Friday, April 25, 2014

23 Apr 14 - Transcendence

“...It’s a new kind of thinking...” yet are we ready for it?

That’s the premise Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, Transcendence starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr and Lukas Haas. Written by Jack Paglen, this movie is about a neurobiologist Dr. Will Caster (Depp) along with his wife, Evelyn (Hall) and fellow colleague Max Waters (Bettany) pitch a new kind of AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology that will do more than just cure cancer. He believes it could help the eco-system the planet and much more. According to Dr. Caster, experts would call that “singularity” but he calls it “transcendence” because it will merge the advanced technology of collective intelligence and human emotions into one machine. That’s when he’s asked if he’s trying to create God to which he plainly answers “...isn’t that what man is looking for?” However, there are those who oppose their research and ideals known as R.I.F.T, an extreme terror group bent on separating man from the “evil” machine and they will do whatever it takes to stop him (and others like him). They see AI as an abomination and a threat. That determination and an attempt on his life inadvertently turned Dr Caster the perfect human test subject to see if his “transcendence” theory actually works. Like all scientific ideals, “transcendence” has its positive as well as negative side (that this reviewer shall not reveal here) thus ultimately pitting R.I.F.T. and the government to fight together for humanity’s future.

SouthSide has heard that the many critics panning Transcendence ...labeling it another Johnny Depp flop. Nor did she read any of the reviews before viewing this movie. Her goal was to see it for herself to form her own opinion about it. Her conclusion? Though it’s not Johnny Depp Oscar-worthy performance, she recommends checking out Transcendence for a few reasons. It contains that “it could happen” premise since we are in that age where we are (in a way) transcended  with our attachment to technology. Simply look how we live right now compared to 10 years ago. We can now stream music to movies and television onto our smartphones, iPad, tablet, etc ...there are apps for practically anything and everything you can think of ...and there’s also the advancement in modern medicine (thus far). Yes, we could (one day) reach that age when man and machine merge together. Would there ever be a time when man and collective intelligence evolve as well as expand to the point there’s no way of stopping it? Perhaps. Also Transcendence continually poses the question – “are we self-aware?” Truly an interesting question since it pertains to the belief that only we as humans have a soul. Yet, does AI have a soul? Hm ...that remains to be seen as humanity gradually moves towards that uncharted technological region. As the movie moves further along, you can see that being transcended into the machine can never replace being a real live human to which Evelyn realizes the more she spends time within the data center with her husband. Vice versa, he learns that too to which his collective consciousness does something to rectify that problem near the end. Lastly, Transcendence (like last year’s Oblivion) is a thinking person’s sci-fi / action / adventure type of movie. It will provoke the notion that this movie is merely more than fantasy ...there’s plenty of truth woven into the intricate plot of how we are heading down that dark path. Scary huh? Are you self-aware ...certain that you are whom you say you are ...are you plugged or unplugged into the collective?

In this reviewer’s honest opinion, Transcendence isn’t a Depp flop even though it doesn’t rank up there with some of his best work but it does rank higher than his dismal role in The Lone Ranger. Depp plays this role straight. There’s nothing outlandish (like his Capt Jack Sparrow or Tonto roles), comical or anything else she has seen him do before his role as Dr Will Caster. He portrays this character like a scientist (almost like Dr. Victor Frankenstein) who wants to better humanity with his work but somewhere along the way gets way over his head drunk on power before ultimately realizing that his “doing for the greater good” for the human race has its drawbacks. Rebecca Hall as Evelyn Caster is (at first) an underused character but does have her moments to shine as the wife trying to preserve her husband’s work once Depp inhabits the computer side of his character. She’s wholeheartedly a believer of what he’s attempting to accomplish but soon realizes the dangerous side effects to his work with each breakthrough he makes within the transcendence program. Paul Bettany played his Max Waters character as the man who airs on the side of caution throughout the movie having doubts (publicly known as well as hidden from the Casters) about transcendence and its importance despite knowing the potential harm it could do. Kate Mara’s Bree is the R.I.F.T. radical with a sense of welcoming Caster’s theory if it only came with assurances as long as it doesn’t harm humanity in any way. She does however want everyone to unplug from technology. Morgan Freeman once again portrays the guy with the keen eye who really sees what transcendence for it is despite warmly liking Dr Caster’s scientific theory at first. He doesn’t get much screen time (the same way in Oblivion) but he does make his presence known and felt with his famous calm demeanor and voice. Chicago native and director Wally Pfister (who used to work with Christopher Nolan on other projects like Inception, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) studied Nolan and his directing technique and FX style very closely yet adding a little of his own personal touch for Transcendence. He does pay attention to details, large and small but leaving enough room for you to think and decipher what might happening along with a few OMG moments too. Visually, it’s quite picturesque and breathtaking on the big screen (like Inception) ...molds complicated character hierarchy (like The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) ...and leaves you with a somewhat “happy” but inconclusive ending.
Maybe that’s part of the reason why many critics panned Transcendence. Too much thinking and the ending that leaves you to ponder the final scenes over again as you exit the theater...

Until next time, support your local scene,

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