Movie Review: Transcendence
Giant, bloated and an unabashedly ambitious failure, “Transcendence” came with the
expectations that it would be an extension of Christopher Nolan’s (“The Dark Knight Rises”)
trademark cerebral tense plotting and smooth, elegant cinematography.
But with lugubrious pacing and an incoherently conceived plot, “Transcendence” suffers from
taking far too many ideas and mashing them all together in what is essentially a techno-thriller
about the fear of the internet.
Wally Pfister (“The Prestige”), long time Nolan collaborator and cinematographer, directs
“Transcendance” with a similar cinematic style and influence. Pfister attempts to revitalize
some of Nolan’s favorite themes by pitting man against technology and other obliquely moral
In “Transcendance,” Johnny Depp (“The Lone Ranger”) plays Dr. William Caster: one of the
world’s leading computer scientists working in the field of artificial intelligence. William and his
wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, “The Awakening”), give a presentation at a large TED-style event
when a group of neo-luddite terrorists attempt to assassinate William.
William is grazed by a bullet laced by a strain of radiation. Evelyn is unable to let William go,
and she devises a plan to transfer William’s consciousness into a machine. Max Waters (Paul
Bettany, “Creation”) helps Evelyn in her pursuit but not without reservations. Waters eventually
splits with Evelyn in her ideological pursuit of making an independently self-sustaining artificial
“Transcendence” eventually ruminates on far too many philosophical and plot ideas to keep
itself sturdy. First time screenwriter Jack Paglen’s script takes a hodgepodge of ideas and
throws them together in the most unkempt fashion possible.
While the story for “Transcendence” becomes a rather messy affair, it’s not Pfister’s primary
concern. Current cinematographer Jess Hall, known for working on comedies like “Hot Fuzz”
and “30 Seconds or Less,” largely retains the clean lines that are familiar in Pfister’s work.
Hallways, corridors and even desert scenes are shot with superbly clean lines.
While not completely without merit, “Transcendence” is a fundamentally flawed film. Though
Pfister treats it’s high-concept science fiction yarn with a degree of humor that is largely absent
in Nolan’s films. Pfister’s film succumbs to a failure of presenting far too many of the ideas
which eventually fail to make a cohesive narrative.
But, “Transcendence” finds far more worth in the way it’s shot. While those pictures may not be
worth a thousand words, they’re enough to keep the film afloat for longer than necessary.