Rated PG-13, 119 min, Stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman.
Movies like Transcendence I call pity films. They don’t come around very often, you hear bad things about them, you know they bombed at the box office, but there are a select few (thank you IMDB) that say “Hey! Don’t listen to the naysayers, this is a great movie!” Its got a 19% on RT and a 6.3 on IMDB…not exactly encouraging.
I got this film as a gift and didn’t know what to think. After a little research and a few good reviews, I decided to give it a shot, and i’m glad I did.
Transcendence is based around Dr. Will Caster (Depp) who is striving to make artificial intelligence (A.I.) that will exceed anything we could possibly imagine. “Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology. And in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world.”
Just take a second and contemplate that statement. A machine that is more intelligent than anyone ever born? Is that something we would really want, or need? These are questions that permeate the whole film, and really immersed me in the content from the beginning.
There is an anti-technology group that is not in agreement with Dr. Caster’s vision and have had enough. After Dr. Caster does the speech, he is shot and is in critical condition. The A.I. he has been working on, called P.I.N.N. or “physically independent neural network” is incredibly smart at this point, and his wife/co-worker (Hall) has a crazy idea. What if we put his conscience in P.I.N.N?
His conscience is put into the machine and it somehow works. Depp starts responding and if anyone has ever seen the movie The Lawnmower Man, you will start to see some similarities. The difference between this movie and that one beyond the special effects is not only the acting, but the vibe of the movie. While The Lawnmower Man was really about a doctor and his patient getting malevolent and out of control, here we see the real impact some project like this would have on the world as well as ambiguous messages that don’t make it obvious where this movie stands. I won’t spoil any more than I already have, but I will say this: what happens next is truly amazing. You get a glimpse into our near future.
Now why didn’t this film succeed? The film has a big budget with great acting, fantastic sets, amazing special effects, great advertising, some nice action, Christopher Nolan producing and a great story that moves along at a brisk pace that doesn’t overstay its welcome. There are parts of the film that can get a little predictable, but really the main reason I think this film didn’t succeed is because as I said earlier, the messages in this film are ambiguous. It does not take a firm stance on advanced A.I. like many other films in the genre have. It doesn’t even make anyone in the film particularly evil, it just makes them human. Everyone in the film just reacts to what is going on, as well as the quick evolution that Dr. Caster goes through once he is in P.I.N.N.
I think this is not only a bold decision, but one that will make this film very polarizing. Most people will not like it, but there are a few like myself that like to watch a film that really makes you think about what you have watched. It doesn’t tell you what to think or how to feel, it leaves it up to you. It lies somewhere in the grey area, and reminded me of a sci-fi favorite of mine, Blade Runner. There are not many films like this, so please give it a shot. Its a great film from a first time director, and you will either not think much of it, or you will get some nice food for thought like I did. Sci-fi is getting less and less far fetched these days, and this film really goes the distance.