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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Review: Ex Machina

I don't usually review movies on this blog, but I'll make an exception for Ex Machina, a delightful science fiction movie about AI written and directed by Alex Garland.

Let's face it, most science fiction movies are summer block busters: the goal of the movie is to provide spectacle, and not move the viewer or engage the mind. Ex Machina, however, aims to do both, which places it in a special category indeed.

The story revolves around Caleb, who's a programmer for the world's most popular search engine. He wins a lottery to visit the founder of the company in his secluded home, which turns out to be a research facility where he (Nathan) is working on a strong AI. Caleb discovers that his true purpose is to determine if Nathan has succeeded in his creation. (The movie uses the phrase Turing test, but in reality, the way it's administered is completely wrong --- but I'll forgive this movie the technical error, since it's quite clear that both Nathan and Caleb understand what the real Turing test was, and why they're approaching it differently)

I won't go into the details of the plot: it's excellent, and well worth your time to watch the movie. There are just a couple of plot holes in the movie, but the story is told well enough, and the outcome unpredictable enough, that these plot holes only become apparent after you're done ruminating over the show and have thought about it enough. Most of the technical conversation and language, however, is correct and plausible.

The movie is slow: there aren't any action set pieces, just lots of people (and an AI) talking. The special effects are restrained and under-stated, and the outdoor scenes are shot in Norway, which renders it unfamiliar enough to me that it looked different from the usual North American shot movies. And if you're a busy parent, Ex Machina is great because it's a 108 minute story, not one of those 3 hour epics that make it impossible for you to watch in one sitting. That said, Ex Machina is rated R for violence and nudity.

I didn't hear a lot of hype about the movie (wikipedia says it was shot for $15M and made $36M in the box office). As such, you've probably not heard of it, but if you're a science fiction fan (or perhaps, if you've worked for the world's most popular search engine), give it a shot.

One note: The movie's available in SD or HD on Amazon Instant Video. I picked the HD version (which streams in 720p), but to be honest, there's very little in the movie that depends on HD. Unfortunately, most of my movie viewing in recent months has been in Blu Ray at optimal viewing distance, which meant that Amazon's 720p stream looked disturbingly like SD to me.

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