Man: “In other words, you want to create a god?”
Will: “Isn’t that what man has always wanted?”
What we always know about Wally Pfister… An acclaimed cinematographer who won Oscar with Inception and mostly Chris Nolan’s favorite collaborator. No wonder his directorial debut, Transcendence, has shades of Nolan’s perks of doubting the existence of human being (at least, it stands under the big umbrella theme in Inception). Transcendence is a high shot of science fiction with idealism and some sort of romance that never blends together completely, although Pfister has struggled to create a living form of Jack Paglen’s screenplay—reflecting the on-screen paradox.
Maybe it’s not as compelling as Nolan’s masterpiece, yet Transcendence has a thoughtful opening displaying the waste of civilization and technology as we see a misused keyboard. Such a premise about sort of “post-apocalyptic” remnants that charges the advanced technology. However, what follows this is never what we expect (or a little less from what we expect).
Flashed back to five years preceding the opening, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) along with his partner in work and life, Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) work on transferring real intelligence in the digital world to replace AI. Supported by his mentor, Dr. Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), this pre-invention has a potential. Will calls his invention as an entity of all-human intelligence and all data base at once—something that his audience accuses as an act of playing god.
Something that might end Will’s life when a member of a protest group RIFT shoots him with a poison-laced bullet—an act of protest and a part of global boycott following the siege of all AI experiment sites throughout the world. When his life is inclined to demise, Evelyn struggles on uploading his intelligence and consciousness to a super computer before his death as they are aided by a colleague, Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany). Hopes are gone until they finally seek Will’s voices from the hard drive. Evelyn finds it an achievement she should protect, while Max doubts that it’s a real Will or only a machine with Will’s questioned consciousness.
To build the paradox that far, the film has wasted one third of the duration. The follow-up of this setup is not as strong as what builds it. Evelyn aided by his artificial Will builds a large site to vault his late husband. The fast forward plot leaves the audiences to think and conclude what really happens, instead of explaining everything. When all pieces of conflicts and ingredients piling up, Transendence fails to build the climax that encompasses all ambitions. When Will builds an army of cripple he calls “Hybrids”, this film has lost the charm.
Transcendence is a little less engulfed by the uneven ensemble of everything. Overlapping theme is one thing, yet, the ensemble of casts is a whole lot messier—displaying two chameleons, Depp and Freeman are completely two poles. Fortunately, they don’t get much on-screen scenes together. Frankly, Depp is more gorgeous when he’s pixelated—topping his physical appearance. Hall, portraying a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-do-not partner in crime and in life, shines different charms that makes her chemistry with Depp stomachable. Whether we like it or not, the relationship of them might recall your memory of Spike Jonze’s Her—a manifestation of human’s paranoia about human-machine love affair; only this one leans more on being cliche and melodramatic. In the end, this romance, which poses more than just a gimmick, cannot transcend the whole film.
Well, if this film fails as an entertainment, it still has strong grips on delivering the prediction of technology in the future quite convincingly. The idea of technology taking over its creator might be an irony that might fortunately be true; and how civilization reacts on it is more than predictable, thanks to Pfister and Paglen.
Drama, Sci-Fi Running Time: 119 mins Directed by Wally Pfister Written by Jack Plagen Cinematography by Jess Hall Music by Mychael Danna Edited by David Rosenbloom Starred by Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser