Film Review: Transcendence

The Director of Photography for Christopher Nolan, the reason all his films look superb, takes the big step into the director’s chair for the first time with this sci-fi drama. Hotly anticipated ever since it was announced, the question remains, is his only talent in pretty visuals? Or can he use those to build a complete film?

25 seconds into the future Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) lives on the bleeding edge of computer research, the goal; to create a real and functioning A.I. When a technophobic domestic terrorism group try to take out everyone in the field, Depp survives… barely. Given only weeks to live, the decision is taken to map his brain and effectively upload him to a computer. Although successful, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) manage to upload something, there’s that niggling doubt of whether it really is him.

It’s a sci-fi film, but a fortnight into next year sci-fi, not space planes and laser cannons sci-fi. The effects as you’d expect are outstanding, and most importantly used fairly sparingly. In fact the most obvious use is digital camerawork at a couple of points and not the nanomachines repairing objects in front of your eyes. If you’re wanting Transformers, this isn’t the film for you, the CGI is used in service to the plot rather than the other way around.

On the acting front, you’d be hard pressed to find a film with such acting potential and delivery from its cast. Depp is back on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? form, which we haven’t seen in years. Hall has always been highly underrated in my opinion and it’s about time she’s given the spotlight opposite people that can actually match her. Bettany’s ability is well-known and I won’t waste your time singing his praises. In the supporting cast you’ve got Morgan Freeman, Rooney Mara and Cillian Murphy, which means this film has a better supporting cast than most films have lead role stars.

Some people will say that this is boring, I would opine that such people have the attention span of roadkill. It is a slow burn, but the pay-off is there in the end. It’s a human drama, and your life doesn’t have gunfire, car chases and explosions every five minutes, does it? While some may not enjoy it, for those hat think a plot isn’t an optional extra on a film should see this for what it is, a very solid first film from Pfister. It would have been easy for him to make a formulaic film, but maintaining his visual flair and tackling something most directors would shy away from is something to be commended.

Should you see it? The majority of the population shouldn’t, they won’t get it. However the same can be said of a lot of the Nolan movies Pfister worked on, and that doesn’t make them any less great. If you like to think about a film rather than just sit there while it’s played in front of you, I think you’ll get on with this.

– Taylor Iscariot

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