Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: Transcendence

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
"Transcendence" has all the ingredients to make a good movie, but it often feels curiously lifeless. The picture is directed by Wally Pfister, who has acted as director of photography for most of Christopher Nolan's films, and boasts a cast that includes Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Paul Bettany.

The film is the type that warns of the dangers of technological reliance - a genre that has included everything from the "Terminator" films and, on the B level, "Ghost in the Machine" and "The Lawnmower Man."

In the film, Depp plays a brilliant scientist named Will Caster who survives an assassination attempt only to find that the bullet that struck him was laced with a sort-of poison, so he uploads himself into a computer to enable his personality and memories to spend an afterlife in the digital realm.

His wife (Hall) is ecstatic, but Caster's colleagues (Bettany and Freeman) are skeptical, believing with good reason that the entity with whom they are communicating online is not Caster, but rather a computer program that has become self-aware or found something within itself resembling a soul.

In no short amount of time, this computerized being has inserted itself into highly classified places and used nanotechnology to heal disfigured people whom it uses to build an army. Needless to say, the film gets bogged down in these plot elements, all the while having a strangely flat feel to it. It's not that the film's talented cast doesn't bring life to it, but rather they are given very little to do.

Since Pfister is a long-time director of photography - and a good one at that - "Transcendence" looks good. But the picture's ideas are muddled - on the one hand, the film wants to portray the dangers of becoming too reliant on technology and, on the other, it takes great pains not to make Caster into a villain and the filmmakers fall back on that typical Hollywood method of portraying one or two characters as the source of the problem being critiqued, rather than as an overall societal ill.

For a better example of a movie uneasy with our ongoing reliance on technology to do everything for us, watch Spike Jonze's wonderful "Her."

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