Movie Review: “Transcendence”

   Transcendence is a 2014 science-fiction film directed by Wally Pfister in his directorial debut, and written by Jack Paglen. Pfister definitely isn’t known for directing efforts, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard of his work. He is known for his efforts in cinematography, working on titles such as The Dark Knight, Inception, Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia, and … well, a lot of Nolan films. The film stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Paul Bettany, and Morgan Freedom.

   I wanted to see this film a lot. I love almost all of Christopher Nolan’s films, and a lot of what made them so successful was the cinematography. At the very least, I could expect a lot of that to be captured in this film. Other-wise, the film’s premise actually looked unique and interesting. I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I didn’t watch more than the initial trailer, but I knew that I was at least intrigued with what I had seen. However, even above all that, I wanted something more from Johnny Depp.

   Depp, for a long-time, was one of my favorite actors, but with recent releases such as Dark Shadows, The Lone Rangers, and The Rum Diary, I haven’t been extremely impressed with what he has been doing lately. Transcendence definitely looked like something different, which is what Depp has always excelled as being.

   The film received negative reviews from critics, and only barely managed to match its production-budget. The budget was $100 million, whereas the film has thus far only managed to draw $103 million.

   In the story, Dr. Will Caster is a scientist that is looking to develop further success in the field of artificial intelligence. Continued successes in technology, however, have led to the creation of an extremist group called R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) which threatens their progress. So much, in fact, that one of the members shoots Will in the chest. This was one of a series of attacks done on various different AI laboratories across the country. At first, Will seems to be fine, but once the doctors notice that the bullet was irradiated, they confess that Will likely only has a month to live.

   Fearful, his wife Evelyn comes up with a plan to upload his consciousness to a quantum computer. Evidently, she succeeds, but at this point, whether or not it is really Will in there remains to be seen. Meanwhile, R.I.F.T. dedicates their time to trying to shut Will down.

    The film’s premise is particularly well-conceived. I can especially appreciate it more after watching it. Certain themes and ideas in this film had a lot more ambition than what I expected heading in. I especially liked the apparent idea of him becoming a God of sorts, and the way that they were able to bring that idea forward. The special-effects and cinematography are the other strongest points about the film. Some of the moments looked extremely well-done and put-together, and came across with a lot of stylization and flash. It is flash and ideas that are what this film really has to offer.

    Transcendence itself might come with less oomph than I would have liked. The characters leave most to the imagination when it comes to development, while the dialogue is definitely lacking. The film does a lot more ‘telling’ than showing, and it relies more on the act than what caused them or the repercussions. In other-words, it relies more heavily on its high-concept and often belittles the rest of what it has with the film. I don’t think it’s too bad in that regard, not horrendous, in-fact, I think Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall do well in the lead roles. Everybody else though feels thrown in and like an afterthought. The idea of R.I.F.T. could have worked, but I never really felt for their cause nor did I care about those involved. I also found it difficult to become invested in the other scientists, and so, basically every time they pulled away from the leading dynamic, I lost most of my interest.

   The visuals are striking and mesmeric in a similar way to Lucy, which came out later into the year. The difference is that this one has more to do with the premise, instead of seeing things for the sake of surrealistic imagery. The film has a run-time of 119 minutes, which isn’t too bad, but this film definitely feels like it could have been trimmed down to a considerable amount less had it not dragged during some sequences.

    Other-wise, it is also filled with plot-holes and leaps of logic, but I don’t know whether or not that hurt my viewing experience. When I watched the film, I took it as more of a slowly brewing God-like figure from Will. In that regard, I found the film thought-provoking and interesting. Will technological advancements prove as enhancements to day-to-day life, or will they help to endanger day-to-day life?

    In conclusion, while the narrative doesn’t have the grasp to tackle the themes invested into it. I don’t think Transcendence is a bad film when judged as a speculative science-fiction delving in what the future may hold. While the lead-characters are the only two that I ended up caring about, I think that the high-concepts are enough to make it worthwhile. The run-time is long and it drags, but for the most part, I enjoyed Transcendence.

Rating: – Decent

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