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Ex Machina: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Ex Machina (2015) movie poster Ex Machina

Theatrical Release: April 10, 2015 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb), Alicia Vikander (Ava), Sonoya Mizuno (Kyoko), Oscar Isaac (Nathan), Corey Johnson (Jay), Claire Selby (Lily), Symara Templeman (Jasmine), Gana Bayarsaikhan (Jade), Tiffany Pisani (Katya), Lina Alminas (Amber)

Buy Ex Machina from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD + Digital Instant Video

Alex Garland, the screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd, makes a bold and spirited directorial debut on Ex Machina, one of the most acclaimed films released in the first half of 2015. This science fiction thriller is rich with original ideas,
while touching on similar themes to some of the genre's most iconic and enduring works, like Alien, Blade Runner, and The Terminator. (If you really look hard, you can even pick up echoes of Jurassic Park and Planet of the Apes.)

At the film's opening, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) proudly shoots out a group text to all his friends sharing good news. The 26-year-old programmer has won a competition that will grant him exclusive access to the remote home and research facility of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive founder of the world's leading search engine, Caleb's employer. Caleb gets a helicopter ride and is dropped off at decent proximity to Nathan's lab.

The situation is a bit like Willy Wonka opening his chocolate factory to those kids possessing golden tickets. There is some awkwardness at first, as Caleb is greeted by the bald, bespectacled, bearded genius, who swiftly makes him sign an extreme non-disclosure agreement. Once completed and now fitted with a photo pass card that will get him inside some but not all of the facility's many rooms, Caleb is given the purpose for his visit. He has been brought in to perform a Turing test on Nathan's advanced artificially intelligent creation.

In "Ex Machina", a wealthy, reclusive genius (Oscar Isaac) opens his remote research facility to a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson).

Caleb soon gets acquainted with Ava (Alicia Vikander), who bears a human face and hands but whose clear limbs and abdomen reveal wires and circuitry inside. Stating her age as "1", Ava is the latest in a long line of Nathan-developed beings. Her language skills are impeccable. She displays personality and creativity. Equipped with sexuality, she even shows romantic interest in Caleb that is reciprocated. During one of the facility's habitual temporary power outages, she issues a caution to Caleb, warning him that Nathan is no friend, but a liar. In response, Caleb starts plotting a way to get this seemingly conscious robotic creation out of her confining captivity.

It sometimes seems like science fiction has an easier path to striking profound chords. Able to expand storytelling possibilities with imagination fueled by our always-advancing technology and ever-evolving scientific understanding of the world, sci-fi can get poignant and poetic about humanity and the world with simply a few ideas and a setting of intrigue. Think about Alien, with its cast of just eight human actors. Or Gravity, which was largely a one-woman show. With a strong enough foundation and a fascinating enough subject, sci-fi can resonate deeply in a way that few true stories and fictional tales in other genres can. With its background of B-movies and pulp literature, sci-fi may sometimes be viewed with skepticism by the intelligentsia. But movies like Ex Machina, not teen-oriented multiplex fodder but fare that provokes thought in adults, clearly demand to be taken seriously.

While we may associate sci-fi with action and visual effects on account of the genre's best-known works, Ex Machina illustrates that it's possible to make a futuristic movie on a modest budget, so long as the ideas engage and the production design does not disappoint. This film reportedly cost only $15 million to produce, less than one-tenth of the price tags of Avatar and the Transformers sequels. And yet, the visual effects still genuinely dazzle and the movie far exceeds the aforementioned dramatically, making a mark on you without an abundance of locations, crowd scenes, and action sequences.

Though her body illustrates her nature, the artificially intelligent Ava (Alicia Vikander) displays a wide range of human emotion.

Ex Machina succeeds like most of Garland's past genre screenplays have, because it values humanity and explores what it entails. Other movies have surveyed similar ground with AI characters, including Steven Spielberg's A.I. and, much more recently, Neill Blomkamp's regrettable Chappie.
But free of noise, clutter and convention, Ex Machina gets to dig deep into the heart of the matter, while simultaneously keeping us entertained with a battle of wits involving the young, timid Caleb and Nathan, a hard-drinking loner who often straddles that fine line between genius and madness.

Ex Machina was distributed domestically by A24, a young studio that has mostly struggled to find an audience for their small movies, even though many of them have been well-received critically. This sci-fi flick easily became the company's highest grossing release to date with a $25.3 million domestic tally. That's far from blockbuster classification (even Chappie made a little more) and with the amount of money poured into television marketing, the film probably has yet to turn a profit. Furthermore, A24 cannot even fall back on foreign business, because international distribution was handled by Universal and has only amounted to a meager $11.4 M.

If commercially irrelevant, Ex Machina still matters as one of the best films of the year so far. This is a movie that people should still be talking and thinking about long after Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, both fine summer popcorn movies (which for now claim spots in my uncompetitive top 10 of '15), are settled in as basic cable fixtures.

Ex Machina is now available to own in separate Blu-ray and DVD editions, each equipped with a digital copy.

Ex Machina: Blu-ray + Digital HD art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (English), 2.0 DTS Headphone (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital ($19.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Ex Machina is a delight not just dramatically, but also visually and aurally as well. The sharp, pristine 2.40:1 picture shows off those inexpensive yet impressive visual effects and the appealing single setting that the film maintains. In terms of English soundtrack, Lionsgate lets you choose between three DTS soundtracks: 7.1 (DTS X), 5.1, and something called DTS Headphone that is obviously intended for headphone listening. The default DTS X mix has impact and doesn't require much tinkering with volume levels. Lionsgate even includes DTS sound tests for calibrating your home theater settings.

In remote, scenic Norway, "Ex Machina" filmmakers shoot a helicopter's landing for the Jurassic Park-like opening. Writer-director Alex Garland, cinematographer Rob Hardy, and actor Oscar Isaac answer host and audience questions in this March 2015 SXSW Q & A panel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina" (39:59),
a thorough and comprehensive making-of documentary that delivers the usual ingredients of talking heads (which are at least scenically shot), film clips, and behind-the-scenes footage.

"SXSW Q & A with the Cast and Filmmakers" (1:00:57) preserves the March 2015 panel discussion hosted by Jordan Crook and featuring writer-director Alex Garland, actor Oscar Isaac, director of photography Rob Hardy, and composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Like most of these features, this is kind of dull visually but provides a substantial discussion of the film, its ideas, and its making.

A crew member makes sure this robotic skeleton wreckage is just right in one of nine behind-the-scenes vignettes. Shapes resembling constellations cluster above a prone Ava and then dissipate on the Ex Machina Blu-ray menu.

Nine behind-the-scenes vignettes (28:40) offer brief reflection on different topics, like design, characters, and music, pulling from the same interview clips as the main documentary.

Finally, "Trailers" repeats the disc-opening trailers for Maggie, Cut Bank, A Most Violent Year, and Under the Skin. Unfortunately, no trailers for Ex Machina are preserved except for the low-quality one featured in the SXSW piece.

The scored menu animates constellation shapes above a prone Ava. The Blu-ray kindly supports both bookmarks and letting you resume anything.

An insert with Digital HD instructions and code accompanies the plainly-labeled disc in an eco-friendly keepcase within a nicely-textured slipcover featuring the same artwork.

Feelings bloom between Ava (Alicia Vikander) and Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson)...but are they real?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I see no reason to hesitate in declaring Ex Machina a significant achievement in the world of science fiction. Alex Garland's directorial debut builds upon the thoughtfulness of his past screenplays and reaches new heights with creative visuals supporting the strong storytelling. It is a movie you must see and one you won't soon forget.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray provides a top-notch feature presentation plus a solid two hours of bonus features. This release is likely one you wouldn't regret buying, even blindly.

Buy Ex Machina from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD + Digital / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written by Alex Garland: Sunshine | New: Chappie It Follows Clouds of Sils Maria
Science Fiction: Automata Surrogates The Terminator Gravity Looper WALL-E Oblivion Her
Domhnall Gleeson: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 Shadow Dancer True Grit
Oscar Isaac: Inside Llewyn Davis A Most Violent Year 10 Years | Alicia Vikander: The Fifth Estate The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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Reviewed July 17, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 A24 Films, Universal Pictures, Film4, DNA Films, and Lionsgate. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.