Jennie’s Review: Transcendence

Letter Grade:

The Good:

The Cast
It looks great
Reminds me of old school science fiction

The Bad:

Slow at times
Some of the cast needs more screen time, others less
Not as much of a Thriller as I would have like or as advertised

Cast & Crew:

Directed by: Wally Pfister
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality

I know this isn’t a new release anymore, but based on box office numbers, you probably haven’t seen it…

We meet Dr. William Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Dr. Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) at their home as he is setting up a copper screen above their backyard and garden area.  The screen’s purpose is to make a technology free zone so that they may have some respite from the completely science driven rest of their lives.  (This of course, it TRANSCENDENCEobvious foreshadowing even the first time you see it, but that’s OK.) Shortly after this lovely scene they are at a rather large speaking engagement and fundraising event, where despite William’s dislike of doing these sorts of things, he being the seemingly most famous genius alive at the time, is the main event.  His topic; the creation of a sentient computer that will create technological singularity (or as he calls it, Transcendence) and change the world.  After the lecture, a young man (Lukas Haas) who seems to be a religious zealot shoots William.  They originally believe that it is only a minor wound, but then discover it is far more serious, and the conspiracy goes much further than they suspected.  With only a few weeks to live, William wants to spend time with his wife.  Evelyn however is not ready to let go and uses her knowledge to “save” him by uploading his consciousness and officially creating the sentient computer they had been working towards for years.

For anyone interested in developing Artificial Intelligence of any kind, I recommend you watch any movie on the subject from over the past 50+ years.  Or maybe I’ll just save you some time, it’s always a bad idea.  Don’t let that cute kid from A.I. convince you otherwise.  It’s always a bad idea!  Stephen Hawking agrees, so I must be right.

TRANSCENDENCEThe science and ethics surrounding it in Transcendence is complex and confusing, but that’s OK, you don’t actually need to understand it, so don’t over think it.  All you really need to know is that all the knowledge that could never be contained in one person could easily be contained in a computer and if you gave that computer the ability to think for itself and be able to solve questions that a computer would not normally propose to itself, the possibilities are endless.  The foreshadowing throughout was a bit much, but with a complex scientific plot, they probably thought they needed it to make sure everything made some semblance of sense.

If you completely buy into reviews (I mean other peoples… not mine… mine is right of course…) and sites like rottentomatoes, you would think this movie is just terrible.  Maybe that’s why I was open to enjoying it more.  I did not see it opening weekend so I heard all the negativity, which as much as I tried not to let it, my expectations were still lowered. Perhaps that made for a more flattering review, but that’s my perspective. Several of the reviews I heard/read before I saw this movie mentioned the beginning being intriguing but then falling off.  I couldn’t disagree more.  I actually preferred the last third of the movie much more than the beginning. It felt more like a classic Science Fiction film.  There are several scenes where the population of the small town where the supercomputer has laid its roots are acting on its behalf like robots or aliens with one conscious.  It’s very Invasion of the Body Snatchers or a less ridiculous The World’s End.

TRANSCENDENCEAs with most movies around this theme, the acts of violence that the anti-technology groups perpetrate throughout the film actually expedite the horrors they believe they are trying to stop.  R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) kills William, which leads to his wife desperately trying to save him in the best way she knows how, by uploading his consciousness into a machine.  The artificial intelligence research, which seemed to be stalling out, now takes a giant leap forward when a human brain was added to the equation.   I get the sense that the writers want you to eventually feel sympathy (or at least empathy) for R.I.F.T., but you don’t.  If that isn’t what they were going for, then its members should not have been in the movie so long.  It’s not that I think characters need be all good or all bad, I just don’t think it having them continue through the storyline worked here.

The cast is all really great.  Rebecca Hall works perfectly as Evelyn desperate to hold on to Will despite the cost.  Paul Bettany is convincing as fellow scientist and very conflicted best friend of the couple. I think over the past few years people have gotten used to hot/eccentric Johnny Depp and are not so interested in serious actor Johnny Depp. They like Captain Jack Sparrow and The Mad Hatter… not so much Tonto, but The Lone Ranger is a whole other issue.  Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy all that eccentricity, but personally I like being reminded how versatile TRANSCENDENCEDepp really is.  I do wish there was more of Morgan Freeman (well always) and Cillian Murphy throughout the movie. Their characters are pretty pivotal but I do not think their screen time reflects this.

This is Wally Pfister’s directorial debut and I think a pretty good one.  It’s amazing what someone who is already established in the business can do for their “first” movie. Pfister previously had been the Director of Photography (or Cinematographer) on (among others) Inception, Moneyball, and all three of the Dark Knight Batman movies.  It must have been nerve wracking for Jess Hall to be the cinematographer on this film with him as the director.  Pfister knows how a movie should look, and I think it shows.  It looks good, really good at times. There weren’t any moments that I was distracted by visuals that looked fake or shots that didn’t make any sense.  Also, the computer graphics evolve as the A.I. evolves, which I thought was a really nice subtle touch.

Is it a one of the best movies I’ve seen this year? No.  Is it anywhere near as bad as the internet would lead you to believe? Absolutely not.  I think if you like movies that involve A.I., and/or if you like Johnny Depp (really, not just as Captain Jack Sparrow), you should give it a shot. I’m sure it will be at the cheap theater and streaming any day now.

*Photos courtesy of Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

Jennie Stoddart (24 Posts)

More About Me