On April 18 Transcendence opens nationwide and at first glance, this science fiction, drama/mystery is the movie that Noah could have been. While this may sound a bit “off-base” consider, if you will, the broad ranging scope of this Christopher Nolan produced epic.
While watching the film, it became apparent that this science fiction movie has more than one “connection” to other films in the genre. Before going into the many other films that Transcendence could be referencing, have a look at the plot and the main players.
Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a sort of “absent-minded” professor version of a scientist who is attempting to perfect a self aware artificial intelligence (AI). His wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is a tree hugging individual who wants to help the world heal itself.
Caster, who really does not go much past his scientific genius to causes other than his own, does try to help his wife in her own dreams of repairing the damage that humans have done to the planet’s resources.
The couple are friends with colleague’s Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Max Waters (Paul Bettany). On the day that Will speaks to the science community, and possible backers, he is shot by a member of a rabid anti-technology group who are dead set against his continuing with the AI research.
Just before Caster is wounded, his friend’s workplace is destroyed and all the workers killed by the same group. Will turns out to have been poisoned by the bullet that shot him and he is dying. As part of Caster’s work with the AI, dubbed Pinn by Will, he uploaded the conscious part of a monkey’s brain. This gives Mrs. Caster an idea.
Before Will dies, Evelyn rushes to upload his brain into a part of Pinn so that he can “survive” his death. The anti-technology group race to stop her from completing the upload but are too late. Max, who has been helping both Will and Evelyn, is kidnapped by the group and, initially, forced to help them to stop the new AI from increasing in strength and scope.
After the upload successfully completes, Transcendence becomes a race between “AI Will/Pinn”, Evelyn and the anti-tech group with their newest recruits, Max, Joseph, and Colonel Stevens. The film is not a breakneck race to the end. The movie takes its time to reach the conclusion. It also asks enough questions about morality and ethics that it could have been the film that Noah should have been.
The film was directed by Wally Pfister (a member of Christopher Nolan’s stable, having been director of photography on The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, et al) and written by Jack Paglen, his debut effort in the film world.
In terms of the actor’s pedigrees, the cast is top notch. Depp, who needs no introduction, the same can be said of the “master of gravitas” Freeman; Rebecca Hall (The Awakening, Iron Man 3, The Prestige), Paul Bettany (Iron Man 1,2 and 3, Priest, The Da Vinci Code), make up the initial members of team Will in the movie.
The “terrorist” group also has its fair share of talent. Kate Mara (American Horror Story, Iron Man 2)plays Bree, the former assistant to Caster who turns against his research; Cillian Murphy (another Nolan stable member who worked in Inception and other Nolan films) is Agent Buchanan, who joins the anti-tech group and Cole Hauser (Pitch Black, A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen) is Colonel Stevens. Again all these actors have an impressive credit list and they do a brilliant job bringing their “limited” dimensioned characters to life.
As a film helmed by a former director of photography, it obviously looks stunning. The CG is impeccable, fluid and very convincing. On top of this combination of impressive and capable cast, great photography and first class CG, the film has enough references to other science fiction movies to be a real cornucopia of nods and winks. Not to mention the plot details that can be connected with a variety of other sci-fi plots/films.
The entire AI plotline makes the film, overall, feel like a Birth of the Matrix prequel, it contains a vehicle assault that could have come right out of any Mad Max film and enough religious/biblical references that with a little additional editing it could have become a major contender with Darren Aronofsky’s Russell Crowe film.
It is also, to a large degree, a love story and a precautionary tale, like any of the old 1950s science fiction sagas about “things man is never meant to know/do.” Watching the film does feel a bit like Pfister has included references to almost every popular, futuristic sci-fi film made.
Breaking the plot down to its core, it could almost be a re-imaging of the 1952 Felix Feist sci-fi horror classic Donovan’s Brain. In this bit of 50s style hokum, an honest scientist keeps the brain alive of the rotten/ruthless, and dead, millionaire Donovan.
Of course the main differences here are the means of keeping Will alive, versus Donovan’s, as well as the fact that Caster is not a stinker or a millionaire. Leaving the world of science fiction aside, Transcendence, is also almost biblical in its look at the hubris, and folly of man. Another sci-fi reference there, Fringe anyone?
At the movies beginning Will Caster, in responding to a question from the audience he’s speaking to, intimates that “man invents God.” Later in the film, this goes one step further with a “created” God making something in its own image.
Questions of right and wrong, ethics in science, morality, and man taking technology and science too far, run through most of the film. Transcendence could be termed the “thinking-person’s” science fiction movie. A film that should raise a lot of questions that can be discussed long after the film finishes. Being the sort of film that Noah could have been, instead of what it was, an overblown story of the Bible that left God out of it’s equation Depp and Co. reach out and really ask, just who the creator really is. Transcendence opens nationwide on April 18.
By Michael Smith
Rock Regal Rock Stadium 16