<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Wally Pfister. Starring Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser
The producers of this film felt the need to make the Indian press sign an embargo so they wouldn’t release reviews before actual date of release. And that’s when you know a film is going to be really bad.
You could expect nothing or you could expect a lot from a first time director (Wally Pfister) and a first time writer (Jack Paglen) but then again you should expect nothing. And that’s what Transcendence offers you. Reviews panning the film have been out for a couple of days now but the producers and PR people of the companies distributing the film still felt the need to gag the accommodating press core here in India not to release reviews of the film till the day of release. Strange since anyone in India could easily see the international reviews online on Rotten Tomatoes (screenshot attached).
Some of the reviews have mentioned Spike Jones’s Her (Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson) as inspiration for this film. But inspite of the similarities of a sentient computer, Her was a beautifully made, wonderfully scripted film that is gold compared to Transcendence’s turd, which isn’t even polished.
The film begins interestingly but very quickly descends into the mundane. Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are brilliant computer scientists, because that’s what they tell us. They believe in Artificial Intelligence being the future. But a radical group of rebels decides they want a simpler life where super computers aren’t given the power to rule over them. So they kill off several scientists and even get to Dr Caster. His wife enlists the aid of their friend and colleague Max Waters (Paul Bettany) to save Caster’s life by transferring his thoughts and intelligence into a pin… well PINN, which is some form of AI Dr Caster created but we’re never told anything meaningful about it.
They succeed and wouldn’t you know it, the good Dr gets smart fast and in an attempt to make the world a better place he colonizes a town full of people creating cyborgs for an army while he has dinner with his increasingly sceptical but devout wife Evelyn.
Transcendence is full of mumbo-jumbo and camera shots that hover above great rivers of water and forests of trees to look like the film is arty and complex. It is not. The love angle between machine and woman goes nowhere. His attempt to have sex with his wife via a cyborg he controls is downright laughable.
One gets the feeling that the writer didn’t know where he wanted to go with this film. Did he want it to be a comment on the dangers of AI? Did he want to tell us about how humanity should probably learn from AI? It’s unclear and you have poor Cillian Murphy as the sole FBI agent left to stop this threat along with a band of rebels lead by a dialogue-barren Kate Mara as Bree.
Morgan Freeman makes any role look grand but even he can’t make his character of scientist Joseph Tagger stand out. Paul Bettany is the only bright spot in the film but sadly he isn’t allowed to upstage Depp whose face is basically projected on an LED monitor or digital glass pane like a talking head. Rebecca Hall is irritating and unbearable at points.
Transcendence is a B-movie with an A-movie cast and has suffered horrible reviews the world over. Which is why the PR people were so eager to thrust embargos in front of all the press people (no copy of this letter was given for our reference). Shame on them and shame on the production companies who think they can hoodwink audiences and make a profit on the first weekend by treachery and deception. As press people we should feel pathetic. What’s the point of a press show if we can’t put up a review or even tweet/Facebook about the movie a day before its release? Doesn’t make sense and perhaps an organised effort should transpire where we boycott such ‘embargo’ shows en masse.
Lets all transcend them shall we and give this film a miss.