Ex Machina (2015)

As an art project, this movie shines.
As a movie, it was okay.
As a treatise on artificial intelligence, it was pretty lousy.

The main plot is that there is a bit of an eccentric rich guy who has flown a less worldly underling in so that his underling can run a multiple-day Turing test on the AI that he has developed. They are in a mansion that is very secluded - accessible only by helicopter - and frequent power drops reveal that the whole place has a default of closed. This means that all the doors lock when the power goes out, which keeps the secret AI secure at all times. The AI is in a clearly robotic body with an attractive human female face and voice such that there may be sexual tension at some point.

The movie is shot in a very artistic way, with beautiful long shots of the expansive and modern mansion in the woods. Characters are rarely framed in any way that doesn't give you the impression of openness - which is exactly the opposite of what they are actually feeling most of the time. The movement of the camera around the thick panes of glass give the impression of both openness and barriers. This spacial play actually reflects the emotional and trust barriers that all of the characters have with each other. It's brilliantly weighted, done, and directed.

The story was probably good for most people, but I found the technical bits very, very distracting. I've thought about this a bit, and it seems to me that my expectations for Hollywood are too high. No, a soldier shouldn't expect a movie about soldiers to be particularly accurate. A rock climber shouldn't expect Sylvester Stallone to be an accurate representation of a rock climber or to use proper technique in a movie. But for some reason, I just couldn't get past the fact that we were supposed to believe that one guy not only developed accurate AI software, but the underlying OS, all of the device drivers for the hardware, designing servos, building servos, building chassis, formulating skin with touch-sensitive sensors interwoven, the drivers for processing that feeling, etc. He did all of this, remember, in the middle of the woods with nothing but helicopter access.

The dialog between the characters is usually pretty awkward and stilted. It's an effort to make the audience uncomfortable with what they can perceive as a tension that is rising in the house. The sense of claustrophobia increases as time goes on, and the forced friendship between the tech geek and the billionaire is strained even when they are drinking and talking shop.

This movie is a three-person show. You have Domhnall Gleeson as the main protagonist, and he manages his role very well. He is properly conflicted and confused as you would expect. Alicia Vikander plays the AI. The fact is, she does an approximation of Lt. Cdr. Data from Star Trek. No one can out-Brent Spiner Brent Spiner, but she does her thing well enough. One thing no one will be saying as they walk out of the movie theater is, "That bearded Oscar Isaac did a fantastic job, didn't he?" His character was written terribly, and there was nothing he could do with it. He was constrained by the dialog.

Worthy of not is the fact that the CG was very good until it had to interact with real things. When the AI had to grab a CG arm, the action was slow, awkward, and the physics didn't seem to work out in its favor. I don't know why the CG had been good until that point, and they let this crappy CG in, but here we have it.

Direction was good
Cinematography was excellent
Art Direction was fan-goddamn-tastic
Dialog was okay
Story was shamefully weak
Pacing was very slow

Bottom Line: A very pretty, artistic movie that tried to tackle some very nuanced questions about AI, but it was constrained by plot points and an unrealistic setup.



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