behind the Scene Vignettes" (29 minutes) is a series of nine shorts which focus on various elements of the film and reproduce some of the comments and on-set shots from the earlier featurette.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long