By Simon Miraudo
April 22, 2014
Transcendence makes a convincing case for the abandonment of technology, although it’s not nearly as convincing as the case it makes for the abandonment of films about technology. This one unironically deploys phrases like, “We have to get off the grid”, and one particular event in the script is referred to as “a reverse Y2K” (which I always thought was an outlawed sexual position, but there you go). Those who suspected a movie smart enough to cast Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany and Clifton Collins Jr. in supporting parts would be similarly smart enough to not take its techno-babble so seriously will be most disappointed. For the sake of those aforementioned actors’ reputations, I won’t mention them in relation to Transcendence again.
Johnny Depp – in the rare and apparently now burdensome role of a regular human being – plays Dr. Will Caster, a scientist on the verge of perfecting artificial intelligence. He’s murdered prematurely by a ‘neo-luddite’ terrorist group, though not before his equally brilliant and even more ambitious wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) ‘uploads’ his brain to their A.I. system, giving him something of a second life. (Why the ‘neo-luddites’ shoot Will with a poison bullet that takes an entire month to finish the job instead of just burying him in a hail of regular, still-fatal gunfire goes unexplained. This, agonizingly, is one of the film’s least frustrating and puzzlesome plot points.) Suddenly powerful and intelligent beyond comprehension, Will 2.0. taps into every internet-connected device in the world, and, eventually, willing human volunteers and the Earth’s very ecosystem, with the intention of “perfecting” these imperfect specimens So, thanks, Transcendence. Like we really needed the nightmarish image of Johnny Depp just hanging out inside our drinking water.
The directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s frequent – and Oscar winning – cinematographer Wally Pfister is proof that knowing what looks good is not the same as knowing what looks stupid. As hysterical about self-aware technology taking over the universe as Ace Ventura was about transgender football players, Pfister is not helped by Jack Paglen’s humourless screenplay. Transcendence can’t even boast impressive visuals; the ironic result of Pfister stepping up as director and handing the cinematographic reins to Jess Hall. Together, they recapture the steely colour palette and sleek look of the Nolanverse, yet, beyond having the bright idea to shoot falling drops of liquid in super slow motion, they’re totally unable to craft inventive, indelible imagery.
Coming hot on the heels of the far more observant Her – in which, admittedly, discussion of an impending ‘singularity’ was a lower priority than the logistics of sex with a disembodied voice – Transcendence nonetheless feels a decade late and a dongle short. By not reducing our hypothetical options to ‘having all the technology’ or ‘having none of the technology’, Her was able to explore with far greater depth the complexities of living a life plugged in, and with computer systems that both seemed human and maybe felt human feelings too. Comparing Transcendence to Her – or the also superior 2001 and Solaris – is not a valid argument as to why it’s bad. (Nor, in any sane universe, is the claim that ‘it’s better than Eagle Eye’ any worthwhile defence.) However, considering how binary the flick’s treatment of our complicated modern existence is, maybe it’s the only argument it deserves. Is Transcendence good? Y/N. It’s a hard ‘N’ from me.
Transcendence arrives in Australian cinemas April 24, 2014.