On the surface Transcendence had plenty going for it but thanks to an apparently butchered script and a novice director, it turned something that could’ve been memorable into a laborious and tepid bore of a film. The cast is mostly wasted from the Depp’s malaise and supporting characters who are one dimensional and unmemorable while a veteran like Morgan Freeman is wasted and had a character who could’ve been cut.
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Suspense/Thriller, Drama
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 119 min. – $35.99 | July 22, 2014
THE MOVIE – 1.5/5
“We’re not going to fight them we’re going to transcend them.”
It’s lines like this that stood out and is one of many problems with Transcendence between the script and direction and it’s unfortunate as conceptually there is an interesting premise but the execution was bad. Really bad, actually.
The story is centered on renowned Artificial Intelligence scientist Dr. Will Caster (JOHNNY DEPP) who, along with his wife Evelyn (REBECCA HALL), is on the cusp of taking A.I. to the next level in giving it consciousness, a concept not lost on others from the government to anti-technological terrorists who, following a Q&A conference/fundraiser, shoot Caster. Though he apparently survives, he is still mortally wounded as the bullet was laced with isotopes where radiation has entered his bloodstream leaving only months to live.
At the time of the shooting, the group also struck several research facilities, one poisoning scientists with cake (and another instance, using a bomb) at a lab headed by Joseph Tagger (MORGAN FREEMAN) who thankfully did not eat the cake which is kind of lucky the poison apparently took affect around the same time; a nitpick, I know but it did stand out.
In any case, as Will’s health deteriorates and his work in A.I. is all but finished, Evelyn takes the step in completing his work, with the help of researcher and friend Max (PAUL BETTANY), by taking Will’s consciousness and putting it into a quantum computer. After Will’s death, Evelyn works feverishly to get the code and system to work and finally finds success and is able to communicate with Will, though Max questions whether it is him or not, especially after Will requests to be taken online and plugged into the Internet, with the ability to manipulate financial markets and, in the words of Short Circuit’s Johnny Five, more input!
In the meantime, the anti-tech terrorists know what Evelyn is up to and in an attempt to stop her but are too late as Will gets connected in to the WWW and with Evelyn’s help, buy out a rundown, in the middle-of-nowhere California town and over the course of several years, build a high-tech facility where new experiments and technology is developed including nanotech with the abilities for cell growth.
But with more power, and even the ability for singularity with human integration, is Will real or something more sinister? And can he even be stopped as a collection of acolytes, being helped by the technology (curing paralysis and blindness)? Not only is the anti-techies concerned, but the Federal government, represented in the film by Agent Buchanan (CILLIAN MURPHY), want plans to stop the proliferation and advancement of Will’s hold which may also lead to the shutdown of worldwide technology.
Alright, let’s get right down to it: Transcendence, for all of its high-concept and star power is a downright boring, dull and bland film. Conceptually it does have an interesting premise but the problem is, it’s tonally deaf and the characters are one or two dimensional and quite uninteresting to the point where one couldn’t care less about a single one of them. Another issues, and this rests with new director Wally Pfister, the pacing was way off and in conjunction with a half-baked script (which is apparently vastly different from the spec version), there’s just not much there… there. Yeah, a whole lot of words are spoken and the concept isn’t bad, but by movie’s end, I couldn’t think of one memorable thing about it.
There’s plenty of blame to around from Pfister’s inexperience but why Warner Brothers would hand the reigns to a high-concept $100 million budgeted film to someone with no directorial experience, even on the word of Christopher Nolan (who executive produced), is beyond me and the way to go, for both studio and director, would be to start off small and work the way up; at the very least Pfister could get his feet wet and hone the craft.
Johnny Depp finally goes for the straight-man role but he’s so mediocre once he goes A.I. though in fairness the role doesn’t have much depth anyway. I guess he’s supposed to be mysteriously and more than slightly creepy but instead he looks utterly bored. For her part, Rebecca Hall gives it her best but the character is inconsistent and never quite meshes with the story. Paul Bettany isn’t bad though he doesn’t get much to work with; and lastly the Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy characters could’ve easily been scrubbed and we wouldn’t have missed them, Freeman specifically which is a shame as he’s so damn likeable no matter the role (even in the awful Keanu Reeves/Rachel Weisz thriller Chain Reaction).
The biggest problem with Transcendence is it’s banal and an inoffensively bad movie where one could not even have a fun time mocking it nor is there levels of awfulness where one could become outraged (unlike Transformers 2). At the end of the day, I could only shrug my shoulder and move on to the next movie or television series never to think again about it unless I see it sitting on my movie shelf and even then, I’ll pass it by in exchange for something far better.
Skip this turkey.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.0/5
This release comes with a glossy slip cover, inside is a standard DVD Copy and a paper with the redemption code for the Digital Copy.
What is Transcendence? (5:20; HD) is an EPK-like featurette with some of your basic on-set cast and crew interviews explaining the plot intertwined with scenes from the movie.
Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision (2:52; HD) – This is a brief profile of the long-time, award-winning cinematographer, and now first-time director.
Guarding the Threat (2:18; HD) – Another EPK featurette mixing in film footage with interviews covering the threat of artificial intelligence uploaded to the Net.
The Promise of A.I. (2:34; HD) looks at the advancement and future of artificial intelligence and technology.
It’s Me (1:02; HD) – Really short feature that serves more as a teaser than anything.
Singularity (1:09; HD) – Very brief coverage of what singularity is as narrated by Morgan Freeman. This is more like an advertisement for Science Channel’s “Through the Wormhole”…
R.I.F.T. (0:58; HD) is a recruitment video for the anti-tech terrorist group.
Trailers (2:34 each; HD) – We lastly get two trailers for the film.
Previews – Dolphin Tale 2
VIDEO – 3.5/5
Transcendence implants itself into the consciousness of Blu-ray presenting itself in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and a fully functioning 1080p high-definition transfer. So, I actually wasn’t overly impressed with the transfer. Colors are bright and stark black levels isn’t bad, but the amount of detail isn’t great and at times it almost has a glossy feel with limited to no grain or noise. It’s an OK transfer but obviously something went wrong in the transfer process especially for a new release.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track fairs a bit better with crisp and clear dialogue making most of its use from the center channel while the action, as limited as it was, does help showcase the track well enough. Interestingly, the biggest depth this lossless track gets is during the end credits with some hard bass coming from the score (not unlike Nolan’s Batman movies or Inception).
OVERALL – 2.25/5
Overall, on the surface Transcendence had plenty going for it but thanks to an apparently butchered script and a novice director, it turned something that could’ve been memorable into a laborious and tepid bore of a film. The cast is mostly wasted from the Depp’s malaise and supporting characters who are one dimensional and unmemorable while a veteran like Morgan Freeman is wasted and had a character who could’ve been cut and nobody would’ve been the wiser.
In the end, the movie isn’t very good and thanks to its poor box office performance got a basic release, along the lines of Getaway, with thin EPK featurettes while the audio and video transfers are both well done.