Posted: April 25, 2014 in Movie Reviews

Dr. Will Caster explains the vast potential of Transcendence.

Dr. Will Caster explains the vast potential of Transcendence.

Artificial intelligence and the separation between man and computer has been a fairly prominent topic in the past couple decades of film. With past films like The Matrix and TRON proposing the possibility of life inside a machine (albeit in a fictional way), and with modern technology evolving to the point where AI no longer seems like a far-distant science-fictional plot element, Transcendence is the newest take on an ever-evolving film premise.


 Summary: (No spoilers)

With nanotechnology not too far in the future, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp—–Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Neverland) has spent the majority of his life working on transcendence: the ability to put the collective consciousness and knowledge of every human being to ever live into a single machine. The result, he claims, will be the most expansive artificial intelligence the world has ever seen, a sentient machine that will exceed the very limits and capacity of the human brain.

But when an anti-technology organization that fears this radical science shoots Dr. Caster, leaving him in dire condition, Will’s wife and fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall—–The Prestige, Iron Man 3) and his friend Max (Paul Bettany—–Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, A Beautiful Mind) agree that the only way to save him is to upload his consciousness into a computer, doing to him what he has campaigned for his entire life.

Now inside a machine and connected to the World Wide Web, Will Caster is able to verbally and physically communicate with those around him, influence the Wall Street stock exchange, and even aid the FBI through their global cyber technology. His vast potential even gives him the ability to regenerate the cells in human bodies, leaving them stronger than ever before. But as the machine expands its capabilities to build a better world, ability and capacity lead to devastating ramifications.


 These types of films are usually interesting to watch, because they explore a place that isn’t really a place and that’s still very new to us: cyber technology. Transcendence is a film that flirts with the notion of putting a brain into a computer as the body passes away—–creating, in essence, immortality. It’s a fascinating concept.

In his directorial debut is Wally Pfister, who has served as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer for every one of his films since Memento. Being Nolan’s protégé, so to speak, there certainly are Nolan-like fingerprints all over the film. And from a cinematic standpoint, Transcendence is mesmerizing. It takes the time to zoom in on the infinitesimal droplets of water on the pedal of a flower; even, at one point, taking us on a journey right into cyberspace. However, the film ultimately falls a bit short on the narrative end.

Morgan Freeman joins the film as well.

Morgan Freeman joins the film as well.

The film does a great deal of explaining on the neurological aspect of transcendence and how it works. It suggests that the machine, when connected to the human body, can regenerate the body’s cells and tissue. And, in the eyes of a completely science-illiterate reviewer, it all seems to generally make sense. But then the film delves into the biological aspect of it, suggesting that the machine’s “nano-chips” can physically travel through the ground, in the soil, and decompose or rebuild any organic or solid matter within a matter of seconds; that those microscopic chips can then be absorbed into the earth’s atmosphere, infiltrating the clouds, thriving and multiplying inside drops of rain, and can therefore spread out over the entire world. In essence, cyberspace is no longer the limitation for a computer, and it has the capability to spread out and thrive in a completely organic ecosystem.

The film also suggests that humans, through the miraculous powers of this technology, can lift 800 lbs. without any problems. Science-illiterate or not, anybody knows that those two scenarios are biologically impossible.

In a nutshell:

Transcendence offers somewhat of a fresh and unique look at a sub-genre that has been overly used within the past decade. While it’s smart and truly spectacular cinematically, and it’s refreshing to see Depp back to doing more serious roles, I have always asserted that story is key when it comes to film. Unfortunately, in the end the story just has too many head-scratching moments that leaves you wanting a film with a more plausible plot.


6.5 stars

  1. nativepride says:

    I have not yet seen this yet. I was really pumped to see Wally Pfister’s directorial debut but then I saw the RT score of 19% and was shocked. Great review though.

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