Transcendence is a dumb movie about smart people


‘Transcendence’ wants to be a smart, thrilling, what-if sci-fi flick, but like an overworked hard drive, the whole thing just ends up crashing.


We’ve all seen movies featuring sentient computers: 2001: A Space Odyssey, WarGames, Eagle Eye, Demon Seed, Colossus: The Forbin Project, TRON, and of course the Terminator movies. And we all know how badly things usually go once the computers become more intelligent and “alive” than their human counterparts. But what would happen if a human’s intelligence and essence were to be uploaded into a super computer?

That’s the question posed by the new sci-fi thriller Transcendence. Johnny Depp stars as a computer genius who has helped develop a supercomputer known as PINN, a creation that is as “alive” as a machine can be. But a fringe group of techno-terrorists believe that PINN and other pieces of technology like it threaten our very being on the planet (kind of like The Terminator‘s SkyNet), so they bomb several computer labs and attempt to assassinate Depp’s Dr. Caster. He doesn’t die from the shooting, but it turns out the bullet was laced with radioactive material that was detected too late to save him, so his wife decides to take the PINN project one step further and upload her husband onto the hard drives. What could possibly go wrong?

I want to say Transcendence is an amazing piece of speculative science fiction … but I can’t.

I want to say Transcendence is an amazing piece of speculative science fiction brought to us by producer Christopher Nolan and directed by Nolan’s long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister … but I can’t. Transcendence is a supremely stupid movie, made all the more maddening by gigantic plot holes and a complete disregard for any sense of time. Oh, and any suspense the movie may have had – will the computer take over the world or will they stop it – is non-existent because THE MOVIE STARTS AT THE END! It’s all a flashback, so we know the outcome before the story even starts. The movie becomes a complete waste of time at that point.

Depp seemed so bored that he kept screwing around with an accent that never materialized.

And Johnny Depp must have felt the same way because he looks supremely bored during the entire movie. Yes, he’s dead and what we see is a visual representation of his character on all of the video screens, but what is supposed to be his mechanical coolness just comes off as “I’m here to collect a paycheck.” This movie demonstrates very well why computers like HAL 9000, Colossus and Her‘s Samantha are so much more effective – we don’t see the actors doing the voices. Intonation is much more effective when there isn’t a face with a blank expression. I think Depp was so bored that he kept screwing around with an accent that never materialized fully, but it must have kept him entertained.

Paul Bettany is the only lead who actually gives anything resembling a performance.

The rest of the cast isn’t much better. Morgan Freeman could be playing a slightly more bewildered version of Lucius Fox and Rebecca Hall seems to have one blank expression throughout the movie. Paul Bettany is the only lead who actually gives anything resembling a performance. Then there’s that time issue I mentioned earlier. We know the flashback takes place five years earlier from the end of the movie. But things happen, like a massive, massive underground facility with miles and miles of solar panels above ground is constructed in what seems to be a few weeks. I don’t think even a supercomputer has that ability, even when it’s giving the local residents of an almost ghost town in the middle of the desert superhuman abilities. (Nanobots!) Did I mention this movie is stupid? And to make matters worse, the script is by newcomer Jack Paglen who has been tapped to write the new theatrical Battlestar Galactica reboot! Frack!

Transcendence simply does not compute.

Pfister did not serve as his own cinematographer, but the film looks fine. In fact, it’s all a bit Nolan-y right down to the final “what the hell” shot that cuts to black right before the credits roll. It reminded me just a bit too much of that final shot from Inception. I can understand Nolan’s influence on Pfister, but there’s a fine line between imitation and plagiarism. Pfister pretty much copies Nolan’s style with a script that Nolan would have tossed into the nearest waste basket. It could have been a terrific movie if the concept had just been fleshed out a bit more and had we not been asked to just accept all of the massive leaps in logic. And if they hadn’t given away the end at the beginning! With all of the talent involved, the final product simply does not compute.

Photo Credit: Peter Mountain/Alcon Entertainment

One Comment on “Transcendence is a dumb movie about smart people

  1. I was vexed throughout the movie after what started out to look like a good movie because of all the things that ruined it for me. One of the most annoying parts for me, was the woman leader of the techno terrorist group, knowing exactly where everyone was all of the time (more than the FBI), basically pulling the trigger on Depp’s character herself, beating the crap out of Bettany and kidnapping him, only to have him join her, and the FBI hire her to help them??? After she killed Depp??? I really don’t understand this movie.

Powered By OneLink