|The Machine (2014)|
Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: June 17, 2014) Cutting-edge technology and futuristic dystopia collide in "The Machine," a sci-fi picture of modest means that looks more expensive than it probably was. Attempting to humanize an inhuman scientific creationthink 2001's "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" meets 2010's "Splice"writer-director Caradog W. James' modern variation on Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" doesn't necessarily cover new ground but does at least treat its subject matter with a rare thoughtful maturity. Toby Stephens (2007's "Severance") stars as Dr. Vincent McCarthy, an artificial-intelligence engineer who has begun implanting the brains of scientists and injured war vets into the bodies of synthetic beings. From out of the untimely death of ambitious new colleague Ava (Caity Lotz), Vincent creates an android in her likeness whose consciousness he hopes could be the key to fixing the broken connections in his ailing daughter's brain. Although Vincent's intentions are earnest (if a little selfish), his superior, Thomson (Denis Lawson), sees her as a powerful vessel for death and destruction.
The first hour's setup of "The Machine" is better than the threadbare guns-blazing action payoff, but the exceptionally fine work of Caity Lotz (2013's "Battle of the Year"), transformative in the entirely different dual roles of Ava and the so-called "Machine," commands attention. Set in a fictional (but not totally unbelievable) reality where a devastating Cold War in China has led to the greatest recession in the western world's recorded history, Dr. Vincent McCarthy is aware of a potential in artificial intelligence that goes far beyond the government's harmful, disingenuous aims. His relationship with the female machine he has created is provocative because of the ethical, moralistic and biological questions it poses. If she is advanced enough to have a conscience and emotions and the capabilities of learning right from wrong, what is it beyond flesh and internal organs that separate her from humans? It is a discussion worth having as technology continues to advance, though "The Machine" never quite finds the heart to match its lofty ideas.
Oh my goodness, "The Machine" is so rampant with lens flares in just about every single shot that it looks like it was filmed by someone who is under the opinion that J.J. Abrams' aesthetic is too restrained. With that said, the 1080p transfer is a faithful embodiment of what director Caradog W. James and cinematographer Nicolai Brüel intended with the film's visual properties. This is a purposefully dark and foreboding movie, but it is not unattractive. Blacks are very black, facial features and clothing show solid detail, and the digital master is in clean shape. One would expect a plague of banding issues under the circumstances, but there are few to speak of. Home theaters will get a brisk but not overpowering workout with the film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, its best feature being the moody, synth-heavy electronic music score by Tom Raybould. Dialogue and sound effects are clear and mixed well, but the music is where it is most impressive. One issue: there appears to be distortion in the sound's low-end bass, a displeasing rattle popping up twice (one example is in the cemetery scene about an hour in). It lasts maybe 15 seconds total within a 91-minute film, but it was jarring enough to hurt the audio's overall rating.
- Inside "The Machine" Featurette (15:34, HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:32, HD)
"The Machine" doesn't take its premise as far as it could, but it is still a provocative independent genre feature with striking imagery and a performance of raw, riveting complexity delivered by Caity Lotz. XLrator Media's Blu-ray release is light on bonus content, but this high-definition/lossless presentation is still undisputedly the way to see it. Recommended.