Movie Review: 'Transcendence'

Apr 18, 2014, 06:00 IST | Mihir Fadnavis

The film is a gigantic waste of money and resources, helmed by a very skilled technician, who unfortunately has no clue about how to put things together

U/A: Action
Director: Wally Pfister
Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall

When I walked in to watch Transcendence, I had three major reasons to be excited about the film – it is produced by Chris Nolan, directed by Nolan’s DOP Wally Pfister, and it is a science-fiction movie about artificial intelligence gone wrong. Twenty minutes into the film, a single thought crossed my mind, and it was something I could not believe was true – this is one of the worst, if not the worst, science-fiction movie I have ever seen in my entire life.

Think of Transcendence as a science experiment where a bunch of really smart people get together and try to create something unique. But the people involved are so smart they throw their ideas around and end up talking over one another, and the guy anchoring the meet has no skill to moderate the discussion and formulate any coherent plan. So what is ultimately created is a hodgepodge of seemingly smart ideas put together in an incompatible box, sealed with a lid that doesn’t fit. This is what Transcendence is. It’s a gigantic waste of money and resources, helmed by a very skilled technician, who unfortunately has no clue about how to put things together.

Here we have super scientist couple, The Casters (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall), who are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough that could change the world. But naturally since ‘science is scary’, there’s a gang of terrorists that somehow realise that this discovery could end the world, and decide to kill Caster. Mrs Caster discovers AI in her hubby’s lab and decides to transport his brain into it, so that he can live forever. As expected, Depp becomes ‘Him’ and tries to do all kinds of unethical things with his newfound power.

Before he became a pirate, Johnny Depp appeared in this awful sci-fi horror called The Astronaut's Wife. It was a Xerox copy of Species, and a much worse movie. It feels like with Transcendence, he has revisited that movie, because it just clumsily recycles ideas from other better films. Like that movie, it is also horribly acted, directed, scripted and edited. Like that movie, it has a great actress as the female lead who is afraid of her husband turning evil, and spends the first half rubbishing others who’re warning her against him, and the second half mewling and running away from him whilst internally fighting with the love she harbours for him.

Nothing wrong with the plot, but it’s the execution that will make you tear your hair apart. Every scene is appallingly staged. Everyone overacts. Every plot point is built up to reveal something huge, with rousing ‘thriller music’, and nothing happens. Everything is cheesy. The dialogues are laughable. The film tries to debate the ethics of sentient intelligence and falls hilariously flat because the discussions are as smart as a group of twelve-year-olds in a tent scared about robots. It’s been two days since I’ve seen the film and I still don’t know what the characters of Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany and Cillian Murphy are. They’re all doctors in one scene, scientists in another, suddenly FBI personnel, and also SWAT team members. I also don’t get the point of the terrorists crusading against science, and Kate Mara pulls off a string of unintentionally funny scenes as the leader of the cult.

For a sci-fi action film, there is literally no action in the movie. And if I’m supposed to take Transcendence as a drama, there is only tons of cringe-inducing melodrama in it. The film is also extremely annoying because it presents science as something against the natural order of things. This is not how you do sci-fi in 2014. Science is fun, cool and amazing. You can’t preach about the ill-effects of science without debating it with some semblance of intellect. This is a shocking disappointment, especially for Nolan fans, with Interstellar around the corner. Let’s hope this was just an anomaly.

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