While it didn’t exactly make my most anticipated movies list this year, I was still very curious about ‘Transcendence‘. After working on some of Christopher Nolan’s best movies as a cinematographer, Wally Pfister broke out on his own for his directorial debut in a big way. Assembling a stellar cast including the likes of Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, and Cillian Murphy is quite an impressive feat for someone’s first big screen outing, so I was curious to see how it all came together. While the acting was solid and it looked great, something just didn’t hook me as I was watching.
This movie follows Dr. Will Caster, the foremost researcher in the field of artificial intelligence who is on the verge of a huge breakthrough in his work. While presenting his finding in a public forum, an extreme anti-technology group attempts to kill the scientist. Though it’s thought that they had failed, Caster was hit with some strategically placed poison and was as good as dead. But before he passed away, he worked tirelessly with his wife Evelyn and his best friend Max to transfer his mind into a highly sophisticated super computer to see his life’s work come to pass. But when this new hybrid of computer and human seeks more power, some drastic measures need to be taken to save the world.
For starters, Pfister is an award-winning filmmaker. He has been praised for his extensive cinematography work and it carries over into his first film as a director. The whole movie looked gorgeous. Parts of it were simply breathtaking like the landscapes and the extreme close-ups of flowers. The CGI looked great too as we saw how the various pieces of technology worked throughout the film. There was absolutely no doubt that the director could produce a great looking movie. The cast also did a good job unsurprisingly. However, the problems were more with the script than anything else.
Don’t get me wrong, the ideas contained in ‘Transcendence’ were great. The thought of an apocalypse brought about by the very technology that we depend on every day is a hot topic to explore in this day and age. Also, the notion of living on after we should be gone is an idea that the human race has always explored. Thematically, this movie was very successful and the audience should have a great time discussing the various themes covered in this movie. But something about the story itself just didn’t stick with me and that’s kind of a problem.
The best way that I could describe the problem with this film is that the ideas are just so big that I wanted to think about them instead of follow the plot. There were many fascinating aspects of the story like the science and the theories and the morality of it all, so my mind was drawn to dwell on those things rather than to wonder about what will happen next with Will, Evelyn, and Max. Then, me being me, my mind wandered into superhero territory and thought about how this would have been a much better Ultron story than ‘Age of Ultron’, which lends its name to Joss Whedon’s upcoming Marvel movie that also features Paul Bettany. Add a few quips and the Avengers and this film would have made for a great comic book storyline. But unfortunately that’s not the medium that Pfister is dealing with and we’re left with a movie that simply didn’t live up to all its hype.
Overall, I doubt that mainstream audiences will take to ‘Transcendence’. People who go into this sci-fi thriller to watch Johnny Depp, explosions, and talking computers will get exactly that, but they’ll have to think far too much to get it. From my experience, some people just aren’t into that, which is perfectly fine. However, this movie does start a very interesting conversation about dependence on technology, the lengths people will go to change the world, and how other people will react to this change. But regardless of the talk it generates after the credits roll, the script just wasn’t enough to keep me interested in the story alone. It’s worth the watch once for the conversation and the cinematography, but maybe when it’s out on Netflix.