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Fox Lorber presents
"I'm writing about the soul of something... the soul, soul of an engine. I'm not sure whether it's mathematics I'm writing. I'm not sure whether it, it's... really pure enough to be considered mathematics. But, it doesn't matter because no one will ever see it. It's just a working model for Babbage's engine."
DVD ReviewI love a good time travel story and Conceiving Ada is not one per se, but it has many of the elements of one. Emmy (Francesca Faridany) is a computer genius working in a supposedly "cutting edge" area of computer technology. It's difficult to determine what that area actually is, because it is wrapped up in impenetrable mumbo jumbo, as is most of her "programming" (which seems to consist mostly of sitting in front of her monitor clicking her mouse.) But, geek offense aside, she is attempting to tap into information from the past that, in theory, is never destroyed. Her focus is Ada Byron King (Swinton), daughter of Lord Byron, who is hailed as the first programmer due to her work with Charles Babbage in the late 19th century on his Analytical Engine, a kind of mechanical counting device that some have identified as the first "computer." The Department of Defense paid tribute to Ada King by naming a programming language (Ada) after her.
Emmy is mentored by Sims (Timothy Leary), who convinces her to use DNA in her program to tap into this past information and make direct connection with Ada. A little more computer mumbo jumbo and Emmy is talking with the historic woman and seeing Ada's life through Ada's eyes. Well, a little bit more than a suspension of disbelief is needed to swallow this concoction; but Tilda Swinton is very attractive in the role of Ada and the story of her life is so darned intriguing that one struggles onward. I have to wonder if we are really that well served by the parallel story of Emmy's struggles to create this "technology,"which throws us directly into time paradoxes that have sunk many a time-tripping movie. It seems that as a device to deliver the life story of a figure like Ada, the contemporary story fails for the most part.
The direction by Lynn Hershman Leeson is erratic and the acting is very uneven. Several roles are essayed by obviously unrehearsed, inexperienced or just plain bad actors. The tone of the story is as overwrought as the inevitably intense expression of Emmy's face throughout. On the whole, if this movie was necessary in order to get some of the details of this fascinating woman before us, I will accept it until something else comes along.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The image suffers from the low-budget original besides being an average transfer. It would seem that the digital origin of the film would lend itself to a better DVD production. Picture quality is uneven and ranges from average in some early scenes to fuzzy later on. The pioneering blue screen effect which allowed some of the background scenery to be digitally added in, post-production, rarely is distracting but lends a certain "cheap" quality to the proceedings. Even a decent transfer could not keep this movie from looking like much more than a student film. The colors are imprecise and actually reveal more about the bad lighting in the production than is wanted.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Nothing special sonically. I heard an occasional pop on the soundtrack, but this could have been the disc. There seemed to be occasionally drop-offs in the sound but it was difficult to determine if this was a flaw or a purposeful effect. There are many levels of sound from the live action of Emmy's life to the computer generated realm of Ada's life. The mix included other computer-generated sounds, as well as Timothy Leary's voice.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 8 cues
Cast and Crew Filmographies
The Web links are available for IBM-Compatible computers and include links to Winstar's web site and the web site of director Lynn Hershman.
With the filmographies and production credits, this is a serviceable amount of extras. I enjoyed reading Timothy Leary's filmography. Am I the only one that wishes these companies would consult with me on what extras would make these discs better? In this case, wouldn't one piece of Ada's writing or some things about Babbage's Analytical Engine make sense? I guess not.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsThe story of Ada Byron King, the "Enchantress of Numbers", is compelling and is the heart of this movie. Although the overall method of delivering that story is flawed, this is still a somewhat interesting piece of science fiction. I cannot recommend buying this DVD at full price unless one is very interested in the life of Ada.
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