April 19, 2014

Movie Review: Transcendence

Transcendence has arrived, ready to transport you into the great beyond, a world of knowledge, power, and the thought of a never ending existence, an end to pain, sickness, loneliness. That is a movie I might like to see. Instead, Transcendence has arrived to bore you into a coma with two-hours of incoherence. I was looking forward to this movie, I wanted to like this movie, but alas it was not to be. Instead of an interesting look into the war between nature and technology and the question of what makes you, well, you, we get a formless lump that is content to sit and through some special effects at you with the illusion of depth.

The movie was directed by Wally Pfister, an accomplished cinematographer probably best known for his numerous collaborations with Christopher Nolan. Here, he steps over to the director's chair for the first time and the best thing you can say about the movie is his insistence on the use of film over digital, shooting on 35mm and finishing photo-chemically without a digital intermediate. He also knows how to shoot a scene and make it look good. The problems arise when it comes to telling the story, it lacks flow and cohesion. Not all of this is Pfister's fault, some of it has to land at the feet of screenwriter Jack Paglen, this is his first screenplay.

There are plenty of good ideas here. There is the idea of AI that transcends human intelligence. The potential that consciousness can exist apart from the body. There is the potential for a pretty heady movie. What we get is more like a dressed up mash up of Lawnmower Man and Max Headroom.

Transcendence has a timeline that jumps around. It begins in the future where it appears technology has been eliminated, not unlike what ma have happened at the end of Escape from LA. We then jump back 5 years and are introduced to Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), along with their friend, Max (Paul Bettany), and an associate named Joe (Morgan Freeman). These individuals are leaders in the field of artificial intelligence. They also happen to be targets of an anti-technology group led by Bree (Kate Mara), I think.

An attack leaves Will poisoned and mere months from death. Evelyn uses an experimental procedure to upload Will's brain patterns. This creates, essentially, super-Will who spreads like a virus through computer systems, becomes an even bigger target of the anti-tech group, and begins to generally creep everyone around him out.

The more I think about this movie, the less I seem to care about it. Despite the good ideas, the execution is a complete mess. The time line movements rob it of any momentum build up. We do not get to know the characters all that much as they flit in and out of the story. Who are the good guys? The bad guys? The innocent victims? Does it matter? Probably not as we don't get to know any of them. The plot is an afterthought.

I cannot help but think there is a much longer version of this out there. How else would you explain Cillian Murphy? He has very little screentime and none of it amounts to anything. Same thing for Morgan Freeman, whose presence seems to be an attempt to offer validity to the project as a whole. Johnny Depp really does not have a lot to do and Rebecca Hall just seems to be forcing it the whole time. Paul Bettany is forgotten about for a long time and his reappearance does not really connect with earlier events. Then there is Kate Mara, whose performance here is dictated by how much eyeliner she uses.

This is a movie that could have been very good, it could have asked some interesting questions if it wanted to, that is. It makes that cardinal cinematic sin of being boring. It is a dry excursion into lumpiness. Yes, that sounds silly, but it is accurate. There is no flavor, no real hook, it is a sequenctial of story lumps, strung together in the hopes that you are distracted by recognizable faces and can convince yourself you are watching something of quality.

This is a movie you can safely skip. There is nothing of consequence here. You would be better off revisiting Source Code, which strikes me as similar, only much better. Transcendence fails to transcend the mundane.

Not Recommended.

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