A to the I

Ex Machina is a story of human God complexes. It fits into a mold – man creates A.I., A.I. is aware, events all surround the A.I. In terms of execution, Ex Machina is oblique, an untrustworthy robot thriller concerning the inevitable progression of human technological pursuit. Quiet, somber, and always in control whether secrets are figured out or not – an amazing ways of projecting an underlying theme.

Ex Machina is not only concerned with A.I. and humanity’s endlessly over-reaching folly, although it has those moments too. It is a film nihilistic about love, thematically gripping onto primitive sexuality. We’re controlled by our programming much as the feminine A.I., Ava (Alicia Vikander), is even though her form – her entire existence – is a pre-coded response.

Ava is a machine. She’s covered in a futuristic (yet shapely) alloy. Her interior lights flicker on and off while her joints elicit an electrical whir. There is little humanity left on her exterior – a fleshy face, hands, and feet – and yet her ability to emote and communicate removes the computerized veil. She is as perfect as she is told to be, something to be objectified and pursued for the sake of technological progression.

The film is quiet and somber. Infrequently, musical tracks flare up with their scratchy, always digital hums. The location is naturalistic, shot in Norway and identifiably so. Those mountain ranges surrounding the secluded home of billionaire internet search engine pioneer and Ava’s creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), are a suitable backdrop. Natural formations outside, unnatural ones inside.

Ex Machina is interested in many things: Speeches concerning the greater good of internet privacy breaches, religion, humanistic tendencies; it’s as if Ava has written a film based on her own curiosity. Socially awkward Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) acts as the traditional narrative sponge, a fresh outsider brought to Nathan’s abode for a week of Turing testing. Things do not go well, as if they ever would in such a film.

It’s a thinker, a film worth digesting in full…

Audiences are not in the midst of a killer robot movie, or rather, at least not a sensationalized one. Will Smith is not tracking one murder ‘bot amongst thousands. It’s a thinker, a film worth digesting in full as it takes a swing at lightly explored topics in high-functioning robotics with the utmost maturity. Caleb is a single loner. His parents are dead, so he is left with no one. He naturally attaches to the functions of this being – if it is to be considered one – and becomes entranced. Each session turns tense, elevated away from the general awe and mystery of its introductory act. Ex Machina is quick to find its footing.

There are multiple takeaways. Ex Machina is doing in fiction what we should not in reality but A.I. will happen regardless. Progress says so, business too. That’s one of the reasons Chappie was insufferable – no corporate board room would find the idea of cognizant A.I. to be a loss, but Chappie wanted audiences to believe otherwise. Ex Machina recognizes the application’s usefulness, but also the prevailing doom.

More so, Ex Machina is a human movie – about robots. It’s about emotional responses to the potential distrust, the lies, and the manipulation. Or how we react to unknown stimuli when presented with it, mostly with curiosity and emotion. If it’s predictable, that’s only because it should be to reflect who we are. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Becoming friendly @ 40:28

The precise look of Ex Machina is not full of sharpness and fine detail. Most of the film is softened, even fuzzy. Images are stuffed with noise, a little bit of haze, and plenty of style. It’s almost vintage and almost convincing if the digital nature of the production did not show.

Numerous scenes display pasty, flattened faces. Extreme close-ups will deliver definition and the rest will fall back into Ex Machina’s form. Scenes which rank highly are all exteriors of Norway, from the tremendous mountain ranges to the weedy forests around Nathan’s home. The rest is exquisitely photographed if lacking in resolution and fidelity.

Coloring work is also lacking zest, whittled down to pale Earth tones and faded contrast. Black levels are dulled too. Primaries rarely extend from the image outside of light sources or the red warning lights of a power outage. Compression work keeps artifacts away despite the intensity of the red. Lionsgate’s work is exceptional. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Ex Machina debuts on Blu-ray with a new audio format, DTS:X, a competitor to Dolby Atmos. While not quite bombastic enough to match Atmos’ Blu-ray debut, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Ex Machina is a carefully composed audio space, either in X or 7.1. Nathan’s home provides all manner of small, almost imperceptible tracking opportunities, say a discarded shirt being thrown off screen and landing in the left of the frame.

Scoring work enjoys rising in the rears and then filling the fronts. Each power outage is greeted with an aggressive drop into the LFE, plus a pre-recorded voice filling in the open space. Dialog is typically held to the middle of the soundstage with light echoes opening up empty rooms.

(Note: We’re not yet equipped with receivers capable of handling DTS:X) [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Through the Looking Glass opens the bonuses, a sharp, well put together 40-minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews and footage. Usual topics are involved, from the conception of the idea to realizing the visual effects. An hour long Q&A from SXSW is included in full, with nine featurettes following for 28-minutes. Trailers are left. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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