Release Date(s)2015 (June 6, 2017)
Studio(s)Film 4/DNA Films (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: The 4K portion of this review is by Bill Hunt, while the original film review is by Tim Salmons.]
Ex Machina was released in 2015 to critical acclaim, as well as minor box office success. Guided by first-time director Alex Garland, who previously scripted Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Sunshine, the film tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer programmer who wins a trip for one week to the home of his employer Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a billionaire techno genius. Caleb is given the task of administering a test to Nathan’s newly-constructed android Ava (Alicia Vikander) to determine if Ava’s AI can pass a sentient human being. Once the testing begins, Caleb slowly realizes that not all is as it seems, and that there may be more to Nathan and Ava than what’s on the surface.
Ex Machina is a movie experience that’s as much about its characters, aesthetic, and atmosphere as its ideas. The ideas are there, but they’re not exactly original. The film plays out pretty much the way you’d expect a movie about a caged android would, but refreshingly not in a bombastic way. Amazingly, Ex Machina was shot over the course of six weeks with little to no special effects work on set, most of it being finished later during post-production. The film works because of its cast, particularly Alicia Vikander. Hers is the kind of performance in which you can’t show off, as it’s very subdued, though that lack of energy is what helps to sell the idea of this android. Ava’s character slowly builds over the course of the film and, when all is revealed to her, her reaction isn’t over the top in any way. It’s how one would picture an android would react, not with any obvious emotions but simply disappointment. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan also gives the movie some much needed complexity. At times he’s a little difficult to take and you would rather see him get what he deserves. Other times, he’s completely lovable and relatable. Nathan and Ava are a weird mesh, yet the relationship still feels real somehow. This film offers a stark contrast between the creator and his creation.
Ex Machina is also the very definition of a slow-burn movie. It’s one of the finest science fiction films in recent years. Even though it wears its influences a bit on its sleeve, most obviously 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s the kind of intelligent and well-made sci-fi movie that audiences don’t get often. There is no sense of action, comedic characters, or explosions – just storytelling. There definitely are some comic and thrilling moments, but never at the expense of the film’s pace or aesthetic. Ex Machina may be a bit on the predictable side as far as the plot goes, but it manages to rise above this, making it a very engaging piece of cinema.
Ex Machina was shot digitally in 4K resolution using Sony CineAlta F65 and Sony PMW-F55 cameras (with GoPro Hero3 HD footage mixed in) using anamorphic lenses. The final DI resolution and workflow was full 4K (though only a 2K DCP was delivered to theaters). That 4K DI has been given a new HDR color grade and the result is presented here at the correct 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image quality is impressive, with a distinct improvement in detail over the regular Blu-ray, though do keep in mind that the film is a soft-looking presentation by design. The first reason for this is the use of anamorphic lenses, which often subtly de-focuses the edges of the frame optically. It also appears that significant smoke effects were used on set to create a denser sense of atmosphere. So while fine detailing and texturing are at times exquisite, this is not as crisp and clean a full 4K image as some (think The Revenant or Chappie). It’s also worth noting that the HDR grade is subtle; highlights are a little brighter, shadows are certainly deeper, and the colors are richer overall. But it’s not eye-candy – this is a very natural-looking image, but it doesn’t have the same “wow” factor of reference-quality 4K UHD presentations.
The 4K disc includes the exact same audio offerings as the regular Blu-ray: English DTS:X, English “Theatrical” 5.1 DTS, and English DTS Headphone X (with optional subtitles in English SDH and Spanish). The DTS:X track was one of the first available on Blu-ray and it’s terrific, with crystal clear dialogue, roomy staging, and strong LFE. This isn’t a thunderous audio mix, but it’s highly atmospheric and the object-based audio delivers plenty of subtle sound effects, music, and spatial cues. The score, by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury of the “trip-hop” electronic band Portishead, is moody and immersive, growing ever edgier as the film continues. This is a remarkable audio mix that dazzles as much with its restraint as anything else.
The 4K disc is movie only, though the included Blu-ray offers the following bonus features, all in HD:
- Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina (39:59)
- SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew (1:00:57)
- Making Ava (3:38)
- Nathan’s World (3:34)
- New Consciousness (3:07)
- Becoming Ava (3:16)
- Director (3:09)
- Cast (3:15)
- Meet Ava (2:35)
- God Complex (2:53)
- Music (3:09)
You also get trailers for other Lionsgate films, though not Ex Machina itself. And the package includes the Blu-ray version obviously, as well as a Digital HD copy code on a paper insert.
Ex Machina is likely to be more of a cult classic than a mainstream success in the long run; a film that belongs to a certain kind of audience, with enough patience to appreciate both its style and substance. The Blu-ray presentation was already terrific and Liongate’s new 4K Ultra HD release improves upon its video quality quite a bit, though perhaps not as much as you might be expecting. In any case, the film is well worth your time. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you check it out.
- Tim Salmons