HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:78
Original stories are few and far between in Hollywood, and it’s been pretty obvious with the deluge of sequels, reboots, and remakes that have been produced in the last decade. Sometimes it’s a good thing to have a warm comfort food that’s been tread and retread a million times, but sometimes you can see all the framework and copycat ideas on screen with the “remake”. “Transcendence” tends to fall into that category as it mishmashes the age old (and certainly played out) theory that too much technology will be our undoing. How far is “too far” in the medical/scientific community? Is it cloning a sheep? A human? Or what about the all famous A.I. paranoia? Wall Pfister tries to stir up that 1990’s era level of paranoia over an Artificial Intelligence gaining enough power to take over the world (Wait a minute. Isn’t that Skynet?). The problem is that it’s been done to death in a million movies and there’s very little added to plate that allows “Transcendence” to rise above the plethora that’s come before it.
Will (Johnny Depp) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) Caster are two of the world’s foremost scientists in the A.I. community. They have created a privately funded A.I. by the name of PINN and are on the verge of a huge scientific breakthrough. Will is of the firm belief that a properly done A.L will have the logic and intellectual capacity of all humans ever born up to date and will revolutionize the industry. The problem is that his greatest opposition, a terrorist organization named RIFT, believes that an A.I. of this magnitude will destroy the world and threaten everyone. Setting off a global scale attack, they target and try to kill the world’s leaders in A.I. research, including Will and his colleague Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman). Taking a bullet to the chest, Will finds out that it’s a bit more serious than a few weeks in recovery. The bullet was laced with a form of radiation that once introduced into the bloodstream is irreversible. At peace with his last month on Earth, Will is prepared to slip into the oblivion, but his wife, Evelyn, realizes that giant breakthrough Will had been theorizing about has already been done - Joseph's team successfully copied a monkey’s brain into the computer. Desperately seeking a way to save Will, Evelyn and Will’s best friend, Max (Paul Bettany) replicate the experience by uploading Will’s brain into PINN’s core, blueprinting a brand new A.I.
The minute the experiment is done, Max realizes that just by copying someone’s thought patterns into a database doesn’t mean you capture their essence. Wanting to shut Will’s power source down to study it further, he is met by intense resistance by Evelyn, who refuses to give up on will. Here comes the twister in the story: realizing that he needs more power, and that they will be hunted, Evelyn allows Will to go online and copy himself into cyberspace, where he can flit from computer system to computer system, making himself veritably indestructible. Now Evelyn isn’t safe and the two have to slip away into an unknown town called Brightwood, where, with the huge intellect that Will now has at his disposal, the two of them set up a giant computer database and start to revamp not only the town, but the world. With the new technology, Will begins to enhance and network the human BEINGS around him and starts to come very close to a dangerous level of power. Evelyn is not the only one who starts to get worried - the government realizes that Will’s powers can be used for evil as well as good, and Max himself allies himself with RIFT in order to take out the A.I. masquerading as the old Will.
The film was a complete box office flop, and an epic one at that. I didn’t view it as a horrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, as it certainly has enough twists and unique takes on old theories to be slightly interesting. The only problem is that the director doesn’t give us a lot to work with as the old theories have been beaten into the ground a million times and we all know the inevitable outcome. People gonna rise up and destroy the A.I. that’s bent on human domination. The real twist to the film comes from the questions it raises. Is Will ACTUALLY Will in the A.I. universe, just with expanded logical capabilities? Or is it an A.I. who THINKS it is Will, and not actually capable of being “human”, so to speak? Or is is an artificial intelligence masquerading as Will in order to gain leverage? These are all good questions, but they really don’t delve too much into that, instead focusing more on the fight between the humans and Will’s power. As my wife said, they tried to answer too many questions and didn’t let the viewer try to figure it out for themselves.
When the film went into bizarre science fiction is where it really started losing me, such as Will’s nano tech that can replicate itself so perfectly, he can regenerate human tissue, build himself a body, and actually rebuild his entire complex instantly just by using the atmosphere around it. Had it kept itself a bit more grounded and focused on the complexities of the A.I. vs. the human soul I would have been a bit more lenient on it. As it is, the theory is fairly ridiculous as it’s been proven that every computer networked together in this world can’t even remotely compare to the complexity of the human brain, so will having ONE giant supercomputer that turns him into a virtual god just made me chuckle a bit.
With all that being said, the film wasn’t a bad film, but only mediocre, as it fails to hook itself into the viewer, instead content to just coast along on decades old story motifs. Couple that with an ending that kind of beats you in the face with its meaning, and I can understand why it failed so miserably at the Box Office. It seems that Johnny Depp’s huge theatrical resurgence that came about from the “Pirates” era is starting to wind down, as the leading man is leading less and less in this decade.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=22738[/img]“Transcendence” is presented in a very decent, if not at times, great 2.40:1 AVC encode. While I say it is great that is usually only referring to the light scenes. During night and darker scenes (which there are plenty) we have one noticeable problem, and that is black crush. The dark scenes get so dark that it starts to blot out the detail and crush it into one deep layer of black. During the lighter scenes It's a bit of a mixed bag. The colors pop off the screen with nice layers of blue, white, green and the like. Detail is fantastic and really is stunning at times. There are a few soft scenes, but mostly in semi lit occasions. The different between the light and the dark scenes really are very noticeable as it shifts from extremely detailed and nuanced to a scene where you just constantly say to yourself “it’s just TOOO dark”. The other nasty issue to rear it's head is the obvious over processing and use of DNR. This was shot on 35 mm film but has been processed so much that gain and some detail is non-existent. Had it not been for the crush and DNR this would have been a better looking image, but that crush is a bit irritating. Add to the mix a decent layer of DNR and you get only a decently satisfying image when balanced with the good. Sad but true.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=22746[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is really a stunner here. The first 1/3rd of the movie tends to be a bit front heavy, due to the dialogue, but once the movie picks up into full gear, so does the sound track. The dialogue is crystal clear and well balanced, nuanced between the center channel and the two mains. Dynamic range is very good and tends to show significant restraint. With a thriller like this you can expect a tense sounding score and you’re given it in spades, as the score throbs with low end power and a sinister flair to it. Surrounds are used a little less extensively during the first, more dialogue heavy 1/3rd of the film, but once the tension builds, so does the ambient noises and score. LFE is very solid, adding a throbbing sense of power to the track that doesn’t let up through the destructive conclusion. My only complaints during the tracks was that the surrounds could have been used a LITTLE bit more, especially during the beginning, but overall it’s a very satisfying track that will please us home theater nuts.
• What Is Transcendence?
• Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision
• Guarding the Threat
• The Promise of A.I.
• It’s Me
“Transcendence” was an interesting work, but it suffered from many flaws that dragged it down to the theatrical flop that it ended up becoming. Certain parts of it were fascinating, Johnny Depp is always entertaining, and Paul Bettany has never let me down, but the overdone clichés and the lack of soul that permeated the film couldn’t bring it up above a mediocre rating. My wife summed it up best by saying, “I think it tried to answer too many of its own questions”. While I may not have thoroughly found it a sleeper hit by any means, it was not a train wreck of a film as many of the theatrical critics accused it of being. Instead, it hovered just on the cusp of being good, lacking some sort of heart that could turn it from just ALMOST there to solid entertainment. Definitely a rental.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall
Directed by: Wally Pfister
Written by: Jack Paglen
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 118 Minutes
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