Tagline: Yesterday Dr. Will Caster was only human
Year: 2014 Runtime: 119 min
Director: Wally Pfister
Writer: Jack Paglen
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman
Synopsis (from the official website): “Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him.
However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should.
Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.”
Transcendence confused me. The questions the film explores has confused all the greatest thinkers. What is it to be a sentient being? What is consciousness? What separates the living from mere machine?
There’s no quick and easy answer to these questions, but on the surface Transcendence would seem to be arguing that though there may be a fine line between what separates man and machine, there is a line. To cross it is a bad thing. Or maybe not.
While the story does flop back and forth between the different sides, ultimately leaving the viewer to answer, that’s not the really confusing part. The story’s internal logic is what’s confusing. Like any number of bad sci-fi stories, Transcendence paints itself into a wall very quickly with the awesome power it unleashes. Then, without any realistic way to get itself out of the jam, it makes for the cool special effects and hopes the audience isn’t paying attention to it’s sleight-of-hand trick.
Actually, there’s very easy way it could have avoided all the problems, not have them happen. Even the thickest village idiot knows not to go into the cellar to investigate weird sounds with only the aid of a lighter to illuminate the way. So, too, Dr. Will Caster, the smartest man in the history of forever, would have known what he was doing would end horribly. Yet, like every dumb-ass teenager in every horror movie, back into the darkness he goes.
As for the special effects, they fail their own logic, too. Namely, if something is completely fixed, healed, built, whatever, by some amazing technological advance, if said technology is shut down the things altered (fixed, healed, built) don’t revert back to their previous state. If something is physically changed, replaced, enhanced, that’s it. Case closed. Case in point (mild, but not really a spoiler): a blind man, from birth, is healed. As soon as the nanotechnology gets shutdown back to darkness.
Ultimately, my biggest gripe is Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman should have known better. Or maybe I’m expecting too much from them. Depp does have a personal island he has to finance. That can’t be cheap. Freeman is in everything that Samuel L. Jackson isn’t, and as Jackson was working on Captain America: The Winter Soldier… Eh. Whatever.
In the end Transcendence is what it is, which isn’t much.