Cinematographer Wally Pfister makes his long-awaited directorial debut with the Sci-fi thriller ‘Transcendence’. Pfister is well-known for his work with Christopher Nolan, who serves as executive producer, from ‘Memento’ to the ‘Batman Trilogy’. His 2010 Academy Award for Best Cinematography in ‘Inception’ shows that he possesses a magnificent vision and style – and is one of the few people in the industry that continues to shoot in 35mm film instead of digital stock.
The film begins with a glimpse of the future in what seems to be a complete universal blackout. Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is at the forefront of artificial intelligence research with the hopes of creating a machine with collective intelligence to help solve the problems of the world - or so it seems. However, a fanatical group’s action interfere with the process of Caster’s research. Imminent death, and the loss of research knowledge, make his wife Evelyn and his best friend Max to take on precarious steps to save his life and raise the question - does technology help or harm us?
Pfister brings his hypnotic visual quality to ‘Transcendence’ creating a world where technology and humanity clash – which is at the heart of the story. Screenwriter Jack Paglen uses a lot of technical terms and words in the plot that sci-fi fans and the uninitiated can easily follow along – from the basic difference between a PC and the ideas of A.I. – the latter whether or not it is a sentient being. He introduces the ideas of men versus the machine early on with Dr. Caster to setup an argument that quickly fizzles out. The battling question then becomes if scientists are trying to create a God – or a mere monster – then what is the end result for humanity’s complex nature? And instead of exploring an answer, Paglen gives into a love-story that complicates the main theme – which quickly loses interest and so does everything else in the film.
‘Transcendence’ is a sleek and visually driven film showing Pfister’s magical touch, which the IMAX experience clearly enhances, but the meek story points and feeble characters create an unremarkable sci-fi trip.