The Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister is one of the best when it comes to taking the audience inside a fantasy world.
After four Oscar nominations (winning for “Inception”), all under the direction of Christopher Nolan, Pfister steps behind the camera as a director working with many of the acting collaborators he worked with on Nolan’s projects. “Transcendence,” unfortunately, is a perfect example of a bad science fiction film and the type that Nolan would never make.
Even worse, the cinematographer here, Jess Hall (“Hot Fuzz”), doesn’t have half the imagination Pfister does. When Christian Bale dropped out as Pfister’s first choice, I think Johnny Depp was cast as a way to guarantee this film will make profits since the subject matter isn’t one to have people lining up at the box office.
“An unavoidable collision between mankind and technology” is what Max Waters (Paul Bettany) calls the aftermath of the work Will (Depp) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) tried to pull off. Five years ago, when Will was fatally shot, their research and forward-thinking technology allowed them to hook Will’s brain up to an artificial intelligence program and download his thoughts, ideas and concepts before his death.
They were unable to predict the rapid control this AI would have when it reached the Internet, and what was supposed to be a cure for injury, destruction and a change to the world, became control and domination, computer versus man.
Depp fans might be disheartened to know that the majority of his screen time takes place on a monitor the other characters interact with. While Hall (“The Town”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) isn’t a household name just yet, she is in the driver’s seat. The direction of Jack Paglen’s script moves incredibly slow, as if there is more interest in the details than the lives of the characters.
Hall’s performance as Evelyn reduces her from brilliant scientist to distraught and inactive widow. “Dark Knight” alumni Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy are here for moral support and nothing more, as their characters add little to the arc of the story except for maybe the delivery of a handwritten note, which is a sad excuse for the film’s best scene.
“Transcendence” is really just a zombie movie in disguise and a very boring one. There are few moments where the screenplay challenges the audience or questions the advancement of technology within our own lives.
Rapidly on screen and even in the prologue, we are already told that the “entire world” is turned topsy-turvy in less than five years, stating the case that this film’s version of science fiction is not to be taken seriously or literally.
Depp’s usual clown-like behavior is nowhere to be found as he reads his lines and performs what is clearly just a paycheck role. There is little suspense or action involved in the film; for a film looking to complicate the future, it’s really nothing more than Hall talking to Depp on a computer screen.
Final thought: The only thing this film will transcend you to is a nap.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy
Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. More reviews are available at texasartfilm.com.