Not OK Computer – ★★
I really, really, really wanted to like Wally Pfister’s Transcendence. Any Hollywood film that gets a big budget and isn’t a sequel, spin-off or reboot deserves a bit of attention. The fact it’s a director’s first feature (Pfister was Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer of choice for Inception and the Batman trilogy) is also interesting, and throw in the fact it was pitched as a thought-provoking, modern sci-fi film about an artificial intelligence system that gets a bit too big for its boots made it a must-see… So why oh why did it end up being so instantly forgettable?
Rebecca Hall and Johnny Depp play a power couple of artificial intelligence researchers, with Hall as Evelyn and Depp playing Dr. Will Caster, a man who we learn is super famous because he has been on the cover of magazines and signs autographs and stuff. Some anti-technology (luddite) activists led by Kata Mara’s Bree shoot Caster with a radioactive bullet, giving him only a few weeks to live.
Rather than let him fade away, Evelyn and her buddy Max (Paul Bettany) opt to capture the state/essence of the man so he can be recreated by a computer after he dies. This involves lots of scans, logs and recordings – thankfully the script doesn’t really go into any detail on how this would actually work. It’s a novel idea but when the A.I. version of Will is plugged in to the internet he starts to crave more and more power and eventually ends up building a research and development operation with questionable motives somewhere in the desert.
There were red flags raised when Transcendence crept out with public preview showings without first screening for critics or generating any reviews. Usually with these films there’ll be a bit of buzz in the days coming up to its release but here it’s almost like Warner Brothers knew they had a dud so thought they’d try and at least get a weekend of box office takings before too many negative reviews or tweets got out. Anyway it didn’t work as the film took only $10.9million in its first weekend.
On paper Transcendence has one of the year’s better supporting cast but Paul Bettany and Kate Mara are wasted, Morgan Freeman doesn’t get to do anything other than his auto-pilot-where-do-I-get-paid thing and believe it or not I’d completely forgotten that Cillian Murphy was even in the film until I double-checked a cast list. Rebecca Hall is a great actress when used properly (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Please Give), but here she almost blends into the background, against a sea of average CGI. On a side note, Johnny Depp should be commended for completing the first twenty minutes of the film without any insane make-up or costumes, what a novelty.
It’s the visuals of the film which are probably the most disappointing. Pfister has been painted as some sort of visionary film talent but by handing over the cinematography reigns to Jess Hall, he seems to have let go of the one thing that could have made the film worthwhile. The visual effects are pretty poor at times and the big final act showdown doesn’t seem worthy of a $100m movie.
If you’re looking for a great (much simpler) story of how things can go wrong with technology just go and watch Her. And try to console yourself with the fact it’s five years since Depp’s last decent roles – Public Enemies and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Sigh.
Weekend previews in selected cinemas from April 18th, released across Ireland from April 25th 2014