on May 5, 2014
If you're reading this review, you probably skipped this in theaters and wonder if it's worth a buy on Blu-Ray. It is. This is the most under-rated movie I am aware of ... I suspect it will become a quiet cult classic and I look forward to watching it again.
After watching the movie, I read a handful of critical reviews to see what the problems were. Mostly, critics panned "plot holes" and "logical errors," but every specific complaint I read was actually addressed within the movie. (Explicitly even, through dialogue.)
I suspect the problem is this: the movie is a slow-burn drama and open to several channels of interpretation. One of the central questions of the story is whether or not Dr. Caster was successfully "uploaded," or if the machine is something else altogether. The movie provides a couple of suggestions, and it does favor one over the other, but it allows you to draw your own conclusions.
Such is the nature of a lot of the plot points. You get to decide who the villains are and who the good guys are (if there are any). You get to decide how a machine can (or can't) reconcile love. You get to decide the meaning of the "religious" imagery that enters the movie partway through. The film is brilliantly nuanced, and it seems to have compelling arguments for both sides on pretty much every issue it presents -- which bothered a lot of the people in the theatre. My interpretation of the movie was satisfying, yours may not be. I've read a lot of comments on the internet as to why someone hated the "message" or the "plot" and almost every single time I find myself thinking, "But that's not the way I saw it."
Even if you go into this movie not caring so much about the philosophical aspects, it functions as a beautiful, yet oh-so-messed-up, love story that brought a tear to my eyes.
The movie does have a couple of failings ... there are exactly two moments that come across as cheesy. One of these moments is at the beginning (this won't spoil anything): a student asks Dr. Caster if he's basically trying to create his own "god" through technology. The line itself was a bit cheesy, but the acting was so over-the-top, I don't understand why the studio didn't mandate a re-shoot.
Some of the technology may seem a bit "fantastic" to those who have never picked up the tech section of the New York Times, and I'm hoping that a second viewing will answer a question I had about the nature of an injection that happens in the third act of the film. Be warned: this is NOT an action film, and you will have to pay attention to the dialogue and form your own opinions as you go along to have a pleasant viewing experience. Even then, your opinions will be continually challenged, and it's a fun back-and-forth if you like that sort of thing. (I do.)
UPDATE: The quality of the Blu-Ray itself is a disappointment. It appears they've applied a fair amount of DNR to the image, which *does* affect the level of detail, contrary to what you may read elsewhere, and it affects it drastically. It's especially disappointing, because the detail and grain were part of what made the image so intriguing in theatres.
The audio mix is excellent, so no complaints there. But the special features are essentially non-existent -- you'll get through everything in 15 minutes. (Literally.) The "viral" videos are included, which is nice. A commentary with the writer would have been a fantastic addition, but I suppose you can't fault Warner for not wanting to spend time/money on a film that flopped in the box office.
With that in mind, I'll step down the recommendation to "worth a buy, but make sure you get a good price for it."
on July 7, 2014
Like many, I did not see this movie when it was in the theaters. I was under the impression it would be another "Skynet" themed excursion. I was wrong.
I do not want to add any spoilers but In its essence, this is a movie about ideology and faith.
On the one side you have a group of radicals that believe mankind would be better without technological advancement. Their faith in their ideology leads to them using extreme measures to get their point across.
On the other, you have some who believe no matter how far technological advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI) goes, it will still lack the capacity to feel, to love.
Both groups tend to view AI as a threat as its influence becomes manifest.
Then there are some who believe in the potential of AI to be something more. They seek to develop it in the hope of healing the sick and saving the planet. They also believe AI can help man reach a higher plain of existence through a process they call transcendence.
How these differing views play out is the focus of the movie. The viewer will be influenced by his or her own belief system into choosing a side.
It is only at the end we begin to comprehend the message. The film's score is muted and sometimes melancholy, but it is appropriate for the mood.
As others have stated, this is a movie that causes the viewer to think. I loved it and recommend it to others.
on May 16, 2014
Transcendence is the directorial debut from acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister about what would happen if a human mind were to be transferred into a supercomputer, and in this case, the consciousness of Dr. Will Caster, after he is shot by a member of the radical group RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology).
The film really isn't bad, and I think many mistake the bad reviews as critics actually panning the film. Most critics didn't hate the film, but the majority of them (as well as myself) hated the story's pacing and structure. The thing was, if you split the film in half, the first half jumps all over the place. Now, i wouldn't have minded this if they gave us a timeline to work with, but they didn't. They jumped a full year without even saying, and then when two years went by, they decided "what the heck." But, the second half was pure brilliance. It ended the way it should have, and the questions it raised were both creepy and intriguing. Now i would say the best part of the film was not the visuals, but Wally Pfister's direction. After working with Christopher Nolan for so long, I was pretty sure he picked up some tricks, and he did. His eye for visuals, the eye-popping scenery and flow of the film was grand and glorious. There's even a scene where slow motion is used on something as insignificant as a truck driving through a puddle of water, but the way it was captured, the sparkling liquid thrown into the air; breath-taking. The acting was good, but sadly nothing award-winning. Johnny Depp was good, and played his character well, going from a normal person to a lifeless AI, but in the third act, he was suddenly filled with emotion and life. Rebecca Hall was great as Will's wife, Evelyn Caster. A researcher who wanted to change the world, but is torn between caring for her husband or seeing what he's becoming. But it's Paul Bettany who steals the show as Max, Will's and Evelyn's best friend, as well as a fellow researcher. He knows there's something wrong with this "thing" that Will became, but he also sees his friend, and it creates a deeply personal conflict. I did a review for the musical score separately on the official page, but on other parts of the film, the cinematography was beautifully haunting (and award-worthy), the editing was good, and the visual effects were great. But, if anything in this movie were to win an award, I'd say the production deserves it, or at least a nomination. It was truly impressive, and happily not overlooked.
Overall, Transcendence is a really good thriller with some very intelligent inquiries about human life and technology, but sadly due to poor pacing and structure, the film falls short from greatness. Still, a must-see; a must-own if you love Christopher Nolan's style (Pfister really brought it here). But don't let the critics keep you from seeing it, because most of them liked the movie, but despised the uneven script.
on July 30, 2014
Good sci-fi has always been about ideas, and TRANSCENDENCE does have some. Still, visuals end up trumping the compelling questions which it could have at least attempted to answer. The story is about Will Caster, an AI researcher who is attacked by an anti-technology group known as RIFT (Radical Independence From Technology). They only graze him with a bullet, but the bullet was laced with a lethal substance and now he only has a month to live. Desperate to save his life by any means possible, his wife (and research partner) tests an experimental procedure which uploads his consciousness to a computer. From there he evolves and grows to a point practically beyond human comprehension, all with RIFT on his trail.
Watching this, at least for the first two thirds, I kept wondering why on earth this flopped so hard. It might not be the smartest sci-fi out there, having a decent amount of logical issues and extraordinary suspense of disbelief towards the end, but at its core is a compelling relationship and the age-old question of whether humans can create something as, or more, intelligent than ourselves. However by the end, with its typical action climax and really failing to probe the issues at its heart, I can understand why it might turn some people off. For my money, it was a good, well-intentioned effort by first-time director Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan's longtime DP, who also has a producing credit). None of what is wrong with the film can really be laid on his shoulders. That would be first-time writer Jack Paglen. At times, it isn't clear what he intended the message of the film to be, since the results are a bit mixed. Is it anti-technology or not? Who are the real villains supposed to be? The answers to these questions seem to change as the film progresses.
Another major weakness I found was the footage that bookends the narrative. Set five years after the events of the film, it essentially gives away the endgame and removes any and all questions as to how the film might turn out. Still, the journey there is interesting and extremely cool to watch. Speaking of things that are cool to watch, I must say that the film is very well designed and filmed, and has some awesome visual effects. Granted, these don't really make up for the faults in the writing, but at least it was pretty to look at. One minor issue I will point out is the pacing, as there is a two-year jump in the middle of the film which not only throws off the narrative thrust (as slow as it might be), but also raises a lot of additional questions that the writers probably don't want viewers to be asking, the least of which is given how powerful that Will becomes in terms of the things he can do, how this didn't revolutionize the technology and medical fields anywhere else. Also, are we supposed to believe that RIFT or the FBI didn't make much of any headway in the intervening time period?
Anyway, I digress. Despite a lot of these questions periodically coming up after I started to think about what I was watching, I still enjoyed myself. Why? Mainly because it wasn't boring, which is the worst crime a film can commit. Even though the tough questions aren't really given their due, the cast did a good job and the film was visually pleasing (although I kind of wish that some of the supporting cast had been given more screen time). Overall, as long as you lower your expectations a bit I see no reason why this wouldn't be a good way to pass two hours.
on July 5, 2014
This is a very underrated sci-fi film that deserved much better reviews than it got. The film does suffer from a few flaws, for instance the clunky way the RIFT terrorists are portrayed. And some of the action seems to be put there just as some sort of obligation. But it had an interesting story and great performances by Depp, Hall, and Bettany. Morgan Freeman is always a delight, and Cillian Murphy was great though his character is underused and probably a bit superfluous. Many of the reviews I read called it "ambitious" or that it had "good ideas" even though it was trashed mercilessly. I'd take an ambitious film over some mindless formula any day. Give this one a try!
on April 7, 2015
I'm a sci-fi guy, not a romance movie guy. This film is simply a love story disguised as a sci-fi film that centers its "plot" on merging humans with computers and the dreaded "singularity" that is a common theme in all computer focused sci-fi these days. However, that stuff is just the dressing for the main course, romantic love. While I don't mind that when I know that is what I am getting into, I don't like it when it is hidden in the trailers and I am misled intentionally to get my bucks. I would rent/stream this movie. It is worth a watch but does not call out for a re-view. Guys: You can watch this one with your gal that doesn't like sci-fi and she will like it if she likes romance films.
on July 5, 2014
I can easily envision it happening the way it happens in the movie - when a human chooses to change their substrate into digital form rather than become nonexistent and be certainly and forever separated from the ones they love. At least with that first experiment there are plausible possibilities for reunion. Not only that, but a human in digital form could theoretically process information at the same speed as the fastest computers, plus utilize human-style reasoning and problem-solving skills - which computers have not previously achieved. The inevitable and shockingly fast jumps in technologies, including physical human evolution - and the fears and doubts that accompany it - are explored emotionally and intellectually with engaging performances by the actors. The performance that stands out most in my mind is that of Rebecca Hall who plays Evelyn, the wife of main character, Will (Johnny Depp's character). It was easy to feel what seemed like her genuine emotions - conflict, relief, love, grief, fear, uncertainty - you name it. Her performance reminds me of the enthralling work of Olivia Williams as Anna in The Sixth Sense. I think this movie will be among those (such as Gattaca) that we will think about when trying to sort out what future technologies will mean for us when we are faced with them. Good performances, good visual artistry, beautiful and smart special effects. I loved the movie.
on July 23, 2014
Unfortunately, this movie has received a lot of negative reviews. Reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes are crushing it. The thing I have tended to find with the negative reviews is the authors failed to understand the movie, or they were parroting the unsupported claims of others in the group. That often happens when movies use prestidigitaton or slight-of-hand as a part of the plot structure (e.g., The Sixth Sense). As with written satire (e.g., A Modest Proposal), many fail to understand the story.
As some have noted among these (largely better) reviews, there is a complicated dynamic between two groups. The first and larger and more aggressive group coalesces for a variety of reasons that include extremism, jealousy, fear, inflexibility, and unfounded assumptions -- component parts of many fundamental religions, by the way. The second group is made up of Johnny Depp and a few people he has helped -- though it should be noted that as a part of the process, he has connected with them mentally and can have zombie-like control over them (that terrifies group 1, who assume he is building an army).
The dynamic is, "who, if anybody, are the good guys. Clues abound, but Depp is portrayed so creepily that it is hard to see him as anything but a soulless computer program building limitless power. He even introduces into the world an apparent plague of self-replicating nanobots that are also under his power (the slight-of-hand). On the other hand, while group 1 advances their agenda with violence, killing a bunch of people, even in battle he never hurts anyone. Still, given Depp's performance (and the fact that virtually everybody in the movie calls him "it"), viewers will tend to side with the terrorists.
ENDING--Though I do not give it away, I point to indicators that it is not what it seems.
Some have complained about the ending. It is bittersweet to say the least, but it is not really the ending. At the very beginning of the movie we see a delightful image of water dripping off a sunflower. The camera focuses on two drops (one slightly smaller than the other) and follows them to a pool where the merge with the rest of the water. That scene, knowledge of what is in the water, and the word "Transcendence" explains the movie, and the ending becomes the most beautiful and uplifting part of the entire plot.
I felt like the acting was spotty. One critic claimed that Depp "Skyped" his performance in. I suggest that he still did an excellent job. On the one hand, he was barely in focus and difficult to see, while successfully portraying a creepy, soulless program deeply in love with Rebecca Hall. I was not so impressed with Hall's performance. The problem might not have been hers, however. It might have been that her character was so shallow. Morgan Freeman had to play Morgan Freeman, because his character had no depth at all. I hated Kate Mara, but only because she made such a believable terrorist. I was confident she would cut my throat in an instant if she needed to -- of course that is a testament to great acting. Paul Bettany did a beautiful job of playing the most complex part in the movie. He was a jealous and spiteful man with strong opinions that invariably turned out wrong but always sounded important, and true, yet he always seemed the only reasonable person in the group. I gave the movie 4-stars because there were weakness in this area.
I have see the movie twice. It is one I will add to my collection. I will watch it whenever I want to see a complicated idea well presented. In my humble opinion, this is the best movie I have seen so far this year and among the most interesting love stories I have seen since "What Dreams May Come."
on July 26, 2014
Transcendence is a very non-mainstream Sci-Fi film. The majority of big Sci-Fi films that come out are generally action-packed blockbusters or post-apocalyptic features, especially ones with a premise of technology getting out-of-hand. If people go into this expecting either of those things from this film they will be very disappointed, which is evident in the reviews this film has received. The trailer does give an impression that it was going to be one or both of those types of films, so the trailer is a bit misleading. I was not even going to see this film seeing the reviews saying how boring the film was. However, one of my favorite reviewers really liked the film and recommended it so I gave it a shot. I saw the film and I actually think it is quite good. I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Transcendence is not a Sci-Fi film like The Terminator or The Matrix. It is more like the film Oblivion that came out last year which I think is also an underrated film. Oddly enough, both films had Morgan Freeman in them.
The story is as follows. Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a researcher in Artificial Intelligence and is working to create a sentient computer capable of unlimited intelligence but also with the ability to have emotion. However, he is gunned down and poisoned by someone involved in a terrorist organization that is against the very idea of Artificial Intelligence. When he is on the verge of death his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), decide to upload his mind to a computer. It is a success. They then upload Will to the Internet in which he has gained unimaginable knowledge and power. However, he wants more. They all begin to question if the intelligence is really Will at all.
This film has many things going for it. Firstly, the cast is excellent. Johnny Depp, in my opinion, gives his best performance in a long time. For the first time in years (as far as I know) he is not playing a character or trying to channel is Jack Sparrow performance. Morgan Freeman gives a good performance like always; as does Cillian Murphy who is most known for his role as Crane (Scarecrow) from Batman Begins. The effects were good, but the movie surprisingly did not use many effects which is surprising for a Sci-Fi movie. Best of all, the films got me engrossed by its premise and good execution.
A great Sci-Fi film should do three things: have great effects and present a great looking world, be entertaining, and raise thought-provoking questions about humanity and our society today and do it without sounding overly preachy (cough*Avatar*cough) . Transcendence did all of those things for me. It is a very thought-provoking film that raises many questions like: Will our over dependence on technology eventually cause our downfall?; Can machines truly have a soul?; Should someone be given so much power? Best of all, the film does this without falling back on action, explosion, or any of those common movie tropes. There is hardly any action, but it did not need any action.
There are some issues with the film, however. First of all, some characters are pretty useless. I like Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy’s performances, but I felt their characters were almost useless to the story. They are barely in the film and when they are just standing around most of the time. Secondly, the pacing was a bit slow in places. The beginning could have been faster and the ending could have been quicker. I felt that some things were a little too dragged out. Also the two year time jump really bothered me. Why did they have to jump forward two years? It makes no sense. You could have jumped forward two months, two weeks, or even two days and it would have made no difference.
Overall, Transcendence is a very enjoyable and thought-provoking Sci-Fi film if viewed with the right mind set. I know people wished this could be more of an apocalyptic movie where it is the A.I. vs. humanity with action and explosions, but we already got that with The Matrix, The Terminator, and to a lesser extent 2001: A Space Odyssey. I find it weird that 2001 gets almost nothing but praise but this movie gets hated on so much. That film is very similar Transcendence, especially the parts with Hal 3000. If you a fan of Sci-Fi films like Blade Runner, Oblivion, and 2001: A Space Odyssey then I think you should give this a shot.
on April 1, 2015
Johnny Depp plays a controversial intellectual, whose quest for artificial intelligence takes a sharp turn when he's struck by an irradiated bullet in an assassination attempt. With experimental technology already in place, he uploads his own consciousness to the system and sparks an explosive debate when his thoughts begin to influence the internet at large. The concept is a special one, and it takes care to really look at the issue from both perspectives, which is admirable. On one side we've got Depp, who may be doing irreparable damage despite a noble goal, while on the other he's opposed by violent, kneejerking extremists who may have legitimate fears. That core argument gets a bit watered-down and oversimplified as we build to an overly neat, tidy climax, but the journey to get there is plenty rewarding and the debate itself is endlessly thought-provoking. Perhaps a mild underachievement, given the daunting potential, it's still worth tickling the brain over.