Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Cory Hardrict, Falk Hentschel, Josh Stewart, Luce Rains, Fernando Chien, Steven Liu, Xander Berkeley
Written by: Jack Paglen
Directed by: Wally Pfister
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
Running Time: 119
Date: 04/18/2014

Transcendence (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Transcendence contains two of the great science fiction themes: the man-made-monster, i.e Frankenstein, and the pod-people-syndrome, i.e. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The new movie even has a decent ending, and for good measure it throws in a plea for environmental care. Unfortunately the story is told flatly and heavily, while the characters exhibit little more personality than a computer.

Even stranger, Transcendence is the directorial debut of prize cinematographer Wally Pfister, whose astounding visuals on The Dark Knight and Inception had the power to whisk viewers away. Here, he displays a few interesting shots, but they're like stand-alones, designed for reasons other than helping the story.

Johnny Depp stars in what could be the least interesting role of his career as Will Caster, a brilliant computer scientist that has built an artificial intelligence machine. His devoted wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), believes computers can save the world.

When a radical anti-technology group attacks several A.I. labs, and shoots Will with a radiation-laced bullet, Will begins slowly dying. Evelyn gets the idea to upload Will's consciousness into his A.I. computer, to keep him alive, so to speak. Their best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) helps.

When Will comes online, he seems pretty scary, and Max wants nothing to do with him. The leader of the radical group, pretty raccoon-eyed Bree (Kate Mara) kidnaps Max and forces him to join the fight. But Evelyn believes in Will and helps him set up a huge laboratory in a miserable little desert town, using countless rows of solar panels -- one of Pfister's favorite shots -- to run things.

Will begins helping sick people by using nano-bots, making them super-strong, but also turning them into mind-controlled drones.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy (both from the Dark Knight films) appear, but were apparently given nothing to do. As for the rest of the characters, the movie more or less gives up on them; they stand around and murmur lines designed to advance the plot.

Depp, an actor whose movement is usually such a treat, is likewise stuck, occupying a computer screen for most of the movie and talking in a calm, sinister voice, but never getting to move. He's like "Max Headroom," but not funny. (Oddly, Bettany previously played a computer in the Iron Man films. Perhaps they could have switched parts?)

Ironically, the whole of Transcendence feels more in tune with computers than it does with people. It has some intelligence of the artificial kind, but it could have used some heart.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release is a bit of a disappointment. Firstly, the image quality is not quite up to standard. It looks a bit too black and a bit smeary. Audio is fine, however. Extras consist of a handful of very short studio-produced featurettes, filled with clips and talking heads.

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