Saturday, April 19, 2014


The question about Transcendence isn't if its eventual flaws will eventually cause you to lose interest but when. I'll admit I was surprised, despite the ridiculous nature of what screenwriter Jack Paglen's script considers science, that by relying on some intriguing ideas and a solid cast the film kept me interested far longer than I expected. Of course that was before the movie went completely off the rails and crashed in a hideous and head-scratching mess.

Putting human intelligence in a machine is hardly anything new. Well before the invention of computers and the Internet sci-fi and horror authors were playing on the idea. The premise Paglen begins with is sound enough as several of the leaders in artificial intelligence are attacked by an a quasi-religous, sorta anti-technology (but not really) terrorist group. Although Will Caster (Johnny Depp) survives the initial attack, with only months left to live his wife (Rebecca Hall) and best friend (Paul Bettany) use their combined research to create an artificial intelligence out of his mind.

For the first-half of the film the story plays on themes of saving a piece of a brilliant scientist and the new intelligence slowly growing while still showing signs of its original humanity. Here Transcendence is at its best. Sadly, things begin to fall apart when you realize the script is less interested in developing the ideas begun on the nature of life and a soul, and whether the machine version of Will is truly alive, than simply casting the creation into the immediate role of monster than needs to be destroyed.

By the end of the film Will's closest friends (Bettany, Morgan Freeman) and the United States Government will join forces with the terrorist whackadoodles led by Kate Mara to take down the threat of an unique intelligence bothering no one and hourly creating unique medical marvels and scientific breakthroughs which would benefit humanity for generations. Despite showing us these miraculous discoveries, the script gives Will no credit for them (in fact they are used against him by those who sees his advancement as even more of a threat).

Despite the artificial intelligence's connection to those its touched and "improved," director Wally Pfister tells us Will's the bad guy (especially compared to the group who killed hundreds of people, including him, in the opening scene?) but doesn't really show compelling evidence for the case until the film's later stages when in inserts a darker angle to the proceedings and the movie's final act which devolves into your typical action film.

The terrorists' agenda is loosely defined on their ideas of what an artificial intelligence might do. His best friends initial doubts are somehow spurred on by the group that kidnaps and tortures him who he later agrees to help. And none of the scientists involved, all of whom have dedicated their lives to the creation of an A.I. exactly like the one before them, give even a second thought about the moral and ethical implications of destroying him (or if this version of Will even has a right to exist).

What starts out as an interesting sci-fi story slowly devolves into a basic monster movie with the entire town taking on the abomination with pitchforks and torches (or the modern equivalent) in hand. Although more successful than The Lawnmower Man in some of the ideas it introduces, Transcendence is still deeply flawed and ultimately fails when it proves far less ambitious than the audience is initially led to believe.

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