TRANSCENDENCE – Review by Susan Granger

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In the motion picture industry, it’s often difficult to make the career transition from cinematographer to director because, often, when cameramen direct, they make the fatal mistake of concentrating visual imagery, as opposed to storytelling. And Willy Pfister, renowned collaborator of Christopher Nolan’s who won an Oscar for filming “Inception” (2011), falls into this trap. Read on…

The story begins in the near future – after the information superhighway has been derailed. Cell phones litter the streets and a computer keyboard makes a convenient doorstop. As the narrator, neurobiologist Max Walters (Paul Bettany), recalls the “unstoppable collision between mankind and technology,” flashbacks begin. Five years earlier, research scientist Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife/collaborator Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) were developing a sentient computer called PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network). Think of omniscient HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The triumph of artificial intelligence over human individualism terrifies RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), a militant rebel group led by Bree (Kate Mara), who launch a deadly series of terror attacks around the country. A radiation-laced bullet leaves Will dying, as Evelyn and their colleague Max upload his consciousness into PINN, which is moved to a hastily-constructed $38 million data center in the Southern California desert that’s powered by thousands of solar panels. Soon Will/PINN becomes digitally omnipotent, creating creepy, obedient nano-zombies that horrify Will’s former associate (Morgan Freeman) and an FBI agent (Cillian Murphy).

The ethical conflict inherent in mind control is an intriguing concept, but first-time screenwriter Jack Paglen’s muddled, simplistic, highly derivative thriller is filled with blandly one-dimensional characters speaking confusing techno-babble. Calling Wally Pfister’s directing heavy-handed is an understatement; there’s no sense of danger, tension or emotional connection in his tediously slow pacing. And director of photography Jess Hall comes up with too many slow-motion droplets of water and ascending flares filled with energy particles. Sci-fi was far better served by Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Spike Jonze’s Her.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Transcendence is a terminally boring 2. What a waste of talent and money!

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.