For example, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) works as well as it does because it takes the story of your average bureaucrat just trying to do his job who (tragically) finds his humanity exactly as he’s losing it. Likewise, Ridley Scott’s exceptional Blade Runner (1982) is as much about the human experience as it is the artificial, putting a character who doesn’t even know what he is at the center of a controversy involving lifeforms both real and manufactured.
In the last few years – with the emergence of small but smart SciFi films like Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013) and Kristina Buozyte’s Vanishing Waves (2012) – I think it’s grown harder and harder to get noticed by critics; but thank goodness for The Machine. While I didn’t find it as revelatory as others in the biz, it’s still one of those flicks that’s worth your time and investment.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“Deep into a second Cold War, Britain’s Ministry of Defense wants a game-changing weapon. Lead scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) has developed a cybernetic super-soldier dubbed ‘The Machine.’ When a programming bug causes the prototype to run amok, McCarthy takes his obsessive efforts underground. Soon he has perfected the ideal marriage of human and machine in his ultimate creation, a beautiful and dangerous being (Caity Lotz) that may be the key to ending the war, but a sentience stirring inside the machine puts everyone’s plans in jeopardy.”
The Machine is one of those rare films that is probably received better the less you know about it.
That’s a bit of a rough statement I realize, but not even the product packaging does the plot justice here as there are many, many other layers at work in the narrative that aren’t touched on, the most important of which is McCarthy’s personal struggle. Like James Franco’s character in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011), McCarthy is a scientist who’s committed to his work in hopes that his discoveries will allow him to find a cure for his ailing daughter; were this struggle entirely missing from the film, then The Machine would probably be as heartless, bloodless, and soulless as the next cinematic attempt to tinker in the areas of human-shaped Artificial Intelligence. Because this decidedly mortal and relatable struggle remains front-and-center in McCarthy’s motivations, this dark and curious story loses some of its formulaic elements and remains relevant.
Likewise, there are elements of the story that tap a vein kinda/sort already amply explored by Syfy’s pretty stellar Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) redux, as well as its inferior Caprica (2009-2010) spin-off. The real shame in that is that James’ ideas here were strong enough to carry the day on their own. While the ending came off a bit too formulaic for my tastes, it was still awfully hard to turn away from this inspired look at the near-future wherein our greatest enemy may very well be the souls we manufacture to do our own bidding.
Also, I’d be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention that The Machine has found certain acclaim from the film community. It won the ‘Best Film’, ‘Best Costume Design’, and ‘Best Original Score’ trophies at the 2013 BAFTA Awards in Wales. Furthermore, the film won the Raindance Award while actress Caity Lotz had to settle for only a nomination as the ‘Most Promising Newcomer’ at the 2013 British Independent Film Awards. And it also garnered some prestigious attention from the 2013 Raindance Film Festival, the 2013 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival, and the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Bravo!
The Machine (2013) is produced by Red and black Films and a host of other contributors. DVD distribution is being handled by XLRator Media. As for the technical specifications, this is one smartly shot film from start-to-finish, but I thought writer/director James overused his affinity for dark spaces more than he needed to. Lastly, if it’s special features you want, then you may be disappointed: there’s only an “Inside the Machine” feature and the theatrical trailer to look forward to; I honestly expected more.
I’m sure I probably didn’t like this one as much as most will – that sometimes happens with me and science fiction films, which I hold in an unusually high regard – but that doesn’t mean you should pass up checking out The Machine. My problems with it largely had to do with creative, artistic choices that I felt were derivative, meaning that the picture would’ve been served better by incorporating a freshness across the board instead of reminding me of so many other uses of the same ideas and themes. It’s definitely worth a look, though be prepared to study it through too many layers of murky cinematography.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at XLRator Media provided me with a DVD copy of The Machine by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.