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'Transcendence' does little to transform movie-goers

Film Review

By Britton Perelman
On April 21, 2014

Is it time for the next "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie yet? Because Johnny Depp was definitely better suited to the Black Pearl. His latest, a two-hour dystopian-esque story, leaves a lot to be desired from the eccentric actor and the rest of the cast.

"Transcendence" focuses on Will Castor (Depp), a researcher whose work involves the attempt to create true artificial intelligence. The nature of his work has made him a target for an anti-technology group called R.I.F.T., led by a mysterious woman named Bree (Kate Mara). But their attack against Will and his research only ends up fueling his initiative, and forces him to participate in his own "transcendence."

So basically, Johnny Depp uploads his consciousness into a computer system and chaos ensues when he "goes online" and starts changing things.

The basic idea is decent enough: that technology will inevitably bring about the end of life as we know it. It wasn't all bad. I sort of appreciated the way certain details would be introduced at the beginning and not brought back up again or fully explained until the end. It was a neat way of tying things together. And there's a really great slow motion shot at the beginning of dew dropping off of a sunflower. But the film was lacking in so many ways that a few interesting elements just couldn't carry it.

Character development was the biggest element that was lacking. Protagonist, antagonist, major character, minor character - it didn't matter who - I never felt like I knew enough about anyone to fully get on board with anything that was going on. We were never given enough backstory about anyone, a flaw that made it especially hard to care about what happened to Will and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). They supposedly had this great love story, but we never heard anything about it. Apparently their friend Max (Paul Bettany) has known them for a long time; he claims to know them better than anyone, but we have no idea how they met or started working together. We couldn't even feel anything for Bree - she seemed like the bad guy, then turned out to be a good guy - but we really don't know what motivates her either. In fact, the only one I cared slightly about was Morgan Freeman's character and, truth be told, that's only because he's Morgan Freeman.

There was also a disconnect in the overall premise, I never really understood when any of this was happening. At the beginning of the film, we were dropped into a world without technology, but were never told how far in the future it was supposed to be taking place. At one point, we're told two years have passed but past that, there is no sense of how much time has passed at all. The transitions were also weird, jarring and very disconcerting. It was full of odd dissolving and fading transitions, but also sudden cuts to bright landscapes or completely white rooms that basically blinded me in the audience. I'd like to say there was some artistic reason for this, but I just couldn't find it.

"Transcendence" was a rather shallow film that tried to be deep and failed spectacularly. There was no impactful message at the end. In fact, the ending didn't really make sense at all. I couldn't figure out what the filmmakers or screenwriters were trying to say about technology or artificial intelligence other than, "develop too far, cross the line and you're screwed."

Honestly, save yourself the money and spend 20 minutes or so thinking about how technology could potentially destroy the world. Imagine how bad things could get if we tried to create a computer system capable of independent thought - you'll pretty much come to the same conclusion as the film and you'll still have $11 in your wallet. But, if anyone happens to see it and actually understands the ending, shoot me an email. I wasn't invested enough for hardcore analysis after the fade to black, but I am vaguely curious about what the last couple shots were supposed to mean.

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