When I first heard about Ex Machina, I thought there was something about it that sounded familiar. Last year, there was a movie called The Machine that I had meant to see, but I never got around to it. When Ex Machina started getting rave reviews, I put it on my “must see” list. (Whatever that is.) I also resolved myself to finally getting around to The Machine. Now that I have watched both films, I can say that they are nothing alike.
The Machine is set in that grey area known as the near future. (Whatever that means.) The Western World is deep into a Cold War with China, which is a frightening thought all unto itself. Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is a scientist/doctor who has been tasked by the British Ministry of Defense to develop cybernetic soldiers. Vincent experiments on wounded soldiers, to varying degrees of success. He uses his spare time, and the government’s money, to find a way to help his daughter, who has a neurological disorder called Rett syndrome.
An American scientist named Ava, (Caity Lotz) travels to the UK to demonstrate the artificial intelligence she has deveolped, and to secure a grant so she can continue the project. She soon finds out that the process was a sham set up by the MoD so that they could audition new talent. Ava doesn’t want to work for the military, but Vincent tells her that the government has an unlimited budget, and this is the quickest and best way to achieve meaningful results.
Ava soon realizes that she may have stepped into something she shouldn’t have. Without getting into spoilers, stuff happens, and Ava has her consciousness uploaded into an android. Vincent’s boss, Thomson, (Denis Lawson) wants this android, refered to as “Machine,” turned into the ultimate weapon, and that is the last thing Vincent wants.
Of course, everything goes fifty shades of wrong. It’s a film about artificial intelligence; how could it not? It’s as if the people in these movies have never seen a movie about artificial intelligence.
If I had to complain about anything, it would be Machine’s voice. I didn’t mind that it was electronically treated; which is something that wasn’t done in Ex Machina. It’s that Machine sounded like a child. Why that choice was made, I have no idea. It made no sense to me.
The Machine was made for bus fare, but it doesn’t look like it at all. Ex Machina cost ten times as much, but is it ten times better? I don’t think so. When I read that Ex Machina cost $15 million to make, I was astounded by the production value and special effects that director Alex Garland got for his money. I was floored when I found out The Machine was made for around £I million, which works out to about $1.5 million, depending on what day it is. It does not look like a cheap movie. Yeah, the labs do look a bit like a warehouse, but it’s supposed to be a military operation. You think they would put all the money into special effects, but you would be wrong. There is a scene where they digitally added a glass door to a hospital room, just to make it look more visually interesting. In my mind, it goes to show that the filmmakers care.
When it comes to making a movie, especially in the science fiction genre, a lot of budgetary restraints can be overcome by writing a great story, and that is what writer/director Caradog W. James did. It also helps to have an excellent cinematographer like Nicolaj Bruel. And I really liked Tom Raybould’s score, which some have likened to the one from Blade Runner.
It also helps to have quality actors. I like Toby Stephens in everything I have seen him in. Yes, even Die Another Day. He’s one of those actors who should be more well known than he is. Nothing against Benedict Cumberbatch, but Stephens would have been a great choice for Doctor Strange.
If you have seen Mad Men, you know that Caity Lotz can act. And if you are a fan of Arrow, it comes as no surprise she did all her own stunts in The Machine. Also, her years of dance training comes into play in a few scenes.
I read at least one review that said that Denis Lawson was miscast as Thomson. I disagree. I think he was a good bad guy.
I don’t like to compare movies. Usually. Okay, I do it far too often. I will say that Ex Machina is the better movie, but I prefer the ending of The Machine.