Saturday, April 19, 2014

Transcendence Review

It's the directorial debut for Wally Pfister. Who you ask? Wally Pfister is essentially the protege of the great Christopher Nolan being that he's done the cinematography for nearly every single one of Nolan's movies. And now Pfister is taking his shot as the big man on campus with his directorial debut. How did he fare? Well, let me use an NFL coaching analogy. Many times when looking for a new head coach, a team will dive into the pool of offensive/defensive coordinators. This pool is full of coaches that are amazing at what they do. But not all of them work out as a head coach. Some people are more fit for a smaller role with a team. Such is the case with any business. Not everyone succeeds at being president or manager or owner. With this case, making a movie requires a lot of different parts. All of these require excellent talent. But just because a cinematographer is excellent at what he does and has been working for one of the best directors of day for a long time doesn't mean he'll succeed at being a director. Transcendence is a movie that had a lot of potential. It had an interesting premise and great acting, but when all is said and done, it fell really flat. I am putting all the blame for this one on Wally Pfister.

Like I said, Transcendence had a really interesting premise. Dr. Will Caster, played by Johnny Depp, is the lead researcher of an Artificial Intelligence team. His goal is to create a computer that will be smarter than man. He calls it Transcendence. After giving a presentation, he gets shot by someone from a group of anti-technology people. The bullet doesn't kill him, but it has radiation poisoning that gives Caster just a month to live. In a moment of panic, his wife experiments with this idea of transcendence right before he dies by downloading his mind onto a certain super computer. Bad idea? Maybe. But can you blame her? Anyways, this works. But does it? Suddenly Dr. Caster is back in computer-form. But is it really him? He claims his mind has been set free and with the concept of Transcendence, he starts a plan with the help of his emotionally-driven wife. A plan that is quite evil. But is it?

See, these types of movies really interest me. They ask questions. They make me think. The movie honestly had me captivated for much of it. The acting was great. Johnny Depp plays the lead and does great. And let me put in a quick plug. Many say that Depp plays the same character in every movie. I strongly oppose that. In fact, I'm half convinced that the people that say that and honestly believe it have only seen him play in the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies where he actually does, because Johnny Depp is actually really different in most of his movies. But moving, the movie had other great actors like Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman. They were great. And the cinematography and visuals in the movie was brilliant.

So if the movie had a great premise, an interesting story, good acting and great visuals, what's the matter with it? Well, let me tell you. They tried to make this deep and thought-provoking. Wally Pfister being the protege of Nolan tried to make this the next Inception. It had a great start, but I feel that he had something so epic that he didn't know what to do with it when it came to ending the movie. I'm fairly positive if this was Nolan directing the movie, this would've been epic. But Pfister is not Nolan. And because Pfister didn't know how to end this movie in a Nolan-type way, it crashed and burned pretty hard. In an epic, thought-provoking movie, I often leave the theater with my mind blown. Lot's of times I have no idea what happened initially, but the more I think about it, the better it gets. Well, the opposite happened here. Transcendence asked a lot of questions. It tried to make you think. But it never really answered the questions. Sure this can sometimes work out. But this time it didn't. I didn't leave the theater with my mind blown. I left the theater confused. And the more I thought about it, the worse it got. Nothing really made much sense. Then you go back and think about the movie as a whole and you find a lot of plot holes and conveniences. And then you try to think about the motivations and messages behind the movie and it gets more confuzzled. Was it political? Was it religious? Why did this happen? What was the point?  Were they trying to create a fun movie? Were they trying to create a deep movie? And it just gets worse the more I think about, so I'm going to try to forget. We'll see how that works out.

Perhaps I should give Wally Pfister another shot. Perhaps it is unfair to immediately say that after this he should just give up directing and focus on his excellent work as a cinematographer. But those are the thoughts I have after watching this movie. This movie could've been epic if it was done by Christopher Nolan, but as is, the direction in this movie just was not good. In the end, the interesting premise, the good acting and the great visuals weren't enough overcompensate for the confused feeling that I got when the movie was over. It's a real shame, too, because this was one of the movies this year that was really looking forward to. It saddens me that I have to give Transcendence a 6/10. I hope Pfister learns from this and does better next time he tries, because I would love more movies in the mold of Christopher Nolan movies.

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