“Transcendence” Fails To Transcend Mediocrity

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“Transcendence” Fails To Transcend Mediocrity

There’s a certain man vs machine’ tension hardwired in to the premise of TRANSCENDENCE, but the film is actually little more than a poorly-structured science-fiction cautionary tale with brilliant ideas to spare but with a paper-thin screenplay to hang them on.

TRANSCENDENCE was made by first-time director Wally Pfister, who die-hard cinephiles will know as a frequent collaborator of Christopher Nolan. Pfister has been the cinematographer of all of Nolan’s movies’from MEMENTO to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES’and he has served Nolan well by providing memorable visuals to compliment Nolan’s flair for storytelling. Unfortunately, Pfister the Director seems to’thus far’lack this flair, choosing for his directorial debut a sloppy screenplay (credited to Jack Paglen) that not even the prettiest visuals can hide. Technically speaking, the film is expectedly polished and proficient, being shot on 35mm film and even developed using photochemical processes. No digital intermediate here. Pfister may have made a movie that’s all about the digital medium, but he went fully old school’ to shoot and develop his film (and yes, we can truly call TRANSCENDENCE a film).

TRANSCENDENCE’s plot is promising: Computer genius Will Caster (Johnny Depp) develops an artificial intelligence so advanced that he raises the ire of anti-techno terrorists, who target him for assassination. He’s shot and mortally wounded, leaving him with barely over a month to live. In an act of desperation, his loving wife (Rebecca Hall) decides that she wants her husband’s consciousness uploaded onto a computer mainframe. Caster and a family friend (played by Paul Bettany) reluctantly agree. The experiment pays off, or so it seems, as the consciousness of Caster is transcended into the digital medium. What begins as a wife’s loving act of devotion to her husband quickly becomes something that cannot be controlled as the electronic version of Caster’instead of bonding again with his wife’simply desires more power and energy. His plans quickly escalate and involve the construction of a massive state-of-the-art compound as well as nanotechnology. Global consequences ensue and that’s when law enforcement gets involved.

On paper, the basic plot for TRANSCENDENCE sounds a lot better than it actually plays. As much as we are in love with our technology (I’m typing this review right now on a machine connected to the internet, and you’re probably connected to the internet right now as you read this), we all sometimes wonder what would happen if this monster that we have created’the internet’turned on us. This film would like to address these type of issues and more. The film takes a pretty solid stand AGAINST experiments done purely in the name of science; as God has given us all a basic sense of morality, we tend to frown upon scientific advancements made at the expense of human life/well-being. Even as the idea of Caster uploading his soul onto the internet so he can live forever sounds pretty neat, we all know’as do the filmmakers’that the ethics behind such experimentation are, pretty much, non-existent.

Unfortunately, TRANSCENDENCE never capitalizes on its clever premise. The husband/wife relationship is never truly brought to life by the actors. Depp’who is known for his more typically flamboyant roles’seems relatively catatonic here. Rebecca Hall is given more to do as Caster’s long-suffering wife, but even she seems unsure as to how her character is to navigate through the plot. Reliable character actor Morgan Freeman is absolutely wasted here. I love Freeman, but it’s usually because he’s not just sitting around doing nothing. Here, that’s exactly what he does for the two-hour running time.

The screenplay has some science fiction’ and even horror’ elements that are never really developed into anything we care about. Worst of all, the main story is structured as a flashback; the film opens with a sequence set in the future where is there no worldwide internet. Power is down throughout the world. Then Pfister cuts to five years earlier and that’s when he tells his story. Dramatically, this drains the movie of any real suspense; we literally know exactly how the movie is going to end. This is almost maddeningly sloppy. Does this film really come from a guy who has worked with somebody like Christopher Nolan? Nolan even has an executive producer credit here. Did he really approve of this screenplay?

The fact that there is so much talent in front of and behind the camera of TRANSCENDENCE and so little quality in the final product is the best reason I can think to recommend that you avoid this movie. I understand that we American evangelical Christians have a huge problem with Hollywood, but that mainly has to do with their sinful lifestyles and pornographic content. The truth of the matter is: Hollywood is filled with amazingly talented people who have been blessed mightily by their Creator. The greatest shame of Hollywood isn’t the sinful lifestyles (which are horrible and inexcusable), but rather the wealth of God-given talent that is exercised on behalf of anything but the glory of God. TRANSCENDENCE has some content issues’a few profanities and some violent images’but the way in which the film is most offensive is in the way it wastes so much talent.

TRANSCENDENCE fails to transcend mediocrity. Save your money for a second viewing of CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER instead.