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Transcendence (2014)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/22/2014

All Ratings out of

Movie:
1/2
Video:

Audio:

Extras:


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/22/2014

Hollywood appears to have an odd love/hate relationship with technology. They embrace new technology when it comes to delivering entertainment -- widescreen TVs, 3D movies, HD cameras, multi-speaker surround sound. The message seems to be that advances in technology will make our experience all the better. Therefore, it seems almost hypocritical the way that Hollywood wants us to fear technology. For years, movies have told us that it's just a matter of time before machines turn on us and attempt to make us their slaves. Oh, and there's also the popular message that we have become too reliant on technology and without it, the world would collapse. Transcendence delivers these messages and more in what appears to be an attempt to create a movie that is more like a warning.

Transcendence introduces us to Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence. Along with his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca), Will has built a computer which shows signs of independent thought. Together, they hope to use this technology to make a better world. While speaking at a conference, Will is attacked by a member of an anti-technology anarchist group. The assault proves to be fatal, and knowing that he is dying, Evelyn and Will, along with help from their colleague Max (Paul Bettany), decide to encode Will's brain and upload it into a computer. Despite interference from the anarchists, they succeed in their goal. Will spreads his new cyber-presence online where he is able amass wealth and create a new life for he and Evelyn. They build a lab where their research can continue. Meanwhile, the anarchists fear that Will may become too powerful. How can you stop something which is omniscient?

Like a lot of movies before it, Transcendence has a great pedigree. Along with Depp and Bettany, the movie stars Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, and Kate Mara. Freeman and Murphy's presence can be traced to Director Wally Pfister, who has served as Christopher Nolan's Director of Photography since 2000, having shot Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. With his first job in the Director's chair, Pfister certainly brings his sharp eye to the movie, as it has a nice, sleek look. Based on this, Transcendence should have a fighting chance, and possibly justify its $100 million price tag.

The problem with Transcendence is that it falls apart in the story department. First-time writer Jack Paglen has brought us a script which thinks that it has some original ideas, but it's full of cliches and also-rans. Culling ideas from The Matrix, Demon Seed, and countless sci-fi novels, the movie presents us with artifical intelligence tropes which we've seen before. The movie that Transcendence most resembles is 1992's The Lawnmower Man. While most mistakenly remember this as yet another Stephen King adaptation, the film was actually one of the first to feature virtual reality and the notion of a human being transplanted onto the internet.

The Lawnmower Man may be a low-budget movie which completely wanders away from its source material, but at least it was entertaining. Transcendence is so hollow and mis-guided that it's a challenge to watch. If you can clear the hurdle which is the film's plot, you'll be met with a love story and relationships which are not engaging. Pfister may have some knack with visuals, but he does nothing to make us buy into these characters and care anything about them. These issues are further multiplied by the odd lapses in logic in the movie. I realize that it's what he looked like when he was alive, but I found it silly that Will's cyber avatar wore glasses. A big deal is made about the fact that the FBI are looking for Will and Evelyn, but they can't seem to find them...even though they build an entire town. Then, we they do find them, they act like it's no big deal. The true goals of the anarchists are never fully explained and I'm not sure I understood how they had military-grade weapons in the finale. Oh, did I mention that this sort of becomes a zombie movie near the end? The coup de grace is that Transcendence commits my most hated story-telling sin -- it opens with the ending and then tells the rest of the movie as a flashback.

Transcendence is one of those films which actually makes me angry. I hate to see popular actors, top-notch visual effects, and a big budget squandered on a script which could have used several more re-writes. Of course, the blame must fall squarely on Mr. Pfister as well, as it's his job to tell a coherent story and he fails on that front. The recent low-budget entry The Machine wasn't all that great, but at least it made sense. Transcendence needs to be deleted.

Transcendence certainly makes day-trading look easy on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The crispness of the image creates a very nice sense of depth and notably detail. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are well-done, as we can often detect sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects really come to life during the second half and there are nearly constant sounds coming from the rear channels. The finale offers deep subwoofer effects which do not overpower the dialogue.

The Transcendence Blu-ray Disc contains several extras, all of which are simply promotional pieces and have a very short total running time. "What is Transcendence?" (5 minutes) is a discussion of the film's plot and themes and the realism of some of the ideas in the movie. "Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision" (3 minutes) is a brief overview of the director, complete with comments from the cast. "Guarding the Threat" (2 minutes) is just another look at the plot with a lot of clips from the film. "The Promise of A.I." (3 minutes) has the cast and creative team talking about the advancement of technology. "It's Me" (1 minute) is simply a speech by Johnny Depp about artificial intelligence. "Singularity" (1 minute) is a similar piece performed by Morgan Freeman. "R.I.F.T." (1 minute) is a manifesto by the radical group. The extras are rounded out by two TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long