Transcendence arrived on British shores with a critical bashing and mediocre box office returns which resulted in Transcendence becoming one of the surprise turkeys of 2014 so far. Therefore, expectations were extraordinary low, but they were exceeded probably because I expected so little of the film.
Dr Will Castor (Johnny Depp) seeks to create the most powerful computer ever made, one that has more power than the collective intelligence than any person ever born. Will is shot by a rebel anti-technology organization after Will gave a speech detailing his ambitions. The attack leads to Will’s death and following his death Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) uploads Will’s collective consciousness allowing him to live in a digital format. However, there is ambiguity over whether this version of Will is the real Will when it seems that the A.I has ominous plans for the future.
Wally Pfister, who progressed from shooting porn films to becoming Christopher Nolan’s main cinematographer, turns from cinematographer to director and he makes a surprising good pfist of it. It is quite clear that one of the industry’s top digital photographers directs Transcendence as Transcendence doesn’t have any choppy, incomprehensible editing that plagues quite a high number of Hollywood movies. Visually, Transcendence is also mightily impressive to as Jess Hall’s cinematography is terrific and the set design is excellent.
Aesthetically, Transcendence is very pleasing but there are areas where the film is somewhat lacklustre, the pace of the film is a little uneven and knowledge of technological mumbo jumbo is expected (though I feel this is a good thing otherwise we’d have top level computer scientists being spoon fed rather basic stuff). Jack Paglen’s script is somewhat clunky and attempts to make itself seem more intelligent than it actually is by attempting to throw out occasional buzz words (such as quantum processors) and famous names related to computing such as Alan Turing, who had very little to do with this type of computing, perhaps Berners-Lee would have a better choice.
Narratively the film is flawed but overall quite interesting as Paglen’s script tries to discuss a number of thought provoking themes such as the potential power of technology and the potential danger that this can cause. The film also discusses how much we rely on technology as a society as so much of the western world’s financial infrastructure relies on technology. Transcendence evokes themes from other Science Fiction films such as Ridley’s Scott’s Blade Runner where the theme what makes us human is one of the primary themes of Transcendence and Scott’s Blade Runner. Transcendence also has some similarities to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Terminator films.
Having worked extensively on Christopher Nolan’s films, Inception and the Batman franchise for example, Pfister was able to gain the service of a talented cast, some of whom have featured heavily in Nolan’s films such as Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman. The impressive cast list is perhaps the main reason why a great deal of viewers were so disappointed with the finished product. Nevertheless, the cast do a good job with Rebecca Hall being the highlight.
Transcendence is more than just a mindless spectacle despite the fact that the discussions the film holds are nowhere near as groundbreaking as the scientific discoveries in the actual film itself but do provide some food for thought at the expense of a well paced and emotionally engaging narrative. Transcendence is certainly better than the reviews give it credit for.