After success with the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, this filmmaker decided to take a bold venture into the area of smart sci-fi and deliver a movie that would seek to ask big questions without offering easy answers in spite of a Hollywood mentality to play it safe. Obviously, I’m not talking about Christopher Nolan and Interstellar. That film, despite its flaws, is more or less regarded a success. I’m talking about Transcendence, directed by Nolan’s regular cinematographer Wally Pfister.
Transcendence wants to be a high-minded techno-thriller that tests expectations and assumptions about technological progress and the creation of artificial intelligence. Really though, it harkens back to the 90s ideals that the internet is magic and hackers are wizards. The only difference between Transcendence and Harry Potter is that there’s a logic to the Boy Wizard.
The thing is, there’s an interesting and thought-provoking movie that can be made about “the singularity,” the theoretical point at which artificial intelligence can supplant humans as the driving force in technological development. When that happens, do humans accept being organic drones in a computer driven utopia, or do we unplug and stop relying on technology? It’s a compelling question that’s thoroughly treated in an amateur action movie way with explosions, gun play, terrorists with good intentions, extremely vague motivations and a lot of technobabble. A great cast including Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman is wasted in every sense of the word, with Depp in particular, away from his bizarre costumes and make-up appliances, appearing as if he’s sleepwalking through the affair.
There’s a severe drought in quality, well-produced, complex science fiction in movie theaters. Unfortunately, Transcendence didn’t, ahem, transcend the typical trappings of Hollywood’s schlock-buster leanings.