Transcendence (PG-13) No, cinematographer Wally Pfister’s bid to become a director with Transcendence isn’t what you’d call a raging success. It has flopped at the box office and more than flopped with the majority of the critics — and with all the pre-fab shibboleths you might expect. Pfister has overreached himself. Depp is no longer a draw and keeps playing the same character over and over. Surely, you know the drill by now. The truth is that Transcendence is by no means a bad movie. It is streets ahead of most of what we get that’s labeled science fiction. It’s intelligent. It explains — within reason — its premise. Its dialogue isn’t chuckleheaded. It isn’t afraid to tackle the big questions. Perhaps it ought to have been a little more careful in that last regard, but that’s also what makes the film more interesting than your average multiplex fodder. Transcendence tries very hard to be profound — and it actually gets near it on occasion — but it can’t quite escape the sense of being something of a bargain-rate Inception. But I give it high marks for trying. The premise is nothing too original. When computer genius Will Caster (Depp) is killed by the effects of a radiation-infused bullet fired into him by a member of a group of computer Luddite terrorists, he has his wife, Eve (Rebecca Hall), and his best friend, Max (Paul Bettany), upload his mind into a computer, effectively resurrecting him. Eve is ecstatic, Max is worried that maybe what’s in the computer isn’t really — or exactly — Will. Being the kind of film it is it’s pretty obvious that Will, or whatever variation of Will this is, will change as his mental powers grow. In fact, it can be said that most of what happens is fairly standard “there are things that man must leave alone” fare. None of this factors in several very intriguing new wrinkles — and the fact that, at bottom, Transcendence is a love story in much the same way as David Cronenberg’s The Fly. In fact, The Fly may well be its closest spiritual relation, especially as concerns questions of the real versus the synthetic. The Fly, however, is clever enough to tackle this idea head on. Transcendence offers the viewer nothing but the hint of this as an issue, yet it lies beneath everything that happens, most especially the film’s most fascinating variation on its basic premise. It is this variation — a kind of accidental Frankenstein effect that I don’t want to address here in detail — that lingers in the mind more than the film’s undeniable shortcomings.
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