Late last year Joaquin Phoenix starred in “Her”, as a man who falls in love with his computer’s highly advanced operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It was quirky, odd and interesting. I wish I could say the same about “Transcendence”, a new sci-fi film starring Johnny Depp.
Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a perceptive machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His experiments may have made him famous, but they have also made him the target of anti-technology extremists.
When Caster’s enemies succeed in their attempt to destroy him, the doctor decides to be a participant in his own transcendence, downloading his consciousness into the supercomputer. Naturally, Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into an omnipresent quest for power, leaving his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, “Iron Man 3”) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany, also “Iron Man 3”), both fellow researchers, to question whether Will is calling the shots, or if the computer itself is making the decisions. Morgan Freeman also stars, though he looks a bit embarrassed to be there. Depp has the best deal of all, as he gets to spend most of the film as a talking head in a computer monitor. Talk about your sweet gigs.
The film marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer for the “Dark Knight” movies and “Inception”, and from a cinematography standpoint, the film is a winner. Unfortunately, the direction – and the script (a first time effort from Jack Paglen) – are a muddled mess.
“Transcendence” wants to be an intelligent film, and it looks like it should be. Like many of my fellow audience members, I kept waiting for an “aha” moment, when all would become… interesting. Sadly, that moment never came.
The Bottom Line: “Transcendence” is a techno-flop. If you really must see a movie about artificial intelligence, you can catch “Her” out on DVD next month. Or better yet, rent “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
Rated PG-13 1 hr. 59 min.