Release Date(s)2015 (July 14, 2015)
Studio(s)Film 4/DNA Films (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
Ex Machina was released in 2015 to much critical success, as well as some minor box office success. Guided by first-time director Alex Garland, who previously wrote screenplays for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Sunshine, the film tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a desk jockey who wins a trip for one week to the home of his employer Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a billionaire techno genius. Caleb is given the task of administering a test to Nathan’s newly-constructed android Ava (Alicia Vikander) to determine if Ava’s programming can pass a sentient human being. Once the testing begins, Caleb slowly realizes that not all is as it seems, and that there may be more to Nathan and Ava than what’s on the surface.
Ex Machina is a movie experience that’s more about its characters, aesthetic, and atmosphere than its ideas. The ideas are there, but they’re not exactly original. The film plays out as pretty much the way you would expect a movie about a caged android being would, but refreshingly not in a bombastic way. It’s also a relatively straightforward movie, aside from the ending. Amazingly, Ex Machina was shot over the course of six weeks with little to no special effects work on set, most of it being finished later during post-production.
The film works because of the performances, mainly Alicia Vikander’s, which could have been a detriment had the part not been cast appropriately. It’s the kind of performance in which you can’t show off as it’s very subdued, but that lack of momentum is what helps to sell the idea of this android. Ava’s character slowly builds over the course of the film and when all is revealed to her, her reaction isn’t over the top in any way. It’s how one would picture an android would react, not with any obvious emotions but simply disappointment. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan also gives the movie some much needed complexity. At times he’s a little difficult to take and you would rather see him get what he deserves. Then at other times, he’s completely lovable and relatable. Nathan and Ava are a weird mesh, yet the relationship still feels real somehow. This film offers a stark contrast between the creator and his creation.
Ex Machina is also the very definition of a slow-burn movie. It’s one of the finest science fiction films in recent years, and even though it wears its influences a bit on its sleeve, most obviously 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s the kind of intelligent and well-made sci-fi movie that audiences don’t get often. There is no sense of action, comedic characters, or explosions – just storytelling. There definitely are some comic and thrilling moments, but never at the expense of the film’s pace or aesthetic. It may be a bit on the predictable side as far as the plot goes, but it manages to rise above it, making itself a very engaging piece of cinema.
Ex Machina’s Blu-ray presentation is beautiful without being totally perfect. Shot digitally with several different types of cameras, it carries a very strong but somewhat soft look to it. Fine detail is quite excellent with wonderful color reproduction, including skin tones. Black levels are strong but shadow details are often lacking. Brightness and contrast levels are satisfying, and there are no signs of digital manipulation or augmentation to be found. The audio presentation comes in three options: English DTS:X, English 5.1 DTS-HD, and English DTS:X Headphone. DTS:X is actually a brand new format. It’s an “object-based surround sound” experience and doesn’t require a specific speaker set up in order to function properly. It’s basically DTS’ answer to Dolby Atmos, which at the time of this writing, is the more dominant new sound format. I don’t have the ability to take advantage of DTS:X, unfortunately, and I’m assuming that many home theaters don’t either just yet, so I will stick with the 5.1 track instead. Even without the newest sound experience, the 5.1 track still delivers quite a wallop. It’s a very impressive sound mix, even though the movie doesn’t really warrant it. Dialogue is crystal clear at all times mixed with an excellent use of sound effects and score. Ambience and tone are the mix’s strong points, most especially spatial activity. LFE moments are also built in quite nicely. I’m certain that the DTS:X track is sure to add a bit more dimension to the overall soundtrack, but as is, the 5.1 track is certainly capable enough on its own with lesser channels to filter through. There are also subtitles in English SDH and Spanish for those who might need them.
As for the extras, you get a nice array of material to sort through. There’s the Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina documentary; the SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew; a set of Behind the Scene Vignettes (Making Ava, Nathan’s World, New Consciousness, Becoming Ava, Director, Cast, Meet Ava, God Complex, Music); a set of trailers for other movies; a bookmarks option; and a paper insert with a Digital HD code.
Ex Machina is likely to be more of a cult classic than a mainstream success in the long run, at least it will probably be remembered that way. Sure it will win awards, but it seems to be a movie that belongs to a certain kind of audience, the kind with enough patience to appreciate both style and substance. The Blu-ray presentation of it is certainly terrific, but I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Ex Machina on home video, particularly with higher definition formats just around the corner. Still, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you check it out.
- Tim Salmons