Bill O’Byrne’s Bargain Bin Blues: Transcendence

Transcendence

  • Directed by Wally Pfister.
  • Written by Jack Paglen.
  • Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman.

Value for money: 

  • $$ if it is crap like I suspect
  • $$$$ if it is a genius look at AI and morality. Which went over my head.

PHIL vs BILL This hi-tech turkey about artificial intelligence gone rogue isn’t as bad as its box office press suggested. Johnny Depp plays a controversial AI scientist who’s assassinated by extremists – but not before his wife (Rebecca Hall) and best friend (Paul Bettany) upload his mind and soul to merge man with machine, and unwittingly unleash a worldwide dystopian threat. Transcendence brims with troubling political, scientific and technological concerns but compromises its exploration of these to become just another glossy Hollywood thriller with echoes of everything from The Terminator to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The extras barely transcend their electronic press kit genesis, comprising two short making-of extras and a couple of lightweight shorts about the movie’s themes that deserved far greater investigation. -- Phil Wakefield.

PHIL vs BILL
This hi-tech turkey about artificial intelligence gone rogue isn’t as bad as its box office press suggested. Johnny Depp plays a controversial AI scientist who’s assassinated by extremists – but not before his wife (Rebecca Hall) and best friend (Paul Bettany) upload his mind and soul to merge man with machine, and unwittingly unleash a worldwide dystopian threat. Transcendence brims with troubling political, scientific and technological concerns but compromises its exploration of these to become just another glossy Hollywood thriller with echoes of everything from The Terminator to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The extras barely transcend their electronic press kit genesis, comprising two short making-of extras and a couple of lightweight shorts about the movie’s themes that deserved far greater investigation. — Phil Wakefield.

Transcendence is either a ham-fisted thriller with clunky characters and a naff story line where the bad guys win, or a cunningly disguised exhortation for humans to embrace their Artificial Intelligence Overlords with the knowledge that they are the only ones that can save the Shaved Monkeys from their own worse natures.

But first, a synopsis.

Johnny Depp is an artificial intelligence researcher who thinks people’s consciousness could be uploaded into computers. His wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is working on similar lines as is their best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) though he has doubts about the whole life after Transcendence thing.

This is Depp’s description of a posited technological singularity which may, or may not, see the end of the relevance for the human race. Well, our relevance for pigeons and rats, who seem to do rather well out of us.

Anyway, an anti technology group which has infiltrated AI research teams sets up simultaneous attacks poisoning some, garrotting another, blowing up another team, while one shoots Mr Depp with a polonium bullet so his days are numbered.

Luckily Evelyn and Max are able to upload his mind into the computer when his mortal time comes. There are a few discussions about whether this is possible, ethical or laudable, but happily for the plot line Mr Depp reappears on the computer screen and begins creating a place where he can use his new found mental resources, aka the Internet, to create nano technology that cures the sick, makes the lame to walk, and heals the planet.

For some reason everyone freaks out about this and a battle begins.

Though, and this is an important point, at no time does Mr Depp or any of his minions hurt another person (there is a hint it happens, but it’s never explicit) yet they are subjected to an artillery attacks (one of the least impressive ever, as it happens) and further attacks from the anti tech group (Think Occupy activists with guns and you get the mentality).

The government forces, using the terrorists as a useful scapegoat, trap and upload a human minion with a virus which will destroy every bit of technology on the planet. I kind of missed the whys and hows of this, but science gibberish was uttered in sufficient quantity to blip over this point.

As a result Johnny goes nigh nighs forever and the human race loses the technology that can cure all illnesses. Meanwhile, every electrical system is permanently disabled so you can’t even text a pizza order any more.

Somehow six guys in some backwater contracting firm built this ridiculously big subterranean lair. Now that’s science fiction!

Somehow six guys in some backwater contracting firm built this ridiculously big subterranean lair. Now that’s science fiction!

So were the terrorists the good guys, or were they giving in to their monkey-brain fanaticism? Was The Government pre-emptively trying to get rid of an existential threat against the human race by an all-powerful, all-knowing cyber intelligence, or did they just kill Jesus again?

My monkey brain is not the one to decide these things. What it did get a kick out is noting that the director is Wally Pfister. This was his first feature film as a director as he is usually Chris Nolan’s cinematographer (getting an Academy Award for his work on Inception and was director of photographer on The Dark Knight.)

Oh how his heart must have leapt for joy when he first heard the term fisting, knowing that ill cultured idiots everywhere would giggle like schoolboys every time they spaketh his name.

There were a few Blu-ray extras such as brief discussions about AI, though not in enough depth to make them interesting. The one called Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision is good for a laugh from the title alone and is a brief look at his shooting style and much Hollywood blah blah blah.

To be fair it is a nice looking movie and the cyber effects are fascinating and flawless which is testament to Mr Pfister’s eye. (pffft).

Bill O’Byrne is a failed practitioner in the art of making movies. He has an imaginary Masters degree in being able to sit goggle-eyed and stare at TVs for hours on end. He is previously the official astrologer for the New Zealand Army and once made a complete cock of himself in front of Douglas Adams in Palmerston North. He has assorted nonsense here: kiwispacepatrol.wordpress.com.
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One Response to “Bill O’Byrne’s Bargain Bin Blues: Transcendence”

  1. It is a mark of the quality of the grab-bag of crap movies that Mr Wakefield presented me with that yet another of them featured on The Flophouse, that wit-fest dedicated to bad cinema.
    It is worth putting on your car audio if stuck in traffic for a while.

    http://www.flophousepodcast.com/2015/03/episode-173-transcendence/

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