Director: Wally Pfister
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser
Written by: Jack Paglen
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: 25th April 2014
It is official. Transcendence is a total flop, both financially and critically. Having been universally panned, the audience in the States have stayed away. It’s not a complete dud and it does have some redeeming features but it is understandable why it hasn’t had the success that everyone thought it would be: a plot that gets sillier the longer it goes on and scientific techno-babble that will leave your regular cinemagoer confused and positively bored.
Dr. Will Caster has come up with a concept that computers will transcend the ability of the human brain and will be able to form a new generation of evolution. When he is shot by an anti-technology organization that leaves him dying, Will allows his wife, Evelyn, to use his brainwaves to enter the vast computer system that will keep him alive long after his body has died. What she doesn’t know is that once inside, he needs more data and more power that will take total control of the world’s technology.
Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut starts off with plenty of promise and for the first half hour, you follow the events with great interest. What then starts to happen is that the big ideas of that first act become a little too much for writer Jack Paglan to maintain and it slowly descend into mass confusion, ludicrousness and characters constantly having to explain what is happening, leading to a final act that is as nonsensical as trying to infect a virus into the mother ship via an Apple computer as in Independence Day.
There’s no denying that under Pfister’s keen eye, this is a well-made piece of cinema, although the continuous shots of drops of water in slow motion becomes increasingly tiresome and dull. He also has enough talent actors to carry the film, no matter how nuts the dialogue gets but this isn’t enough to keep boredom at bay and it does get very boring in places. Maybe it’s because I really didn’t understand what was going on with as I don’t have a scientific mind but that’s its major downfall. This isn’t a film that is going to exclusively scientist types. Filmgoers, just out for a night’s entertainment, will leave utterly bemused.
At just under two hours, it is also far too long. In fact it feels like a longer movie that offers very little in the action side and more explanation and exposition than any film ever needs to have. If you have characters telling you what is going on every five minutes then you know that something is badly wrong. It also comes at us like some highly intelligent version of The Lawnmower Man, which isn’t a good standing ground for any film.
It also suffers the same fate as Spike Jonze’s Her. We are led to believe that computers will have human emotions in order to help save humanity. How can that be? How can a voice on a phone fall in love, hence, how can microchip manifest itself with the full understanding of saving life, creating life and saving humanity? It doesn’t make sense or maybe I am one of those people who just see a computer to use as an office tool or to look up stuff on the internet. A naive approach, yes but a safe one too.
The performances are fine. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany are far better than the material they are working with, while Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara are left floundering in badly underwritten roles. Johnny Depp, who you are left thinking is the lead, actually is more of a cameo as he don’t so much phone his performance in but Skype’s it. His star is slowly diminishing and he better find roles that are more interesting and different otherwise he may be left behind.
Transcendence isn’t the disaster that everyone is making it out to be and as far as science fiction is concerned, it does its job. Maybe it needed to be a bit more movie goer friendly instead of expecting everyone to have enormous IQs to appreciate the ideas. I would have been more interested in the opening sequence of the film being the whole film, that of a world without technology and how the human race would survive without the internet and mobile phones. That could have been the sequel but I’m guessing that the year’s biggest flop so far won’t be given a second chance to prove itself.