Transcendence flops, leaves all audiences unfulfilled

By Jeffrey Robinowitz, Staff Writer ||

Just because Christopher Nolan’s name is on it doesn’t mean it’s good. Following the major disappointment that was last year’s Man of Steel, producer Nolan returns to help his former cinematography Wally Pfister out with his directorial debut, Transcendence, a science fiction thriller with a message. At least, that’s what it wants to be. Although the talent in front of and behind the camera is undeniably talented, Transcendence is a film that will leave all those who see it wondering exactly what kind of film they just saw. In the pursuit of fairness, I would like to point out the film’s pros first. Pfister, the four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner, has made a film with outstanding aesthetic qualities. Both the visual effects and the visual style are top-notch, with Pfister proving that Nolan’s trademark flair is not the product of a single man. The film looks great whether the scene is of a futuristic super lab or a normal Californian home. Unfortunately, while the science that made the film is great, the science in the film is lackluster. Nothing about the technology in this film is new, nor is it any better than what we’ve already seen before. Countless films have tackled the idea of AI before and have done so with much more intriguing design. You’ve seen killer assassin robots, bullet dodging super-spies, and even a Blue Fairy voiced by Meryl Streep. Now get ready for: enhanced androids that look like normal humans, artificial rain, and really fast growing plants. The science in this film is neither fascinating enough to please science fiction fans or awesome enough to please action fans. To say that least, the film could’ve benefited from maybe a few more laser cannons or giant metal deathbots. However, the film’s biggest issue is the disconnect between where it tries to land thematic and where it actually ends up. Much like Spike Jonze’s Her, this film chooses to go beyond the mere concept of our relationship with technology (specifically AI) and attempts to address more human issues. Despite some very promising initial ideas about cultism, religion, and the existence of God, the scope of the film never matches the grandeur of its ideas. Big statements about the importance individuals can play in the lives of other people and the interconnectedness of all living things fall on deaf ears when the film fails to show the implications of such beliefs. The film never leaves its few central locations and we never get to see how all these events are affecting the real world. The film also suffers from a complete failure to explore its characters. At one point in the film, a character fighting against the AI reveals the bases of her actions are the very teachings of one of the scientists who created the AI. She is leading her people on a quest against science on the ideas of a scientist. In one single instance, the film presents potential questions about unintended consequences, hypocritical motives, and even the possibility of one God creating another God. And then what happens? These two characters never have another meaningful conversation. In fact, neither character ever comes close to discussing ideas of this magnitude ever again in the film. This is what’s most frustrating about Transcendence, it is a film about infinite possibilities and the power of unrestrained intelligence, yet it is completely lacking in depth and disregards all the good ideas it presents without ever developing them. Ultimately, Transcendence tries to be a jack-of-all-trades, but ends up as more of a 2-7 offsuit (meaning it won’t help you get a straight, flush, or a decent pair, or in this case, a good science fiction film, a good action film, or a good moral film). The film attempts to use the science fiction premise as a stage for a deep exploration of significant moral questions, but this concept has been better executed in numerous films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Her, and the Terminator franchise. As far as the quality of the action, there certainly isn’t enough of it to compare to a standard action flick, nor is the action that is there all that energetic. Transcendence is a film that might break even and survive the oncoming summer blockbuster onslaught if only because it tricks audiences into thinking it has something it wants. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Sci-Fi fans will find it unoriginal, message movie fans will find it superficial, and action movie fans will find it dull. Don’t spend your money on this one, God knows Johnny Depp already has plenty (seriously he’s getting a $20 million paycheck plus 15 percent of the gross. Talk about a scientific miscalculation).   First-year Jeffrey Robinowitz is a staff writer. His email is jrobinow@fandm.edu.

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