Transcendence

“Transcendence” is the 2014 sci-fi/thriller directorial debut of the well-known cinematographer, Wally Pfister. Pfister has made a name for himself in Hollywood by working alongside Christopher Nolan for movies like “Inception,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” “Transcendence” follows a Dr. Will Caster as he works toward a goal of creating a super-intelligent machine, while anti-technology organization fights to prevent him from establishing a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain. Caster is shot in an attempted assassination after a lecture he gives promoting the future of technology. Suffering from a mortal wound, his wife attempts to upload Caster’s personality into his own supercomputer which currently houses a simple artificial intelligence.

This film is fighting with the common question, how far is humanity willing to go before we put up barriers between us and technology? Will we see the threat before it is too large to stop? But beyond that simple, recycled question — this film introduces more ways of thinking with questions such as what is self-awareness? What role do we as humans ultimately want technology to play in the bigger picture that is our future? Should we fear technology? Do we have a soul and if so, does that mean that when our bodies die we can still live on through other means?

Alongside the important questions this film poses, we experience Pfister living up to his name in cinematography with beautiful shots of advanced machinery that are growing plants in moments, shots of rain slowed down to enjoy and special effects so smooth that it was like sight to see. All those years of working with Christopher Nolan definitely came in handy for Pfister, his style is unique and superb. The acting in this film was also fantastic, especially Paul Bettany in the supporting role as Max, Will and Evelyn Caster’s friend and fellow scientist. He brought a very important heart and spectrum to the opposite side, which gave the audience an objective eye on the situation. The musical score by Mychael Danna was haunting, beautiful and very intense when it was important to be.

Most importantly however, in theaters that seemed filled with action-with-no-plots-but-plenty-of-explosions, “scary” and animated movies — this film posed real questions and made me explore my own belief system, which I am sad to say almost never happens when you leave theaters anymore. I mean really, when was the last time you walked out of a “Captain America” movie thinking about the future and all of the issues that our great-great- grandchildren will be facing? You don’t, that does not happen. “Transcendence” poses important questions and dilemmas that the future generations will face, much like Sam Rockwell’s “Moon.”

Overall, “Transcendence” does not deserve the bad hype it is getting. As a directorial debut from a first-time director and talented man, I have respect that he chose this script over a pretty superhero or shiny movie for entertainment only. If you like movies that make you ponder and question the future — alongside some sweet special effects (some of the best of the year) this is one you shouldn’t miss.

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It’s easy to convince an audience they’ve seen a good movie as long as the ending is inspirational: complete with uplifting music and shots of flowers, rain drops and hope. But I wasn’t the only one in the theater who stood up after the end of “Transcendence” and said, “I’m not sure what just happened.”

The star-studded film was about Dr. Will Caster, a famous researcher in artificial intelligence, played by Johnny Depp. He died at the beginning of the film and became his computer as a sentient machine. What the film is really about, though, is Dr. Caster’s wife obsessing over him after his death and making irrational flip-flop decisions.

Essentially, the idea was “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”meets George Orwell’s “1984.” How many times in the past three years have we heard a movie character claim their new technology will cure Alzheimer’s? Then of course, everything must go wrong.

Let’s first talk about the wife, played by Rebecca Hall from “The Town,” and “Iron Man 3.” Of the characters I had an issue with, she was the primary scruple. There was never any proof in Hall’s performance that Mrs. Caster felt any real compassion for her husband. Morgan Freeman tells the audience they loved each other, but that’s about it. Despite the voice, Freeman wasn’t enough to persuade me.

Throughout the movie, Hall’s character showed more affection toward Dr. Caster’s best friend than to the doctor himself. This would have been an interesting plot point if it had been intentional.

The non-existent transitions left the entire film with a slapped-together feeling and an incomplete discussion of the issues. The transitions that were present consisted of strange, irrelevant cuts alongside dramatic music played at increasing volume.

It was like the writers wrote an outline of the main story points and never filled in the gaps. This diminished any possible suspense or excitement.

 

The rushed story was the main cause for the partial characters; they never had adequate time to make decisions on screen. The first rule I learned in Acting for Non-Majors was to give myself enough pausing time to convince the audience I actually thought about what my character was about to do. As a student in Acting for Non-Majors, I’m obviously a professional.

Because of the rough storyline there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary fluff in the film. If some of the longer, unnecessary scenes were cut, the film could have spent more time on character development and actual plot movement.

Reflecting on the movie as a whole, I appreciated the initial theme: everyone is excited about advancing technology until a certain point. More than half of the movie was seeking to locate that point. Then suddenly at the end, the good guys, who had originally been the bad guys, turned back into the bad guys and the film started teaching sustainability and an entirely irrational idea for ecology and the future of the planet.

The most exciting and reflective part of the experience was the first 20 minutes of previews. Who else can’t wait for “X-Men: Days of Future Past?”