Blu-ray Review: Transcendence

Wally Pfister has more than proved that he’s an amazing cinematographer. Like all people in Hollywood, it seems what he really wanted to do was direct, and with Transcendence he was given that chance. However, just because he can make a film beautiful, does not mean he can make a good film.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientific genius working on the development of Artificial Intelligence. When an anti-A.I. terrorist group attacks several scientific think tanks, Caster is shot with a radiation laced bullet and his slowly dying. Will’s wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and their friend, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), take AI to the next level and upload Will’s consciousness to a computer. Before the terrorist group can take them down Evelyn uploads Will’s consciousness to the internet putting him everywhere all at once.

Evelyn and Will escape and begin to set up a home base in a small dilapidated town. Meanwhile the terrorist cell, lead by Bree (Kate Mara) teams up with Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) and another scientist, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) to work to bring them down. Evelyn thinks Will is the future, everyone else thinks he is dangerous and needs to be stopped. Who is right?

Transcendence provokes an interesting idea. From the way it begins, to the way it develops and to the way it ultimately plays out. However, there is something about the way it is all presented, a certain coldness, that prevents you from really getting attached or interested in any of these characters.

Yes, Wally Pfister is an amazing cinematographer and he certainly brings his A-game for the visual style of the film. It’s a beautiful movie to watch. Sadly, however, as beautiful it is visually, and as interesting as the ideas presented are, the film is actually very boring. There is nothing wrong with the acting; the acting is fine across the board: nothing exciting, but nothing terrible either.

I’m not sure if it’s the screenplay, written by Jack Paglen, or if Pfister was just more focused on the visuals and lost the heart of the film along the way. Pfister has obviously learned a lot from working so many times over the years with Christopher Nolan, but apparently he still has a lot to learn. That said, he has made a very beautiful film and I would certainly be excited to see what he does next.

There are a lot of elements in Transcendence that feel like they may have borrowed from other sci-fi films. The way computer Will talks one can’t help but think of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, this early evolution of AI can’t help but make one think of Skynet from The Terminator, and with Pfister’s history with Nolan as well of the appearance of Nolan regular’s Freeman and Murphy you can’t help but be reminded of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That’s quite a bit of borrowing on part of Wally Pfister and screenwriter Jack Paglen.

The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround sound. This is a fantastic looking and sounding film and looks amazing in Blu-ray. I’m sure the DVD looks great too, it’s that good looking a film.

You get a whole bunch of behind the scenes puff pieces. They are: What is Transcendence?: (5min.). Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision: (3 min.). Guarding the Threat: (2 min.). The Promise of A.I. (2 min.). It’s Me: (1 min.). Singularity: (1 min.). R.I.F.T. (1 min.). And trailers.

When I first heard about Transcendence I got really excited. However as the early reviews came out I began to get worried. I kept my hopes high as I sat down to watch this, but it just wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be. I hope Hollywood gives Wally Pfister another chance, because I believe he’s got a great film in him. He just needs the right script that fits his cinematic style yet allows him to put the heart into it, that Transcendence is lacking.

Warner Bros. presents Transcendence. Written by: Jack Paglen. Directed by: Wally Pfister. Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, and Morgan Freeman. Running time: 119 min. Rating: PG-13. Released: July 22, 2014.

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