I had “Transcendence” as one of my most anticipated films of the year. Not only because of the A-list cast and the intriguing trailers and plot but because of the directorial debut of Wally Pfister. Pfister the director of photography underneath director Christopher Nolan, who made such films as “Inception” “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, and “The Prestige”. Pfister won an Academy Award for his cinematography in “Moneyball”. From such amazing line of work as a director of photography and working closely with Nolan, I couldn’t wait to see what he could pull off now on his own. While his debut is well directed and terrifically acted, the film suffers from uneven pacing and a script that explores brilliant and topical themes that sometimes bogs it’s self down but otherwise solid effort that never lives up to its potential.
As Dr. Will Caster works toward his goal of creating an omniscient, sentient machine. A radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent him from establishing a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain. The organization attempts to assassinate Will which has left him with only weeks to live. Will’s wife and scientific partner, attempt to upload him brain into the computer to keep him alive, which is successful. However they are not sure if this new A.I. is the same Will that they know and love or something different with a thirst for power?
The main plot sounds incredibly interesting and intriguing. The trailers also made it look like a vision realized. This could have been one of those special sc-fi films that come along and not only entertains but also carries heavy meaning and makes the audience think and reflect. The film started off on that path. The first act was interesting and carried itself a solid pace. The characters were however vaguely defined but we expect them to develop more as the film progresses.
Then we arrive to the second half of the film. And it slowssssssssssss downnnnnnnn. The pacing goes completely out of whack. Nothing particularly interesting happens although all vital to the plot, I got bored. The characters don’t develop, there is no exciting sequences, and again nothing interesting happens. Where I struggle with this is many of the parts of this second act is vital story elements to how the third act will go. This draws to the conclusion that (as with a lot of the film), that the movie had obvious good intentions but lost in the execution of the script.
The third act begins to pick it up again. The story gets interesting once again, albeit riddled with plot holes and once again drags towards the end but it is a significant improvement over some of the past areas of the movie. There is a bit more excitement and some better character moments and dialogue. The themes of the film are fully realized which is the biggest strength of the film.
Where the movie’s biggest strength’s are the topical themes. The role of self aware computers/machines in our society has been a topic that’s been explored since the silent era of film but typically it’s in a futuristic setting that is suppose to serve as a parable to our own. But this is set in almost present day and it feels very reel. The technology in the movie feels in the realm of the attainable. The social commentary perfectly aligns itself with the themes of the film. This could potentially keep the movie in the minds of the general public especially with technology going in this direction..
Wally Pfister has been the director of photography for a long time under the great director, Christopher Nolan and won an Oscar for his achievement in cinematography for “Inception”. Working underneath directors like him (and Bennett Miller), you would expect him to pick up a trick or two. His “apprenticeship” under Nolan, certainly shows. There is a big influence from that director’s style and blends some of his own. Although there are significant pacing issues, but behind the camera his shots are stunning. Visually the movie is always eye appealing and the camera moves along smoothly and shows terrific talent. The only thing he lacked, is the ability to turn the script into something good, however the film’s faults do not take anything away from the potential career Pfister might have in the head chair.
The acting is a strong spot in the film as well. Johnny Depp is rather subdued as Dr. Will Caster however appropriate as the role demands the type of performance. Rebecca Hall is very good as Caster’s wife even if some of her dialogue isn’t well written. Paul Bettany is the standout performance here. Bettany is a terrific actor that just never seems to land good movies recently. Morgan Freeman is well Morgan Freeman, and who doesn’t love a good dose of Morgan Freeman? Cillian Murphy once again terrific as the FBI agent, one of my favorite actors in the business today. Kate Mara, fresh off “House of Cards” does a fine job but otherwise not exactly memorable performance.
This movie had a ton of potential. It was in my top 10 most anticipated films of the year, it had an A list cast, a new director which has great potential to become a force in Hollywood and an intriguing idea. But all in all this film is a disappointment. Even with good acting and topically themes and social commentary it isn’t enough to overcome a film that drags on, and a script that is inconsistent. Wally Pfister’s next project is hopefully a step up. Solid effort from everyone but it’s not enough.