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The Machine (2013)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/17/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/18/2014
Aside from truly experimental films, for the moment, let's agree that there aren't many new ideas in movies. Most stories which we see today are simply variations of age-old tales (romance, monsters, fish-out-of-water, etc.). One plot element which is actually relatively new is artificial intelligence. It seems that not long after computers were invented, people began to worry about these machines becoming too smart and taking on human traits. This idea arose in the 1964 The Twilight Zone entry "From Agnes - With Love" and of course, famously in 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, these selections only showed computers threatening a few people, by the time we get to 1984's The Terminator and 1999's The Matrix, we see that the machines are out to get everyone. The Machine takes many of these ideas and places them in a modern-setting in which the industrial complex controls everything.
The Machine takes place in an unnamed near-future in which the West is involved in a grueling war with China. Vincent (Toby Stephens) and Ava (Caity Lotz) work for the Ministry of Defense, deep inside of an underground bunker. They have been working with wounded soldiers, attempting to use cybernetic enhancements to make them battle-ready again. However, the procedure has odd side-effects, such as rendering the subjects unable to speak. At this same time, they have been making strides in "copying" the human brain into a computer. Following a tragic accident and bowing to pressure from his superiors, Vincent decides to take the research in another direction. He downloads a human brain into a robotic body. The result is an incredibly life-life automaton. As "Machine" (as it's called) begins to take on more and more human traits, Vincent realizes that he can't let it become a weapon.
Last year, we gotHer, Spike Jonze's take on artificial intelligence, specifically how the seemingly human traits of a machine can cause a person to have feelings towards the machine. But, in that movie, the AI was a disembodied voice which came from a computer or phone. The Machine offers a humanoid -- a very realistic looking humanoid -- machine which takes on the qualities of a person and thus, it's even easier to understand why a relationship begins. The film contains a secondary emotional component, as Vincent is also caring for this daughter who has a neurological disorder. The fact that he hopes to use his technology to "capture" her brain attempts to add weight to the proceedings.
The film also mixes in some topical issues with its views on the military industrial complex and the possible new threat from the East. While Vincent approaches his project with some higher ideals (both personal and for the betterment of mankind), his boss, Thomson (Denis Lawson), is only interested in creating better weapons. This puts Vincent in a constant state of moral turmoil, which only escalates when the machine takes on a humanoid form. While Vincent is fascinated by how this new "being" learns and works to emote, Thomson only wants to see it be an efficient killing machine. As soldiers are used as guinea pigs in the experiments, the movie is also commenting on the ways in which veterans are treated.
Obviously, there is a lot going on in the story in The Machine. Writer/Director Caradog W. James has also given the film a very slick look which belies any budgetary constraints. Stephens and Lotz are very good in the lead roles, especially when considering the different things they are asked to do. Having said all of that, something is missing from The Machine. The movie simply failed to grab me and hold my interest and it took several attempts to make it all the way through the film. This occurred for several reasons. First of all, the aforementioned attempts to add emotional depth to the story are interesting, but they don't work -- I never felt invested in the characters. The movie also takes a mis-step with the sub-plot concerning the soldiers in the compound who have been victims of the experiments. They exhibit very odd behavior and it's only partially explained in the end. As mentioned in the outset, The Machine also uses various ideas seen in other films, and the overall familiarity works against the movie.
The market for sci-fi with any sort of serious edge seems to shrink every year, so it's nice to see someone taking a chance with something like The Machine. Unfortunately, the film misses the cut. Those looking for action will be disappointed and the lack of any grounbreaking plot-points will leave hard-care sci-fi fans unfulfilled. James certainly shows promise as a director and perhaps his next film will actually crack new ground.
The Machine will appeal to those who are into latex bodysuits on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of XLRator Media. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. This is a dark movie, and the image is a bit too dark at time, but this does allow the cold, blue colors to shine through. The picture does show a nice amount of detail and the depth works well, most notably the shots in the bunker. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Taking place in an underground bunker, the film has many opportunities for stereo and surround effects and it works these well. The stereo effects show good separation and the surround effects show nice details. The subwoofer effects come to life during the action sequences.
The Machine Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. "Inside The Machine" (16 minutes) contains comments from Writer/Director Caradog W. James, Producer John Giwa-Amu, and members of the cast. We hear a discussion of the film's story and themes, as well as getting a look at the production. The piece contains on-set footage, some rehearsal stuff, and concept art. There is also a look at the visual effects. The only other extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long