Transcendence: noun: the quality or state of going being the ordinary; transcending time or the universe; above all possible modes of the infinite. Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence contained all of the needed components to be a hit. The “big” names… Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman… check! Beautiful leading lady… Rebecca Hall… check! Gorgeous cinematography, interesting plot, and a swirl of action…check, check, check. Even though it had all of the right components on paper, it still did not work for me and many other viewers, but why? Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) works to create a sentient machine, a presence that can not only link the entire world and its technology, but also serves to perfect both technology and humankind. Meanwhile, an anti-technology organization of terrorists works to destroy his creation in order to protect the human race from an all-knowing computer that lacks any humanity. It sounds gripping and exciting, but, sadly, falls very short. Transcendence is essentially yet another film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The theme of the danger of knowledge and technology is explored as Dr. Caster not only creates an omniscient computer, but when he is facing his own death, he decides to upload his mind and essence to the machine and eventually to the Internet. Once he has been uploaded, his genius intellect is coupled with the massive super computer and it seems that nothing is beyond its grasp. It quickly evolves and becomes capable of improving anything that it networks with including improving technology and regenerating cells to keep a person alive. It seems that this new technology can solve any problem whether mathematical or even surgical. This computer manages to not only transcend technology and the human mind, but it is also able to transcend mass. It pulls what at first appears to be just dust from the ground that is actually nanotechnology capable of forming solar panels and regenerative biological matter. One of the main problems of the film is that it tries to do the same thing that so many other movies have simply done better. The movie borrows from Minority Report, the Alien franchise, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and even television’s Revolution to name a few. While the concepts work well in the other venues, Transcendence is bland enough to leave you wanting the real thing instead of another installment of forgettable science fiction. This movie has many side stories and several plot points that seem to start, but are not fleshed out and do not reach any closure. Dr. Caster and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) seem to have a very loving and romantic relationship. They have reached that ideal level of intimacy where they are comfortable together without being boring. They seem like a couple that has been together for a long time, weathering several storms, and have reached a level of unspoken understanding. Once again Hollywood plays the “older man, younger woman” card with Depp being 51 coupled with a 32 year old Hall. Dr. Caster and Evelyn reference several times how hard they have worked and how much they have sacrificed for his vision, but it is just words and not believable. There is not a connection with these characters. Without that emotional investment, it is hard to care what happens to them. There is also an ambiguity to the characters. The back story of the characters has been slid into the story so slyly, that it is easy to miss. If the histories were a little more developed and prominent, it would be easier to understand the characters’ motives. As the film stands, it is hard to judge these characters. I just could not pinpoint their motives. It is hard to pick out a definitive good or bad guy. This movie is visually beautiful. The colors are vibrant and gorgeous. Many of the shots come across as exquisite photographs on the screen. Great pains have been taken to establish a visual contrast between the deep greens and warm yellow sun in nature against sterile whites and sleek blacks in the technological world. The colors and gardens of the Caster’s home are incredibly appealing. Almost anyone would long to relax in their backyard with a vintage record player singing out into the air. Meanwhile, the cold modern look of technology serves to further alienate the audience from that lifestyle. The dichotomy works very well. You just want to turn off your cellphone, put on a good record, and sip a beer. After Dr. Caster has uploaded himself to the Internet, the audience, his closest friend, and even his wife question how much of the existing being is Dr. Caster and how much is the computer. The choices he makes can be read as those of an evil, calculating being or an altruistic generous one. It is incredibly frustrating because I do not feel we find out for sure. Perhaps he is constantly battling between the two? Early on in the film, Dr. Caster poses the question, “Is there a soul and where does it reside?” It is a very poignant question, but like the many other questions this movie prompts, we are left without an answer. I think this film had a lot of promise. Before watching it, I had heard that several critics had given it harsh reviews and low ratings. I really looked forward to this movie and had refused to read those reviews. I was very disappointed when I left my local theater. It is not that the movie is terrible. It is a missed opportunity that can be even more disappointing than a complete flop. This movie held so much incredible potential, but it just fell short. It missed the little details that are needed to win over an audience. I also feel that where we live in such a technologically advanced age that such science fiction movies have a much harder job than they did before. Such technologies do not seem that far off from reality as they have in the past. Maybe this movie would have been more successful had it debuted 20 years ago…although the special effects could have been hilariously terrible! [Editor’s Note: See, Lawnmower Man (1992) and Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996) for the truth in that statement!] In a world where teenagers carry portals to the Internet, thousands of songs, and thousands of selfies on a device smaller than most remote controls in their pockets, science fiction must imagine even more wondrous and shocking technology than ever in order to amaze audiences and facilitate the suspension of belief. It was refreshing to see the ever-youthful Johnny Depp return to the big screen portraying a character other than Captain Jack Sparrow or the latest pale-faced hollow-eyed Tim Burton creation. Although the familiar voices sneak through from time to time, it was good to see that Depp could deliver in a serious role while channeling a charming leading man instead of the offbeat quirky characters he depicted in the 1990s and early 2000s. This could have been a great movie. It could have been a cult classic like Blade Runner. Sadly, despite having the right puzzle pieces for success, it fell short. The story itself was just lacking. The special effects and star-studded cast just could not make up for the plot issues. This one would be a decent viewing for a Redbox night at home, but did not warrant a trip to the movies. Transcendence (2014)2.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.