Transcendence (2014)

Transcendence (2014)

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He'd been having a bad day, clearly.
He’d been having a bad day, clearly.

Twitter Plot Summary: Johnny Depp’s scientist chap has his consciousness transferred into a computer, and havoc ensues.

Five Point Summary:

1. Depp: bored.
2. Kidnapped by them, now he’s one of them.
3. Much time passes. Again.
4. He has an army of drones. Clever boy…
5. All is revealed.

Transcendence marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, formerly thick as thieves as Director of Photography on the films of Christopher Nolan. Not going down the obvious route and making a low key film, Pfister has jumped straight in at the deep end with a high concept science fiction tale. Opening and closing with Paul Bettany’s scientist Max (arguably the real central character and the best performance in the film), Transcendence is a cautionary tale about artificial intelligence and the potential mishaps that may occur if/when a human’s consciousness is placed into a computer.

Depp, as the scientist who is destined to shed his corporeal form in favour of something that has more RAM than a field of sheep (joke gleefully stolen from Red Dwarf), seems to be bored from start to finish, never raising his performance beyond a dull monotone. This was likely a performance choice he made, but it doesn’t help the film, nor does it aid in the audience caring about his character. If he showed a little bit of life before he gets turned into a supercomputer then that would have helped, instead it’s almost as if he’s reading off cue cards and isn’t entirely aware of where he is. Rebecca Hall gets most of the emotional legwork as Evelyn, the wife of the recently transferred Will, but she soon finds herself with little to do as time goes on. Which brings us nicely onto another point – time. There are a number of jumps in the narrative and years pass. Within that time Depp’s supercomputer steals a load of money, builds himself a massive facility in the desert, and amongst his many research projects starts amassing an army.

They thought, just for a second, that something interesting might be going on in the next room. Nope.
They thought, just for a second, that something interesting might be going on in the next room. Nope.

It does of course look fantastic, what with Pfister’s background in cinematography, but you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting something with the same verve and feel for action as Christopher Nolan will leave disappointed – precious little takes place beyond several people looking a bit concerned and doing very little else. Ironic given the amount of time that passes off-screen – what have they been doing for all those years?

The final point to be made is perhaps the most pertinent – is it actually an evil, malevolent computer? All will be revealed by the end, of course, but it does raise the concern about presumption and taking things on face value without knowing all of the facts. It’s another aspect of the story that doesn’t get sufficient room to breathe, however.

There’s a lot of ideas buzzing around here, from the notion of the internet making the world smaller, to evil super computers to the morality and ethics of transferring a person’s consciousness into a computer, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of telling a coherent story. With a cast that has mostly been plucked from Christopher Nolan’s repertory of actors, it’s a shame that they’re not given more to work with. But then in a script that’s mostly about people stood around in rooms talking rather than big action routines, there’s only so much you can do. Everybody gives it their all, but it ends up being a confusing mess that doesn’t make its point efficiently enough. Still, at least Pfister gave it a try, and whilst this is an honourable failure with any luck his next stab at the director’s chair will be slightly more than a sub-par Nolan story.

Score: 2.5/5

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