Super intelligence: Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall in the film Transcendence.3 Stars
Starring:Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman
Director: Wally Pfister
TRANSCENDENCE is evidence that there is intelligent life on the planet.
It just doesn’t know how to do a perfect third act yet.
The film is great fun at the level of ideas, which is not something I often write.
It’s less successful as narrative, but the faults are human: it tries to deal with complex subjects in an entertaining way, and that leads to the usual overstatement.
To put it another way, it’s fascinating and fun until Movie Intelligence (sic) overrules Artificial Intelligence.
Jack Paglen’s script follows directly from the best-selling books by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has been wondering since 1990 about what happens when the machines we build become more intelligent than the builders.
Kurzweil’s argument is not the usual paranoia about AI.
He sees the coming Singularity, as it’s known in the trade, as a good thing.
He expects it to happen by the year 2045.
The world will overflow with intelligence and spread across the universe, like a benevolent virus.
Biology and computer mechanics will merge, and the resulting superhuman will be capable of curing its own cancers, regenerating a lost limb or changing its appearance at will.
On the other hand, Kurzweil predicted that telephones would be capable of simultaneous translation by 2010, so what does he know?
On the other other hand, I am writing this review using speech recognition technology, while researching his theories on the internet – something I couldn’t do nearly so easily 10 years ago.
The movie takes its subject seriously.
It opens in a world without power or computers: the electronic and cyber universes have been shut down.
On the streets of Berkeley in California, once the centre of the new science, life again resembles the 19th century.
Paul Bettany, as AI scientist Max Waters, remembers his friends, the brilliant scientists Evelyn and Will Caster (Rebecca Hall and Johnny Depp), who were on the verge of major breakthroughs in AI five years earlier.
We then fall down a rabbit hole, into a fascinating story of what happens when exuberant science encounters human nature.
The idea of uploading someone’s brain into a computer has been around a long time in science fiction, but we’ve never had a credible movie computer.
They’re always crazy with megalomania, like the HAL 9000, who wouldn’t open the pod-bay doors in 2001.
The clever thing here is that Depp becomes the computer after a version of the Singularity.
That is to say, he becomes a sort of god, who can make things happen because of the interconnect edness of the internet.
Kate Mara stars as the hard-eyed leader of a group of new-age Luddites intent on destroying his powers.
Morgan Freeman and Bettany, as scientific colleagues, have to figure out whether she might be right.
And as Dr Will decides to hack Wall Street 15 minutes after coming online, his wife (Hall) wonders the same thing.
In his first film as a director after 25 years of stellar work as a cinematographer, Wally Pfister concentrates on keeping it real.
That’s impossible, given the story, but the sober performances and slow-building narrative are an effective barrier against the silliness just over the horizon.
With actors this good, we’ll go almost anywhere, even unto that silliness.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.