We’ve been eagerly awaiting the new UK sci-fi thriller, The Machine, ever since it made a splash at awards shows and film festivals late last year. It hits UK theaters and Video on Demand today, and goes on sale in DVD and Blu-ray formats (UK region encoded) on March 31st. Us Yanks have to wait until April 8th get it stateside as Video on Demand, and April 25th for the general theatrical release.
Coming in with a great trailer and with plaudits such as the Welsh BAFTA award for Best Film, Costume Design, and Original Music, and the British Independent Film Award for Film Making the Most of Resources Within a Limited Budget, we had high hopes for the experience. Overall it’s a really impressive film, showing that just because a production has a limited budget, that’s no barrier to creating a polished science fiction movie that’s two parts action and one part thriller.
Set in the near future, Britain and China are embroiled in a cold war with China, and the newly developing arms race is one for a perfect mechanized soldier. Not just a thinking and self-aware robot that would have the ability to fight, but also that can negotiate and to keep the peace as well. Think first generation Cylon, and you’re not far off.
Lead scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is leading a program which is implanting wounded soldiers with partial cybernetic neural interfaces which would both heal their damaged brains as well as result in the development of a true artificial intelligence that is capable of empathy and learning.
I always appreciate when a film has science content and doesn’t bother to spend time doing remedial exposition for the benefit for those in the audience that might not have been paying attention in upper level science classes. As part of Vincent’s program for finding bright candidates to work with him he has them submit their AI (Artificial Intelligence) routines to be examined against the Turing test. Everyone who pits their AIs against the challenge fails miserably. That is until a young American scientist, Ava (Caity Lotz), presents Vincent with an AI that comes very close to fully passing the test.
From there the film moves to a Ministry of Defense-funded facility where Vincent has been working to develop the perfect first generation of true AI, and specifically ones which can become copies of an actual individual. Before long we discover his motivations, and his need for haste.
With a budget of less than 1,000,000 British pounds ($1,600,000 US), the dark, brooding world of The Machine is amazingly well done. The cinematography is easily on par with any film with more traditional budgets. I would readily place this film alongside the 2007 UK film, Sunshine and say both looked equally polished and amazing (even though Sunshine had a budget on the order of 20,000,000 pounds).
Where the Machine runs into challenges is an ongoing desire to get into some more backstory between some of the characters and their driving motivations. From the obviously up to no good director of the research center to the dozens of free roaming former patients/experiments. There are a number of scenes, which feel out of the flow of the main narrative arc, which I found myself wanting to have explained further, not out of frustration, but because I wanted to know more about the world and what was going on.
In the end I would give the film a solid recommendation for fans of the science fiction genre. For fans of fast paced action films, I would say give it a chance, and be patient with it. The Machine will give you what you are looking for before it’s all over.
UK Release: March 21st (VoD & Theatrical)
USA Release: April 8th (VoD)
April 25th (Theatrical)