Film Review: Transcendence

This review was originally posted at The Orange Post on Sunday 11th May 2014.

The problem with movies entrenched in the technology of the day is that they do not age well. As with last year’s godawful Paranoia (smart phones, wow!) technology soon surpasses the “future” depicted onscreen, rendering the film irrelevant (Hackers) , or at best, a museum piece for us to gawk at with amusement (The Net).

Conversely, every decade or so produces a standout film foreboding the dangers of artificial intelligence. In the sixties, we had (arguably) 2001: A Space Odyssey. The seventies gave us Westworld and the eighties, WarGames. Terminator 2: Judgment Day sprung for the nineties, and the last decade produced er, Eagle Eye.

I’m not sure yet which category Transcendence will eventually fall, but for the moment, let’s just call it a thoughtful slow burner of a sci-fi thriller, with legendary cinematographer Wally Pfister firmly in control of proceedings until the very last reel, when it all gets a bit silly.

Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) are brilliant computer nerds who have developed an artificial intelligence system known as PINN. Alongside their colleague Max Waters (Paul Bettany), the scientists struggle with the ethical consequences of their work, however, when Will is fatally injured by anti-technology extremists, led by Bree (Kate Mara), they are forced to upload him into the digital work, a process known as transcendence. As the online Will grows exponentially into an omnipresent “god”, government officials Buchanan and Tagger (CIllian Murphy and Morgan Freeman) attempt to shut the experiment down. But how do you switch off god?

Pfister is best known for his cinematography work alongside director Christopher Nolan on the Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. On his directorial debut, Pfister has assembled a cast to die for, and even manages extract a nuanced performance from the usually mugging Depp.

As expected, Transcendence looks beautiful, particularly the scenes set in New Mexico. The CGI is flawless and believable within the context of the storyline.

Throughout the screening I kept thinking that the film could so easily have been the pilot episode of TV’s Revolution, or a prequel to the Terminator films. Perhaps it is proof that the film is a little too slow paced that my mind was wandering slightly, but overall, Transcendence worked for me. A box office failure worldwide, I hope it eventually finds an audience in the home video market.

With this promising directorial effort, I look forward to Ffister’s next project.


Published in: on May 12, 2014 at 00:09  Leave a Comment  
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