Release Date: 25th April 2014
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Wally Pfister
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy
As technology continues to advance at an increasingly alarming rate, Technological Singularity is the theory which surmises that at some point the human race will be surpassed in intelligence by our own creations. In Wally Pfister’s directorial debut this is referred to as transcendence, the moment when technology essentially transcends our own capabilities to become unfathomably intelligent. As Johnny Depp’s Dr. Will Caster puts it, a created sentient being “whose intelligence is more than that of the combined intellects of anyone that has ever lived in the history of the world”. Quite an alarming notion, and one which could create the basis for a thoroughly interesting and thought-provoking Sci Fi: if only the film was even a tiny fraction as clever as its central character.
Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, a genius computer scientist who has his consciousness uploaded to a supercomputer after an assassination attempt leaves him on his deathbed. Once his mind has successfully “transcended” from his physical being to computer code, he quickly becomes incredibly powerful, being able to access every piece of information available simultaneously through the internet. After using his new abilities to almost instantly amass a huge fortune, he and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) retreat to a remote town in order to build a huge research facility, where his abilities are used to help further mankind. Or so it seems at first.
The problems with Transcendence are manifold, its biggest being that for a film about super-intelligence, it is surprisingly dumb and heavy-handed. No-one was sure what to expect of newcomer to directing Wally Pfister, aka Christopher Nolan’s Academy Award winning Director of Photography, and indeed Nolan’s fingerprints can be felt all over this mess. All of his most maligned traits are on display here and exaggerated to their worst potential: the unnecessarily dense dialogue that explains everything and yet nothing, the humourless and cold central characters that do nothing to invite any kind of empathy or admiration, and with Nolan stalwarts like Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy on display, this is basically Christopher Nolan’s worst movie to date, except he is only credited as executive producer.
What is most frustrating about Transcendence is that there’s a good Sci Fi story in there somewhere; Spike Jonze’s Her had a similar premise, about a sentient AI learning exponetially through experience until its intellect and abilities far surpassed those of the humans that created and interacted with it. Whereas Her explored these themes in a much more personal and contained way, Transcendence‘s mistake is in trying to go too big, too grand. In the end, we’re left with a film that has a lot of ideas and nowhere to go with them, ultimately plodding its way to an underwhelming and eye-roll inducing finale. It’s not completely bad; Rebecca Hall in particular puts in a convincing performance, and there are some genuinely interesting thoughts on technology as an aid for observation and spying, as brought to our attention recently by the NSA’s recent unnerving activities, however that’s not enough to save it from the near 2 hours of criminal boredom you’ll more than likely experience. Disappointing,