Dr. Will Caster is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed-to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn and best friend Max Waters , both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown.
Genre : SF/Drama/Thriller
Country : US
Johnny Depp : Will Carter
Rebecca Hall : Evelyn Caster
Paul Bettany : Max Waters
“We’re not going to fight them, we’re going to transcend them.”
Impatiently and with high expectations I’ve been waiting for this movie. Ultimately this is just a familiar story, with an expensive casing, that has been told already several times. It’s again a plea with an admonishing finger, against the ever-growing information technology, especially in the field of artificial intelligence. There’s a denouncement about the danger of a self unfolding artificial consciousness, that grows into a dictatorial monstrosity that has an infinite hunger for power.
The one who’s responsible for directing this SF is Wally Pfister. A totally unknown person for many. Actually, you could call him the personal cameraman of Christopher Nolan. With the latter he has made “Memento“, “Insomnia“, “Batman Begins“, “The Prestige“, “The Dark Knight“, “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises“. The list of awards he has won is really impressive. He won an Oscar for “Best Achievement in Cinematography” for “Inception” and was nominated in the same category for “Batman Begins“, “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight“. So, he’s not just anybody and was chosen to create this SF with an extraordinary budget of $ 100 million.
Dr. Carter (Johnny Depp) is an authority in the field of artificial intelligence and his research is groundbreaking and well known. He focuses on the realization of an artificial and intelligent entity that also has human emotions. His work also ensures that a group called R.I.F.T, sees him as a threat and a possible cause of the downfall of society in the future. They succeed in their mission to assassinate him, but they are also the impetus that Dr. Carter applies his life’s work on himself. He lets his intellect and consciousness transcend to a supercomputer with the help of his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and a good friend Max (Paul Bettany). The experiment succeeds and the digital version of Dr. Carter begins to grow into an unstoppable power hungry virtual identity.
It’s not exactly an original and innovative subject. Everybody will have read that by now. In the past there were several films made about a malfunctioning computer. In “Demon Seed” the automation system is terrorizing a housewife because it wants to conceive a child and in “Westworld” it’s about some robots going berserk ending in total chaos. In “Terminator” it’s Skynet that develops an awareness and that turns against the human race. And recently there was “Her“. An OS that had human feelings. The line of films can be completed with some similar movies such as “AI“, “I, Robot“, “War Games“, “Robocop” and a film that really matches to “Transcendence” is “The Machine“. Personally, I found the latter in terms of design much better. The only difference with “Transcendence” is the budget. “The Machine” is a cleverly put together low-budget SF, which deals with the limited budget in a creative way and still manages to use the SE’s in a convincing way.
So, the greatest asset of “Transcendence” are the special effects and the look of the film. It’s a delight for the eye to view the computer equipments such as the supercomputer, the flat screens that appear everywhere,the clinical and futuristic industrial factory build in-the-middle-of-nowhere, the futuristic inventions that are used to help people in the first place and which are ingenious attributes on a medical level. But ultimately they were just used to manipulate humans so that they could be used for the ultimate goal. The self-regenerating tissues by nano-technology looks visually slick. But despite the stunning images it’s just an artificially non-intelligent story.
A large portion of the budget was probably also spent on the cast with Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman in a leading role. Depp is known for his eccentric roles, and after a long time once again he performs as a perfectly normal character instead of a fuzzy pirate or a crazy Indian with a dead bird on his head. But don’t expect a masterful rendition. His contribution in the beginning was that of a dull, seemingly absent intellectual who got no further than muttering about his high-tech hobby. The rest of the film, he appears as a 3D computer image.
In the end it was a meaningless, beautifully styled film. The only response I had after the movie was “That’s it !!??“. The message is obvious : the advancement of information technology has become irreversible and important, and we must ensure that this technology is not going to define our lives. But it’s not convincing. Eventually, after this film we calmly surf to a website to decide which restaurant to go to for dinner. Next we calculate the shortest route with ViaMichelin and pay the reservation using PC banking. And finally we let everyone know on Facebook where we are going to eat, so we can receive virtual “Bon appetit”-wishes electronically. We’re clearly not ready for the message and we’re definitely not hearing it. What’s clear is that this film is already competing for the title “Disappointment of the year”.
I found Transcendence far more interesting than you did. I think it subtely asked the question about whether AIs would be good or bad for humanity in the future, without taking sides. I don't think we are ever sure of the motivations of the scientist/AI, and how much of his humanity was transferred to the computer. And I think you might have misread the ending, it was the military that uploaded a virus to destroy the AI which also wiped out all the rest of the technology. The AI did not send man back in the pre-tech times, the military virus did. The main point of interest for me was it is the first movie that has tackled the soon to be upon us technological singularity, where AIs programming nanotechnology and genetic enginneering will drastically change everything.
I didn't misunderstand the fact that the uploaded virus was the cause of the total collaps of technology and the reason for the total blackout so a keyboard's only use is now to clamp a door.
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