Ex Machina is one of the better surprises of 2015 with a well told story taking a subject seen many times before yet giving it that extra layer and giving us three distinguished characters each fleshed out so well. Also top marks for the visual effects which are minimalized yet still quite impressive.
Genre(s): Drama, Science Fiction
Lionsgate | R – 108 min. – $24.99 | July 14, 2015
THE MOVIE – 4.0/5
Note: This review contains some spoilers on certain plot points. Readers beware.
Upon its release a couple months back, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina had plenty of hype and although the subject of artificial intelligence is hardly anything new, dating back to 1927’s Metropolis though most, including myself, find a better comparison to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner released back in 1982. Like Blade Runner, Ex Machina, at least I think, is destined to cult classic status. I was skeptical and although I wasn’t quite in love with it, and the finale is pretty ice cold, but its one film well worthy of the praise.
Genius programmer Caleb (DOMHNALL GLEESON) wins a contest to spend a week at reclusive billionaire Nathan’s (OSCAR ISAAC) remote estate set in the vast mountains. Nathan, in addition to be a bit of egomaniac, is also the CEO of Google or I should say Bluebook, the world’s most popular Internet search engine. But it’s not merely a vacation. Nathan reveals Caleb is there to participate in what’s known as the Turing Test, meaning to test the ability of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior on par with that of a human.
After signing a strict non-disclosure contract, Caleb gets to work meeting the artificial intelligence machine named Ava (ALICIA VIKANDER). The pair would ask and answer questions separated by Plexiglas as Ava lives and works in a secure area inaccessible to anyone other than Nathan.
At first the meeting is one of awe. For Caleb, obviously it’s interacting with a machine and for Ava, interacting with someone other than Nathan. Over the course of their meetings, it’s clear Caleb is seeing Ava more than just an A.I. and soon enough, she begins to have feelings for him to the point when, during numerous blackouts in which the power goes out and security cameras go down, she reveals that Nathan is not to be trusted.
I won’t go beyond this point with the plot only to say, Ex Machina is one heck of a ride. A slow ride mind you, as it does require patience since there are no action scenes and it’s more of a psychological drama more than even science fiction. It’s also a simple enough concept without dumbing it down and removing some interesting concepts presenting a reasonably believable future with the acceleration of technology in society.
It’s without trepidation that I say Ex Machina was one of the better surprises of 2015. Although not the perfect film, not many are, but it tackles a subject done adnausium across many mediums from novels to movies to comic books and graphic novels. Heck, the Terminator franchise has tried and their last few attempts have, at best, fallen flat.
Where Ex Machina takes it to another level is making it a sci-fi psychological drama and features three amazing performances from Domhnall Gleeson who perfects the socially awkward whiz kid, Alicia Vikander tightropes human and robot (questioning what the difference is) and Oscar Isaac who continues his rise to fame and his billionaire genius that is off-center from the beginning and yet his character is so damn charming. I dare say he probably deserves a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
Also impressive is the visual effects (another category the film deserves award recognition). The effects transforming Vikander into a robot is really well done but not so over-the-top to be distracting and serves as an aid rather than a crutch to the character.
The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, marking his directorial debut, and following up his brilliant screenplays for Sunshine (though the third act almost ruined it), the tear-jerker Never Let Me Go and finally the incredible and woefully overlooked (by the general audience) Dredd. In his first feature film as writer and director, he basically hits a home run, culminating with a cold-hearted finale.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.0/5
This release comes with a slick-looking matted slip cover. Inside is a redemption code for the Digital HD copy.
Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina (39:59; HD) is a well rounded and relatively expansive behind-the-scenes look on how the movie came to be breaking down the story, visual effects and other elements through interviews with members of the cast and crew.
SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew (1:00:57; HD) – Writer/Director Alex Garland, Actor Oscar Isaac, Director of Photographer Rob Hardy and Composers Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury answer questions from the moderator and audience about their experience working on the film.
Behind the Scenes Vignettes (28:40; HD) are a collection of shorter featurettes covering a variety of subjects from creating Ava, designing Nathan’s world, the music and more. These contain additional interviews with the cast and crew.
Previews – Maggie, Cut Bank, A Most Violent Year, Under the Skin
VIDEO – 4.25/5
Ex Machina becomes sentient on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate and is given a 1080p high-definition transfer (AVC codec) and presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio. Although this isn’t a “brilliant” looking picture, it still offers so-so detail while colors tend to be cooler in tone while other scenes, such as the dance sequence, where colors become oversaturated. As I said, though, it’s not the sharpest transfer as the film was shot on a variety of digital cameras so it is missing that natural film texture, however that might’ve perhaps been the intention in given it a more modern aesthetics.
AUDIO – 5.0/5
So, Dolby has Atmos and DTS has answered the challenge with the new DTS.X which, for those whose receivers do not decode, like mine, it’ll output a still vibrant and strong DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. It’s an extraordinarily amazing lossless track providing for rich and clear dialogue levels throughout though it especially comes to life in the few more “thriller” scenes allowing each channel to come to life with a crispness and clarity. Ambient noises are also present such as the minor sounds in a technologically equipped home while the score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow comes through so well.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, Ex Machina is one of the better surprises of 2015 with a well told story taking a subject seen many times before yet giving it that extra layer and giving us three distinguished characters each fleshed out so well. Also top marks for the visual effects which are minimalized yet still quite impressive. The Blu-ray released by Lionsgate offers good audio/video transfers and some decent bonus features.
Brian Oliver aka The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.