- Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision
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Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence -- working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. In their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed -- to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can...but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will's thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.]]>
- Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision
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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."
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.