Transcendence ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Transcendence has all the elements of a summer movie and it isn’t even summer yet: a one-word title, a big-name movie star (Johnny Depp) and a fast-paced techno plot with plenty of action. Johnny plays Dr. Will Caster (a part that almost any actor could have played). Dr. Caster works in the field of artificial intelligence. He and his team (including his wife, Evelyn, and his best friend, Max) are working on a computer system so advanced that it far surpasses human capabilities. The potential for helping mankind, curing illnesses, healing the planet, etc., are staggering. The one problem they can’t seem to figure out, though, is how to make the AI system “self-aware.”
A radical group wants to end the study of artificial intelligence, believing it has the potential to bring about the end of the human race, and murders some of the researchers. When Dr. Caster is shot, the gunshot doesn’t kill him, but it seems the bullet that entered his body was treated in some way to cause him radiation poisoning. He has only a short time to live. Before he dies, though, he will “upload” his consciousness into the computer system, providing the missing element of self-awareness that has hitherto been lacking. His fellow researchers, Evelyn and Max, are complicit in this plan. Evelyn sees it as a way for Dr. Caster to live on after his physical body has died. Max is more skeptical.
So, Dr. Caster is dead but his intellect and consciousness live on in the sophisticated, highly advanced artificial intelligence computer system. His wife is delighted at first that she can still talk to him and interact with him, but after a couple of years she sees where the whole thing is headed: he has a god complex. He believes he is so far superior to “simple organic” life (meaning humans) that he comes to see himself (the computer system) as the future and the human race as a thing that is completely unnecessary. He is sort of a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein in that he ventures into an unknown place where man is perhaps better off not to go.
Transcendence is engaging enough (more in the first half than in the second) for what it is, but there’s nothing unique about it. It’s in the cookie cutter mold of American movie making. There are other movies with the same look and feel. Now that summer is coming on, there will be lots of them because they make a ton of money and then are quickly forgotten until they turn up on TV.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp