More often than not, when you mention science-fiction in cinema, people will picture something action-oriented with plenty of spectacle along the lines of “Star Trek” or “Star Wars,” which are great in their own right, but it just goes to show how rarely we get entries in the genre that are purely idea-based. Nothing flashy or epic in scope, but rather something designed to make you think. Alex Garland, a screenwriter mostly known for the slightly-overrated zombie flick “28 Days Later,” in addition to such duds as “Dredd” and “Sunshine,” perhaps noticing this deficit in the genre, has decided to reign things in a bit and delve into the fascinating realm of artificial intelligence in his directorial debut “Ex Machina.”
The film tells the story of a young coder, Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), who wins a contest to spend the week with his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his secluded research facility. Nathan reveals that the actual purpose of the visit is so that Caleb can participate in a unique experiment by administering the Turing Test, designed to see whether a computer can convince someone that it is human, to an A.I. that Nathan has designed and built, a test made even more difficult given the fact that Caleb already knows that the subject is in fact an A.I. The sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), as the A.I. is called, start off pretty straightforward with the two getting to know each other, but as Caleb spends more time with Nathan and Ava, he begins to realize that one or both of them are not being entirely honest with him, forcing him to take action and do what he feels is right.
As already mentioned, “Ex Machina” is the kind of film where you shouldn’t expect to be blown away with lots of visual panache and dazzling action sequences. What you should expect is an intriguing film that explores the concept of artificial intelligence, how humans see them, and how they interact with others. To this purpose, we have scenes that are as simple as Caleb and Ava sitting in a room chatting about various subjects, ranging from basic “Tell me something about yourself” to drawing to dating. However, it ends up being these scenes that are the most compelling as we, along with Caleb, try to determine if this A.I. would pass for human based on its answers and interaction.
The film does offer some interesting twists, some provided by Ava and others by Nathan, but what’s particularly engaging is how we don’t know who to trust any more than Caleb does, providing a gripping puzzle that you can’t help but get wrapped up in. Garland purposefully kept his budget as low as possible so that he could make the film the way he wanted to, a film that was more about the ideas he wanted to discuss rather than an effects-fueled extravaganza, and in that sense he has succeeded very well, delivering a thought-provoking film that can only really be faulted for being a bit slowly-paced and having an ending that could have been executed a little better. That being said, if you’re patient and don’t mind a slightly more intelligent sci-fi outing than most are used to, then you’ll surely find it a rewarding experience.
“Ex Machina” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The crystal clear image does a great job of showing off the film’s mostly dark look, in addition to the incredible CGI design of Ava’s artificial body. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is another one of those tracks that’s a little on the soft side, but the usual volume adjustment once again does the trick. Afterward, you are treated to a great track that gives you the dialogue and score in perfect quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment that will leave you with a very satisfying experience.
Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina: A fantastic five-part (approximately 40 minutes) look at the making of the film that features interviews with the cast and crew, who discuss multiple topics including the design of everything from Nathan’s house to Ava. Definitely worth watching.
Behind the Scenes Vignettes: Eight featurettes (totaling about 30 minutes) that once again feature interviews with the cast and crew, who discuss some of the same topics, in addition to other subjects like the music and the cast. It too is very much worth watching.
SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew: An intriguing hour-long featurette that includes Alex Garland, Oscar Isaac, Rob Hardy (Director of Photography), and more discussing topics such as their thoughts on A.I. and what role religion plays in it. Once again, this is an extra that is certainly worth exploring.
With “Ex Machina,” writer/director Alex Garland has delivered a thoughtful, thrilling, and entertaining science-fiction tale that ends up doing more with its minimal budget than some films of the genre do with several times such an amount. It’s not the kind of film that tries to knock you over with its looks, but rather one that tries to engage you with its ideas about technology and the direction in which it’s headed, mostly succeeding thanks to a screenplay that cleverly incorporates these ideas and has you guessing as to the outcome up to the very end. It’s certainly not without its flaws, but they don’t stand in the way of the film’s overall impact, which, along with the outstanding selection of special features (a rarity among releases nowadays), makes it worth adding to your Blu-ray shelf.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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