Sunday, April 26, 2015

Film review of "Ex Machina:" soft core Pornocchio

Note: there will be no spoilers in this that aren't in the trailer. Other than to say, if anything in the movie surprises you, you haven't ever read, seen or considered anything about AI. 

There is a certain genre of film that seems to want to replace ideas, dialogue, action or plot with any/all of the following:
  • Long, slow pans of empty rooms
  • Long, slow pans of empty landscapes
  • Long, slow shots of the actors sitting, thinking
  • Long, slow shots of the actors sleeping
  • Long, slow shots of the actors walking through empty rooms
  • Long, slow...
You get the picture. There's usually either creepy electronica of some kind in the background or vaguely classical compositions that feel both eerie and elusive. There's a sense that you are being given time to digest the depth and purpose of the sparse dialogue. You're being invited to soak in the ambiance in order to pick up on the subtle double and/or hidden meanings. You're allowed to peer inside an editorial process by which, like Proust, the film maker explicitly makes known the structure of the internal by exposing the art of the external.

Or whatever.

I often like these movies. As a change of pace, especially, from stuff like the "Variously Fast and Furiouser" or the upcoming "Mad Max: Fury Road" shenanigans that should, it seems, come with a warning that it might cause epilepsy or a micro stroke. It's nice to go slow, enjoy the dialogue and have some pretty things to watch and listen to.

Up to a point. And then it's just boring and you realize that, maybe, the director and script writer didn't have that much to say after all and are filling 45 minutes of the film with long, slow pans of [for x = 1-?, next x].

There are lots of interesting discussions and observations and plots to pull out of the subject of "strong" artificial intelligence. That is, some kind of man-made program that goes beyond calculation into the real of cognition. "Ex Machina" is, explicitly, a long form exploration of a Turing Test, by which a reclusive, kinda douchey billionaire means to use one of his employees to determine if his artificial intelligence is truly intelligent.

We know, having seen the trailing and going into the movie, that the answer has to be "Yes." Because of the 4th Law of Robotics: hot chick robots are totally alive. Again... if you're six years old and the concept is new to you, there may be some interesting bits (ahem) in here... but for the rest of us, it's a foregone conclusion that she must be alive, because she's cute, petite, has somber dark eyes and looks directly at the camera in a wistful sort of longing way.

It's soft core Pornocchio.

I know, that was in the title of the review, but I'm inordinately pleased with myself over that one.

The two male leads do a decent acting job. The females aren't really allowed to, because if they were too emotional that would seem... I don't know. Non-robotic? Out of character in a film that is overly serious? I would have enjoyed seeing Ava, the robot girl, laugh or do a jig or anything besides seem properly grim and fey.

Anyway... I enjoyed it more than this review might indicate. There are a few interesting moments. There are some really dumb technology things that I won't complain about because it would be tedious for you and me. Except for one, which I'll leave as a question for anyone else who has seen the film:

Key cards? Srsly?

Anyway. I'd give the film a solid "C." Nice CGI, lots of pretty cinematography and enough little, "Oh, that was a nice little bit," to keep it from being super boring. The discussion around a Jackson Pollock painting is one of those saving graces.

I would have been much more interested if the robot looked like me.


Unrelated to the film... Something to keep in mind when thinking about or discussing strong AI... When (if) it comes, it may have an intelligence that we do not recognize at all. Or it may not recognize us as intelligent. Or we, humans and AI, might completely miss each other. Like a sea creature and a mountain butterfly. Same world, different worlds. The idea that we'll design something enough like us to love, hate, talk to, fuck or frighten us is a kind of anthropomorphism in and of itself.

That might make an interesting movie, too.