‘Transcendence’ – Film Thoughts/Review

UK Release: 25th April 2014 (Previews: April 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st)

Talented cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, ‘TRANSCENDENCE’ is a classic Sci-Fi/B-movie tale of Johnny Depp’s Dr. Will Caster, who after being poisoned ends up having his subconscious uploaded onto a computer, with the help of his wife Rebecca Hall. From that you can tell nothing goes quite to plan, assembling a talented cast of actors Pfister has worked with before, including that of Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman, along with Paul Bettany and Kate Mara, this film has already become one of the biggest flops of the year so far losing a lot of money for backers of Alcon and the Chinese contingency of DMG Entertainment. With a script by Jack Pagan (who’s done a treatment of ‘Prometheus 2’) which was on the Hollywood Black List.

I think the fundamental issue with ‘Transcendence’ is that the film itself is a little too ambitious for Wally Pfister to make his debut with. It certainly has these grand ideas running through it about the online world, and globalization of the connectivity via the internet, particularly with opening lines by (very much narrator here) Paul Bettany with ‘’The internet was meant to make the world a smaller place, but without it, it makes it smaller’’, and such, but it never really explores then, other then mentions them which is a shame as I think this whole classic Sci-Fi, B-Movie set up (probably what attracted Wally Pfister to the project in the first place, having been rooted as a young cinematographer of Roger Corman films in his beginnings), works rather well. Some might go ‘’Ah yes ‘The Lawnmower Man’’, but it really isn’t. What you get is something, which to me resembles something of ‘Demon Seed’, which again plays up to this classic Sci-Fi idea which has plagued the genre before that film even came out in 1977. In a way the film (to me) feels refreshing because of this, as it relishes in its own influences, gleefully. I think the whole compare -and -complain form of criticism, which ran on this film, is unfair, since when has this been a criticism when the same people reviewed ‘Gravity’ I ask?

Interbursted with all this, you have this biblical context (the term ‘Transcendence’ is from the Bible), and a very anti-technology message, even if the characters who resemble this are terrorists (again classic B-Movie), and with all this you (again) feel like Pfister, and Pagans script is attempting too much. I think generally speaking thought you do need to treat this as a B-Movie, not just because of its traits (for example: armies just arriving into town very off hand), but because of its love towards its inspirations. In the heart of this film you have a really fine performance from Rebecca Hall (arguably the main character here) who really compared to Depp (who is receiving a good percentage of Box Office receipts for this – or should I put it all of its gross), who seems a little uncomfortable in his role. Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman do look like they are on loan to Pfister (not that they are terrible) and it’s refreshing to see Paul Bettany finally getting some mainstream screen time. On a side note the film has been shot in 35mm and looks terrific – so make sure you can utilize 4K viewing technology when viewing this film – it will look stunning.

The strangest thing about ‘Transcendence’, and something which I think will contribute to it being given the status of a ‘’cult classic’’ years down the line, is the fact that the film is in this crossroad between a mainstream Blockbuster and a large Independent film. The films budget was on the level of Blockbuster, however the ideas and the whole point of the film has independent sensibilities. Meaning the marketing has presented it as some crowd gathering action sci-fi which really it isn’t. Pfister has criticised the films marketers from Alcon by making Morgan Freeman add a line ‘’it will be the end of mankind as we know it’’, and playing up to all the action, which is few and far between (again not helping towards its critical response and expectation). I personally find this thing fascinating, as it’s been a long time since when I can remember that a film has hit a crossroads like this. It is possible this could have been an independent film, but with the effects budget and the star power you straight to see how the film might not have been able to be made on a small independent scale, and perhaps this could have been Pfister’s struggle in his direction. This certainly makes a unique anomaly for a film, however it is something which will make it stick out from the rest come end of the year.

In all I do like this film, I like (even how at times bonkers they seem) the ideas, I also like the idea it is a Sci-Fi film about grief, which has always appealed to me more. Just like ‘Demon Seed’ this film will be seen as a cult (if yet flawed) classic in several years to come. On a side note here is the Chairman of Alcon Entertainment commenting about the takings of the film at this link: http://www.thewrap.com/alcon-entertainment-transcendence-loss-johnny-depp-movie

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