Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Wally Pfister
Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara,
Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins jr, Josh Stewart, Xander Berkley, Wallace Langham, Lucas Haas.
Oscarwinning cinematographer Wally Pfister, a long time collaborator with Christopher Nolan and
who shot his Batman trilogy and Inception, steps out from behind the camera for his directorial
debut with this ambitious scifi thriller that is something of a disjointed and disappointing mess.
Nolan’s influence however can be felt in the look and tone of Transcendence. Pfister himself cites
some of those classic scifi films of the 70s, which had something of a paranoid view of a
dystopian future, as having an influence on the film as well.
Pfister and first time writer Jack Paglen throw a lot of ideas at the screen, but very few of them
stick. The script, which appeared on the “black list” of unproduced screenplays, is full of gaping
holes. Like his mentor’s films, Memento and Inception in particular, Transcendence may well
reward a second viewing. But its unlikely too many people will want to revisit the film a second
time because the pacing is leaden and much of the film is dramatically inert.
Will Caster (Johnny Depp, in autopilot mode) is a computer genius and foremost expert in the field
of artificial intelligence. However he has become the target of an extremist group, led by the
fanatical Bree (Kate Mara) who oppose the advances of technology. The group attempts an
assassination at a symposium where Caster is the main speaker. Caster is shot with a radioactive
bullet and is slowly dying. With the help of his wife and research assistant Evelyn (Rebecca Hall)
and protege Max Waters (Paul Bettany), Caster decides to upload his consciousness into a
computer network. And that’s when things get out of control and Caster’s neural network poses a
threat to the future of man kind.
Transcendence is a film of ideas rather than action and character development. We’ve seen other
films that have dealt with the more sinister aspect of technology and artificial intelligence a
theme that has been explored in films like 2001 with its rogue computer HAL who refused to open
the bay doors through to Douglas Trumball’s visually arresting Brainstorm, Demon Seed, Strange
Days, Ghost In The Machine, Eagle Eye, etc. The film explores the idea of technology evolving
and becoming omnipotent, the horizons of artificial intelligence and the concept of a stateofthe
art selfaware computer network (something like Terminator‘s evil, all powerful Skynet, etc). It also
offers a cautionary tale of how technology can be used for the betterment of man kind or its
destruction. For luddites like myself, the whole concept of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology
and “singularity” is a little confusing, and the internal logic of the film raise more questions than
answers. I’m still scratching my head, as this whole concept of the singulartity is a rather complex
Transcendence is another massive box office flop for Depp, following The Lone Ranger. The
budget was in the region of $100 million, and Depp’s salary for the film was $20 million. According
to box office receipts, the film has made back just enough money to pay Depp’s salary. He needs
another hit badly to reverse his fading box office clout maybe it’s time for another collaboration
with Tim Burton or another Pirates Of The Carribean film. Part of the problem lies with his dull
performance here it’s almost as if Depp has not invested any of his energy into creating a
believable character, and we as an audience don’t believe in him as a computer genius either. As
well, for much of the time Depp appears mainly as a blurry digitised figure on computer screens.
The cast also features many who have become a part of Nolan’s cinematic universe, including
Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman. Unfortunately, the normally reliable Freeman seems to have
become less discerning in recent years with his choice of projects. Here he seems to have merely
taken his pay cheque and sleepwalked his way through an undemanding role as Caster’s mentor
and teacher who spouts some clunky and wooden dialogue. Rebecca Hall is arguably the best
thing here with a spirited performance as Evelyn, Caster’s wife and research partner, and she
bringsa touch of intelligence to proceedings.
Technically the film is superb and looks great on the surface, thanks largely to Jack Hall’s great
cinematography and the decision to shoot the film on film rather than using digital; Mychael
Danna’s ominous and moody score contributes to the tone of the film; while Chris Seager’s
production design is excellent, especially with the design gleaming white and sterile underground
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