Film review : Transcendence (12A) : Becoming the ghost in the machine [Scotland on Sunday]
(Scotland on Sunday Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Transcendence (12A) Director: Wally Pfister Running time: 119 minutes **IF YOU have recently replaced a keyboard because of a small accident involving a cheeky glass of chardonnay, or had to reset all your passwords because of the Heartbleed bug, chances are you won't enjoy Transcendence, where an artificial intelligence not only proves to be even more wily and ruthless than HAL 9000, but also boots up with a sprightliness that makes those of us on Windows 7 weep with envy.If only Wally Pfister's film was as nimble as its futuristic software, rather than as frustrating as trying to watch Netflix on a dial-up internet connection. This is even more disappointing since the first half hour of Transcendence is pretty promising, full of intriguing foreshadowing imagery plus Johnny Depp as computer genius Will Caster, whose smarts are underlined by a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and regular gobs of Dr Who-style science speak. His current obsession is building a powerful autonomous artificial intelligence. What could possibly go wrong with that?The answer arrives when a gang of Luddite activists invade Caster's lab and shoot him with a polonium-laced bullet. He survives the bullet, but the radiation poisoning is a death sentence. Handily, however, it gives his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their computer-whizz best friend Max (Paul Bettany) sufficient time to upload his mind into a digital cloud and then reboot his consciousness in the form of algorithms and pixels.Evelyn is so desperate for a reunion that she barely blinks when her cyber-husband asks to be uploaded onto the internet, where he spreads like a Trojan virus, crashes the world wide web, and plunges the world into an electricity-deprived dystopia where people have to bike to get around, mobile phones are landfill and laptops are used as doorstops. Nor does she seem to wonder, as I did, why Will 2.0 is capable of curing all disease yet cannot generate a realistic screen image of himself.Pfister previously worked as Christopher Nolan's director of photography - Transcendence is his directorial debut - and Nolan's influence dominates the film like a recently uploaded digitised dead husband. Transcendence has Nolan repertory actors including Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Hall. It centres on someone reinventing reality, and the production design is painstakingly grandiose. Even calling a movie Transcendence carries the same enigmatic intellectual come hither as, say, naming a movie Inception.Like every Nolan film, there is also a big existential question, namely: does this Will retain the human version's essence, or is he now a manipulative batch of code that can replicate his memories and responses, whilst appearing to be a studly, rather bored-looking guy on Skype?Fundamentally, the film's operating system is The Monkey's Paw, the Victorian chiller about a man brought back from the dead by grieving relatives, who later discover they have resurrected a simulacrum without a soul. The difference is that The Monkey's Paw is a genuinely creepy story, while Transcendence finally plays out like Tron or The Lawnmower Man: a CGI fest, with its excitement modules pulled.Twitter @SiobhanSynnotOn general release from Friday
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