UK Release Date: 25th April 2014
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Wally Pfister
Writer: Jack Paglen
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara
Synopsis: A fatally poisoned research scientist is able to cheat death when his consciousness is uploaded to a sentient computer system.
When a first-time director can net Johnny Depp for their film, you know they have some clout. And after nearly 30 years as a top cinematographer, Wally Pfister certainly has clout. His high concept sci-fi Transcendence has been highly anticipated for a long time, but it’s unfortunately one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
Dr Will Caster (Depp) is a leading researcher into artificial intelligence, along with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). When Will is shot by anti-tech extremists and is given weeks to live, Evelyn and her friend Max (Paul Bettany) implant his consciousness into a super-intelligent computer. The experiment is successful, but Will soon becomes more powerful than anyone could’ve imagined.
On paper, Transcendence has all of the ingredients to make a brilliant sci-fi ideas movie. The guy at the helm is a maestro with visuals, the concept provides intriguing scope and the cast brims with A-list talent, including Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy in underwritten roles.
| "Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology."
But none of these ingredients are mixed together in the right way. The resultant film is more of a doughy mess. Transcendence is bloated, overlong and commits the worst crime that a tech thriller can be guilty of – it feels outdated. The first act teases an interesting tug of war between technology and humanity, this never materialises and is replaced by something worryingly generic.
Whilst the recent Spike Jonze romance Her was a very fresh look at the possibilities of technology, this feels more like late 90s scaremongering. There’s nothing in here about the benefits of technology and, as a word of caution, it isn’t even close to the sophistication of Charlie Brooker’s TV series Black Mirror.
Johnny Depp is the nominal lead, but Rebecca Hall does much of the heavy lifting as his wife Evelyn. Like the other stars in the film, Hall is trying her best, but is constantly pulled down by the po-faced, soulless script. Cillian Murphy, especially, is written so sparsely that he disappears into the background of every scene in which he appears.
| "Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it transcendence."
Pfister’s career as a Director of Photography – working on many Christopher Nolan smash hits – is evident from the way in which he directs. Whilst there’s a real visual flair to it all, he seems more at home pointing at slow motion raindrops than at actors.
Everything about Transcendence is a missed opportunity. Pfister remains an interesting prospect in the director’s chair, but this film betrays his lack of experience as a feature filmmaker.
Pop or Poop?
An interesting idea is executed poorly in Transcendence. It pontificates on the dangers of technology with power in a way that feels very pre-millennium and outdated.
The talented cast are given very little to work with and the film is hamstrung by some lazy reliance on special effects over ideas in the third act.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.