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I Feel Lucky

By Jayne Waterford
Copyrighted © Jayne Waterford, 2014 Revised 1st May 2014 Revised 2nd January 2015
REVIEW: "TRANSCENDENCE" by Jayne Waterford

Okay so, the first feat Wally Pfister has to accomplish is to is to get us in the door to see "TRANSCENDENCE" (2014). And at first glance this seems to entail the making the demise of the Internet credible. Secondly, he's kind of hoping you either didn't see Keanu Reeves as Klaatu in Scott Derrickson's "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL" (2008) OR that you've forgotten it.

Wally Pfister's "TRANSCENDENCE" (2014) is a story about a couple, Will (Johnny Depp) and Evelyn "Becca" (Rebecca Hall) and their two work friends, who have become their only close friends, Joseph (Morgan Freeman) and Max (Paul Bettany). Their work is to develop artificially intelligent computers by addressing questions about the nature of self-awareness and consciousness. Will is a famous scientist with groupies who is shot after a presentation to investors. The bullet is laced with poison that ultimately kills him by radiation poisoning. In the time they have left Evelyn and Max take the core of PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network), a computer system that could already, "think," for itself and upload Will's brain, otherwise known as a, "pattern of electronic pathways."

We've seen the same thing recently as a component

of Anthony and Joe Russo's "MARVELíS CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER" (2014) Hydra officer Dr. Arnim Zola (the great Toby Jones) facilitated by S.H.I.E.L.D. is, "still alive," in a sytem of computer banks and data tapes at a secret location only to be blown up upon his reveal. ("INSIDIOUS") However, in "TRANSCENDENCE" it isn't Will. The monster is a ruthless and amoral mechanical amalgam of Will's data and a pre-existing artificially intelligent computer system, made for a culture obsessed with notions of god and power.

I can honestly say it's Johnny Depp's hottest role for sometime. He's got a great head of hair and he looks great. There are no characterising embellishments, no Heath Ledger-joker-like wall of face paint or a neurotic collection of his history stuck on his costume. It's just a suit.

We know we are securely tucked into the Sci-Fi genre when it is revealed that there is a resistance who have defined Will and PINN's use of nanotechnology as, "abomination." (See Frank Herbert's Dune published in 1965.) It is such a resonant word. And this is where the film becomes politically interesting.

There's a government agency that perceives the machine's work in terms of army and a competing military power and there are lots of characters who

embrace the notion of taking Will and his modified world down.

After the manner of, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," (already a cliche in 1945) people helped, healed and then physically improved and networked like a Borg hive circa. Jonathan Frakes' "STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT" (1996) and are given the derogative name hybrids. We get the feeling our director has sided with the government. All bionic people in this scenario are stripped of their humanity by the official power. Where would Steve Austin had been in this scenario? Where are people with pacemakers?

Interesting asides include: depictions of evil which are people in cafes on laptops. Nice to know where he stands on the issue of Wikileaks. Use of the phrase, "saving people," who are ill becomes layered. "We can save you," says Becca to Will as he lies dying. She means we can upload you the way Jesus saves and devil doesn't in that programming competition. Max (Bettany) picks up the concept when he breaks down to Will and keens, "I'd like to think I was smart enough to save you." You are grasshopper. But you aren't.

The only way to stop the machine is turn off the Internet, hence the patchy, overgrown and quiet world

we are first introduced to, a world where keyboards are used as door stops. As if it's not still there somewhere ready to go when someone flicks the switch back on. I imagine it's something like trying to get rid of scabies. It is also where our magical metaphor breaks down. The nano technology is corporeal where Will/PINN objects are virtual as is data on the Internet. There's is the extravagant cross over where the the virtual reality builds a corporeal Will and exacts corporeal healing on sentient beings through the proliferation of multiplying, material-replicating, nano particles. However, infecting one with a virus that is injected into Will's love object is not going to infect the other. Indeed Evelyn does not have to have her electronic brain patterns uploaded in order to touch a nano particle.

I won't be seeing it again. The all powerful magician is best kept alive in places like Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor's "THE WIZARD OF OZ" (1939).

Quirky features include: Will (Depp) saying "South Park," as he comes out of the haze of awakening in the machine. Polovio (a dubious tribute to Producer: Marisa Polvino) as the name of the radiation poisoning that kills Will with 4-5 weeks and Will calls Evelyn, "Becca."

Wally Pfister's "TRANSCENDENCE" (2014) is a set of interesting ideas that everyone can follow or not. They are ideas that harken back to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1818) and every bad robot story, featuring a creature that turns on its creator, ever denigrated by Asimov (Introduction, The Rest of the Robots, 1964). Cheap Wally Pfister. Cheap! 2/10.

I can't very well give it one after spending that much time writing about it. Copyrighted ©: Jayne Waterford, 2014.

Wally Pfister's

Director Wally Pfister
Producers Marisa Polvino, Kate Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Annie Marter, Aaron Ryder, David Valdes
Stars Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy and Paul Bettany
Release Date 24th April 2014
Category Sci-Fi Action
Running Time 119 minutes (2 hours)
Rating M
Origin USA
Coda No
Distributor Roadshow Films
Official Blurb "" - Roadshow Films PR