My job at Slice requires me to view a lot of television and film. As a result I have, over the last three decades as a broadcaster, journalist and reviewer become a tad jaded. What that means is if a book, podcast, movie or TV show doesn't grab me in the first five minutes I’m likely to drop it faster than a Time Bandits’ lump of smoldering parent remnant and move on to the next viewable on my list.
I prefaced this review to point out that within the first few minutes of this movie - The Machine - I was not only grabbed, but enthralled by its simplistic approach to the very complex subject matter of artificial intelligence (AI) on such an intricate and intriguing level of maze-thought.
The Machine, a very scientifically oriented film, doesn't lose itself in a lot of bewildering science, AI techno-babble, or blind the filmgoer with big explosions, lens flare and an overabundance of special visual effects. The landscape is quite low tech, damp and rough which made it immediately appealing on a gut-wrenching level.
Director Caradog James’ use of camera shots and lighting is the real emotional star of this film because it lent to it what no amount of writing or acting could - the realism of an underground lab being run on the last vestiges of a world quickly running out of money, resources and time. His shot angles said more than a hundred lines of dialogue could ever convey. That isn't saying the script wasn't good. On the contrary, its minimalism only added to what needed to be said by the players, but little more, calling on the imagination of the viewer to fill in the void.
The performances from the film’s leads, Toby Stephens (Walking Dead, Black Sails) and Caity Zotz (Arrow) are quite good along with a great supporting cast that includes Sam Hazeldine (Resurrection), Pooneh Hajimohammadi (Embedded) and Denis Lawson (Jekyll). However, the real star of this movie is director/screenwriter Caradog James. He found a way to take a story as big as the development of a self-aware AI machine within the backdrop of an ongoing Cold War between China and the West and turn it into a very human story of what it means to be a human being in a rapidly declining inhumane world.
I highly recommend this film to those in the sci-fi community that are ready to be blown away, not by the razzle-dazzle of special effects and big budget booms but good old fashion science fiction storytelling. The Machine opens in theaters on April 25, 2014.
“We are the new -- you are the old.”