A month or so ago my nieces came to visit and we had a movie sci-fi marathon with lots of big fuck-off space ships, laser guns, aliens and exploding planets—just good, wholesome family fun. At the end of it all, Marlee said, “You should watch Ex Machina , you’ll enjoy it”.
Who am I to argue? She can speak Japanese and along with her sister Paige they can recite, word-for-word, the entire script of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Impressive shit.
So the next time my Better Half was out of the house (she doesn’t watch anything that hasn’t got John Cusack in it—although the Hemsworth brothers are making inroads) I rented Ex Machina, got a six-pack of ales, a block of chocolate, a packet of chips, put on my Star Trek onesy and settled in for some serious one-on-one sci-fi.
With, I should add, absolutely no idea what the movie is about.
Here’s a rough idea (yes, this may spoil any future viewing for you).
A nerdy, IT-savvy gaming dude called Caleb wins a contest with a first prize of spending a weekend at the secret, secluded retreat of Nathan Bateman, who’s a genius, computer-programming guru. Under any other circumstances all sorts of predatory, paedophile warning bells would go off, but this is sci-fi, so don’t panic. Caleb arrives by private helicopter in the middle of the countryside somewhere and enters this ultra-secure, hidden luxury villa.
At this point I’d begun to notice—so far— a distinct lack of big fuck-off spaceships and laser canons, but Marlee promised, so I cracked another beer and kept watching…
It turns out that Caleb’s been sucked into being a guinea pig for a Turing test. Put simply (very simply) a Turing Test is supposed to determine whether a computer can think and behave like a human being. In a kind of reverse, double-whammy, Nathan is also testing Caleb to see if he can withstand the wiles and seductive attractions of the computer.
The computer, no surprise, is nothing like an airport check-in terminal or anything you might be reading this blog on. Instead, it’s a feminine android called Ava that looks like a cross between Oscar Pistorius and Angelina Jolie—with a light bulb on the back of her head. Myself, being firmly in the Jennifer Anniston camp, I couldn’t find Ava remotely attractive, but don’t forget Caleb is a nerd whose idea of online porn is the Christmas edition of PC Magazine, so he falls for Ava in all kinds of twisted, this is wrong on so many levels ways. It doesn’t help when Nathan explains that Ava has “pleasure circuits” in all the appropriate places and Caleb is quite welcome to give these a try… close to a Eewww moment really. The next time I see C3PO say, “I need lubricating, Master Luke” it’s going to push all the wrong buttons now. Let’s be real—all the technology in the world doesn’t alter the fact that Ava is just a few lithium batteries away from being one of Nathan’s blow-up dolls. Even if this is some sort of nerdy, blokey, weekend away, you have to draw boundaries about exactly what you share.
Definitely not the sort of “warped” I was hoping for. I wanted big, fuck-off spaceships warping into light speed – with laser canons.
Anyway, before long, the film has lots of underlying, mind-bending themes about the ethics and practicalities of artificial intelligence, just what is human anyway, and the growing question of exactly who is testing who? Ava is plainly smarter than your average food blender.
Interesting, fascinating, thought-provoking… but without a single, big fuck-off spaceship or laser canon in sight. Not even a proper droid on three wheels that bleeps shit all the time. I’ve been robbed of my sci-fi DVD rental money. Would it have hurt the film’s producers to chuck in a wookie or two? Maybe a cameo by Doctor Spock?
The film builds to a creepy kind of climax—when I say “climax” I’ll let you find out for yourself, if those weird-arse “pleasure circuits” are involved—and here’s the really interesting thing about Ex Machina.
The end of the movie has spawned a whole bunch of furious debates about how the film should really… well, end. There are blogs about whether Ex Machina is “three minutes too long” or not. If there are hidden agendas or meanings. Even if the film itself has become a victim of a manipulative, artificial intelligence to sow the seed of the coming android revolution and we’re all going to be killed by our washing machines. Eventually, Ava will be added to the list of people suspected of shooting JFK and abducting Elvis. It’s become that kind of conspiracy.
None of which was ever intended by the movie’s writers. They just thought, Hey, let’s do this for the ending, because we’ve already paid a fucking fortune for the helicopter and we want to get our money’s worth. Or something.
As a writer, it’s intriguing to see people read all kinds of strange, non-existent messages behind your stories. In a way, it’s what you want—a bonus of frenzied, online paranoia and free promotion (ah… like this blog, I suppose). So I have to hand it to the writers and producers of Ex Machina and say, “Well done. You’ve inadvertently created a cult classic”. Bastards. When’s that going to happen to one of my books?
All right, I’ll admit that Ex Machina is worth watching. But if you find Ava even slightly attractive I strongly suggest you take out a restraining order against your refrigerator and microwave oven. You have problems.
My free horror book, Bedtime Story, actually does have a backwards satanic message in it. Okay—it’s not exactly backwards, but it is sort of satanic. In a ghostly, demonic, possessed kind of way. However, I should point out it definitely hasn’t got any big fuck-off spaceships, laser canons or exploding planets—but I never said it did, right? (yes, I’m looking at you, Marlee and Paige). Did you notice the FREE thing? Click the link below and scroll down for a download.
And if you’d like an email announcing my next blog or news of my writing and music (nothing else, I promise) just fill in the newsletter sign-up on the right.
Get Bedtime Story for free by going to THIS PAGE and clicking on the links.
See? Even Darth Vader gets a hangover – and seriously needs a dentist.
The opening few minutes of the original Star Wars back in 1977 blew our science fiction socks off. That imagery of a big fuck-off battlecruiser sweeping from somewhere above the cinema to fill the entire screen was like every novel by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and let’s throw Philip K Dick in, too—all encapsulated into sixty seconds of our wildest, science fiction imaginations. The point is we didn’t have to imagine anything anymore. We could watch it. Blue screen technology had arrived with light sabres, laser guns, androids and Princess Leia dressed in a bed sheet (she made up for that later).
Smash-cut to the 21st Century and we’re still happily gobsmacked by the latest CGI, animation and blue-screen shit. We just love a good spaceship. It doesn’t need much else to keep us happy.
Which possibly explains why the Star Wars script writers are getting away with rehashing the same old plot and characters. We’re like an infant in its crib with a mobile of Tie Fighters dangling above. Chuck in a Millenium Falcon and everything is just awesome. We’ll poo ourselves with excitement.
But the latest Star Wars instalment only just gets over the line. Sure, I loved watching it—and no doubt I’ll watch it again and again, because that imagery is just brilliant—but the story? It’s like J.J. Abrams told his scriptwriters, “Go watch the first movie. Then make Luke Skywalker a girl and change the colour of the bleepy android. The rest can stay pretty much as-is”. Lazy-arse writing at its worst.
Recently I watched Star Trek, Into Darkness, and again the stuff happening on screen is just stunning. You can forgive Simon Pegg’s appalling Scots accent and ignore the concept that a young Captain Kirk is nothing better than a womanising, sports car-hooning, drunken bar fly—but they still let him drive the quadzillion-dollar interstellar Enterprise for fuck’s sake. And Spock snogging Uhura? What were they thinking? Spock doesn’t do sex. He just doesn’t. Story-wise, it’s okay as long as you don’t try to relate anything with the many movies released over the last few decades. The connections are there, but… why bother? And the idea of Benedict Cumberbatch being a villain is unthinkable. That’s like having Winnie The Pooh maul a Girl Guide to death. Just wrong.
But the science fiction day has been saved by Deadpool. Okay, it’s not space opera, but for something completely out of the box I thought it was really clever with plenty of stuff to offend just about anyone—you can’t ask for more than that—with lots of violence, sick humour and cool ideas. Talking of boxes, I stumbled across The Boxtrolls the other night. You either get it, or you don’t—and I got it. It’s like Charles Dickens meets Pixar with a splash of Roald Dahl. Don’t watch it straight or sober. It won’t make a scrap of sense.
Next up, demanded by my nieces, is apparently Ex Machina. I’m told the ending is highly confusing, controversial and can really piss you off—or not. Sounds like just my kind of thing. I’ll let you know.