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Summer Sci-Fi Movie Club: 'The Machine' is Derivative and Decidedly Meh

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | June 19, 2015 | Comments ()

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | June 19, 2015 |


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This week’s entrant into summer Sci-Fi movie club is The Machine.

The Machine kind of sucked.

Ah crap, I forgot to put the spoiler alert in: after this point there are spoilers.

I really hate the word “derivative”, even though I think I used it an article just last week. Self-loathing. I’m a writer, it’s what we do, especially when it comes to the words we use. But normally I shy away from the word because it’s just too easy of a complaint. From a certain perspective, everything is derivative, especially if you’re in a genre in the first place. Just about every single science fiction film can be argued is derivative and the complaint is generally leveled like a shotgun blast at something that a critic doesn’t like but is too lazy to explain why, so the film gets blamed for being too like other films. Which makes no sense from an enjoyment perspective. Saying something sucks because it’s like other things that don’t, must make for a terrible sex life, because let’s face it, most of that’s pretty damned derivative of the other times you’ve danced the horizontal mambo.

But that’s the easiest and most succinct criticism of The Machine. It does almost nothing original or creative, just cribbing from a dozen other films that have done the same thing except much much better.

The plot is idiotic. We want an artificially intelligent invincible robot who is a white woman with a pedophile’s dream voice and no capacity for nuance or social cues to infiltrate and murder the entire Chinese high command and this will magically lead to the fall of the Chinese Evil Bad Guy Empire. You know who might be better at doing that? I’m just spitballing here. But maybe, like, an ethnic Chinese human being?

And can we just take a time out for how bizarre the voice choice for the machine is? I think the squeaky too smooth voice was supposed to be a nod to the machine’s child like nature, but coming out of a grown woman’s mouth it just came across as someone trying to do really gross dirty baby talk, the sort of thing that should get you put on some sort of government watch list unless you’re Annie Edison.

Every single character is either a brilliant saint or a deeply stupid sociopathic asshole. That’s not interesting. It is in fact officially on the list of top five stupid fucking things that should never be the case in any story written by someone who is older than fifteen.

The action was very meh from start to finish, just a lot of the same old judo-chopping shoulder flipping junk we see in every movie like this. Of course, the machine is impervious to damage anyway so she just walks through gunfire slowly with none of it damaging her in the least. Once you’ve input the Contra Code and the protagonist can’t be hurt, there is literally no tension of any kind. This is also on that same top five list of story decisions that should never ever be made.

I suppose I’m being unduly harsh here. It wasn’t atrocious, it was simply a below average effort that was doubly disappointing because it’s a frequent entry on lists of top science fiction films that no one has actually seen.

It makes some honest efforts to say things about where the line is between programming and true sentience, but it doesn’t manage to do so with any greater eloquence or insight than many other stories have done over the last few decades. If the filmmakers had focused on that instead of making a cliched dystopia complete with the electronic bass cut and pasted from the Terminator soundtrack and interminable action sequences, then they might have made a far more interesting film.

So it wasn’t a waste per se since I live and breathe science fiction, but it certainly could have been a lot better.

Next week (Friday, June 26th), we’ll be talking about Mr. Nobody, which is streaming on a Netflix near you. It is a truly bizarre but absolutely fantastic movie about a man who can perfectly see the future. I’ll warn you, it’s weird and very slow burn in some surrealistic ways, with very little in the way of sci-fi other than the central conceit. Prime yourself with this thought though: the protagonist’s vision of all possible futures is identical to the way that Paul sees all branches of the future in Dune, including in its limitations. Don’t pay any attention to the blurb which claims that the film is about a man looking back at his past lives. That is completely inaccurate in every way.

Alright, let’s talk about The Machine below!

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.


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