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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ex Machina (Blu-ray)
Ex Machina (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // July 14, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted July 13, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Streamlined and extremely confident, Alex Garland's Ex Machina (2015) is an atmospheric slice of sci-fi fantasy that puts compelling ideas and human themes ahead of bombastic action and excessive visual effects. It's a low-budget production that certainly doesn't look the part, thanks to smart location shooting, a skeleton crew of committed actors, and a terrific score that elevates much of this material to greater heights. Though a bit too reminiscent of classic and newer films like Ghost in the Shell, A.I., 2001, The Machine, and even Her to be considered a completely new and original experience, at least Ex Machina isn't just another reboot, remake, or adaptation of existing material. That alone makes it worth a look for fans of the genre, and it definitely offers a memorable first-time viewing experience.

Our story follows the highly skilled Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson, Never Let Me Go), a top-level programmer for internet search engine juggernaut Bluebook, who's recently awarded the unique opportunity of spending an entire week with the company's founder Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, Drive) in his remote mountain home. "Remote" is an understatement: it's only accessible by helicopter and nested within untold acres of woods, rivers, and mountains, and Caleb must travel the last leg of his journey on foot. Fittingly, he's not greeted at the door by his host: Caleb first interacts with a machine, who grants him a limited access keycard. Surprisingly enough, there are no laborers, servants, or workers of any kind in this massive, partially subterranean compound...just Nathan and at least one very particular creature. Actually, there are two: gentle and silent Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) is his faithful Japanese assistant, and Ava (Alicia Vikander, Anna Karenina) is a fully functioning artificial life form created by Nathan and his company.

So as it turns out, the real reason for Caleb's trip was not through luck or chance, but his elite status as a top-level programmer. He's been brought in by Nathan to administer a Turing test to Ava, whose disarming physical appearance and whip-smart intelligence place her far ahead of any humanoid creation attempted in Ex Machina's world. The film raises unique questions about the rights of artificial life, unchecked power, and gender relationships while throwing in copious amounts of fantasy and a few clever twists. It's all set within an intimate but imposing atmosphere that grows more claustrophobic and terrifying as its questions are gradually answered during Caleb's week-long "vacation".

Tense and controlled at every turn, Ex Machina is an exercise in suspense that gives its ideas plenty of room to breathe. Written by Garland (best known for 28 Days Later and Sunshine, not to mention the novel that became Danny Boyle's The Beach), Ex Machina feels like a surface-level mixture of a half-dozen other properties but thankfully proves to be much more. The pacing is remarkably good: secrets are revealed and mysteries deepen at a deliberate but engaging pace, making the film's brisk 108-minute lifespan feel more like a extended short film. And while a handful of twists and turns might appear to cripple the film's replay value, the ever-changing character relationships play out much differently on subsequent viewings. The film's third act is also much more satisfying than the Garland-penned 28 Days Later and Sunshine, turning the tables on certain characters without collapsing on itself in the process.

Other strengths of Ex Machina include its cinematography by Rob Hardy, who shot the film digitally at two locations in Norway designed by the same architect. The structure's clean lines and ultra-modern layout give it an almost alien appearance, even if we can't quite figure out how one man and his assistant keep the place looking so clean. Peppered by artificial light (aside from the rare moments when our characters venture outdoors), the dimly-lit world of Ex Machina only feels unnatural when bathed in the harsh red light of mysterious power shortages that put the entire facility in a temporary lockdown mode. The film's sound design is also first-rate, largely due to a subtle but terrific score by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and British composer Ben Salisbury; it's an excellent pairing that results in a thick atmosphere of low-end and electronic ambiance which boosts Ex Machina's effectiveness another notch.

Presented on Blu-ray by Lionsgate, this low-budget slice of science fiction plays incredibly well on home video, thanks to a top-notch A/V presentation (including an audio first, detailed below) and a handful of thoughtful and engaging bonus features that explore the film's unique production, story themes, and limited but striking visual effects. It's a well-rounded and accessible package that fans should enjoy, and the surprisingly low sticker price for this new release will certainly tempt those sitting on the fence. All things considered, Ex Machina should hold up for years to come.


Video & Audio Quality

Not surprisingly, Lionsgate has served up an excellent 2.40:1 visual presentation that, given the proper setup, rivals a theatrical experience. The film's largely natural color palette looks accurate, black levels are deep, and textures are strong throughout. Ex Machina looks surprisingly consistent for a digitally-shot film that's mostly set indoors (and partially "underground", no less), which makes a handful of outdoor shots look all the more appealing in direct contrast. Digital imperfections---including excessive noise reduction, edge enhancement, and compression artifacts---don't seem to be an issue at all, which should please those with sharp eyes. The film's limited CG effects---which are less extensive than you think---also blend quite well with the practical shots, since they aren't really designed to stand out. Overall, this a visually strong presentation and I'd imagine that new and established fans will appreciate the effort.

DISCLAIMER: The resized screen caps and promotional images featured in this review do not represent Blu-ray's 1080p resolution.

Likewise, the film's audio approaches sonic perfection during the bulk of its running time. As the first home video release equipped with the new object-based DTS:X format (and also available as an DTS Headphone:X mix) Ex Machina sounds flawless at all the right moments...even if you don't have a new receiver that supports this new format. As such, the track will default to a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that creates a consistent and compelling atmosphere: music cues and subtle background noises are well-placed and effective without screaming for attention. Low frequency output also deserves special mention, as the aforementioned soundtrack fills out the sonic landscape without drowning everything else. A separate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also on hand to replicate the original theatrical experience for purists. Optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are also included during the main feature only.

Menu Design, Presentation, and Packaging

The clean and concise interface fits in nicely with Ex Machina's style, but it's a little dark and tough to decipher some of the smaller text details...and I'll be honest, I've never been a fan of Lionsgate's menu layout and bad habit of multiple trailers, logos and advertisements that play before the menu can be accessed. This one-disc release is housed in an eco-friendly keepcase; a matching embossed slipcover and Digital Copy Redemption Slip are also included.

Bonus Features

Though it looks a little slim on paper, what's here is of high quality and fits in nicely with the main feature. "Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina" (40 minutes) is a step up from your average behind-the-scenes documentary: featuring interviews with director Alex Garland, producer Andrew Macdonald, all the key actors (Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, and Oscar Isaac) and more, this is a lively and informative piece that goes into modest depth about the story's development, the on-set experience, digital effects, and the movie's themes. It's also shot outdoors during most of the cast interviews, which gives this enjoyable documentary a pleasing atmosphere.

Also here is a SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew (61 minutes); although Q&'s admittedly aren't my favorite extra, this is a decent effort that fans should enjoy. Featured participants include Alex Garland, Oscar Isaac, cinematographer Rob Hardy, and composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. It's a shame that Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Sonoya Mizuno weren't available for this event, but what's here is a largely satisfying batch of questions that are fielded nicely (and with a bit of humor at times, too); the addition of the cinematographer and composers is an especially nice touch, as we get a better sense of the technical details that contributed to the film's unique look and feel.

Wrapping things up is a collection of miscellaneous Behind the Scenes Vignettes ("Making Ava", "Nathan's World", "New Consciousness", "Becoming Ava", "Director", "Cast", "Meet Ava", "God Complex", and "Music", 29 minutes total) that go into slightly more detail about their respective topics; they're a bit more promotional in nature and a little too short for their own good, but there's still some terrific info here that isn't covered during the other two more substantial extras. Also included is a collection of Theatrical Trailers for other Lionsgate titles...but sadly, not this one.

Ex Machina isn't quite the most original and groundbreaking slice of sci-fi in recent memory...but the fact that it's not just another remake, adaptation, or reboot is a cause for celebration. It's full of interesting ideas that are executed with style and confidence; especially considering they're from a first-time director who also wrote the story. Lead and supporting performances are strong throughout, and the film's excellent atmosphere and terrific soundtrack give it a much-needed weight that helps to tie things together nicely. Even if Ex Machina is a little lower on immediate replay value than expected, it feels like a film that should retain most of its power for a very long time. Lionsgate's Blu-ray serves up terrific A/V quality including the first DTS:X track on home video, but it's the well-rounded collection of supplements that elevate Ex Machina to a title worth owning for sci-fi and fantasy fans alike. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, hanging out with his hot wife, and writing in third person.

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