Ex Machina, Blu-ray (2014/15)

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander
Director & scriptwriter: Alex Garland
Studio: Lionsgate A21 [7/14/15]
Video: 2.40:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS digital surround, DTS:X 11.1 headphone mix
Extras: (with DTS:X for headphones:) “Thru the Looking Glass: Creating Ex Machina” – five-part featurette, Eight behind-the-scenes vignettes, Extended Q&A with cast & crew, Previews
Length: 108 min.
Rating: *****

For most viewers this will be an unforgettable, mesmerizing sci-fi thriller. A programmer geek in the employ of a reclusive wealthy and monomanical tech guru who made his money on a fabulously successfuly search engine,  is sent to the distant modern hideout of his employer as winner of a supposed competition. Rather than just to hang out with his boss, Caleb is asked to swear to secrecy and take part in a study of artificial intellgence – namely of a shapely and later rebellious female robot named Ava. Quite a different slant from Spielberg’s AI or She.

The previous films by the British director, novelist and screenwriter were Dredd and 28 Days Later.  Garland became interested in AI from a friend in neuroscience, who insisted that machines could never become sentient. He made the film on a small budget by using just one location and shooting like ordinary live action. No greenscreen, tracking markers or special effects were used. The robot actress wore a similar costume to that in the film but parts of her were later cgi-changed to look like a robot. They captured the background behind her, then rotoscoped her hands and face while the rest was digitally painted out and the background restored. There was a cgi robot which transferred Ava’s movements.

Here is what Garland said in an interview about Ex Machina, which I feel will greatly aid one’s understanding of this amazing film: “I personally look at the fact that there are these enormous tech companies that have power that seems to grow exponentially…they stake a claim on the world. There’s also a sort of adjunct quality, which is that we access these tech companies via cellphones and computers and tablets, and yet we don’t really understand how they work. Yet conversely, these things seem to understand quite a lot about us. It’s actually the tech company, but it can seem to be the machine, because it will anticipate the thing that we’re trying to type into the search engine. It understands something about our shopping habits and things that make us feel slightly uneasy. On top of that, we’ve known, even predating Edward Snowden’s revelations, that largely what these companies were doing was storing massive amounts of information. It gets called “big data,” but it’s also quite small data. It’s very specific and tailored to an individual. On an unconscious level, and also on a reasonable level, it makes us uncomfortable. I actually feel that these narratives come more out of that than anything specific to do with artificial intelligence.”

The extras are interesting, though they often repeat the same scenes from the film.

—John Sunier