A &E

Transcending the Limits of Technology

@wbpictures twitter for transcendence - Jonah

The question of whether giving machines sentience and intelligence is safe and moral is a common one among scientific circles, and “Transcendence,” directed by Wally Pfister, tries to provide an answer.

This intense sci-fi thriller starts with Will (Johnny Depp) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) Caster, a couple of incredibly intelligent scientists who are working on developing self-aware artificial intelligence in computers. At the beginning of the film, they are presenting some of their new research at a conference when Will is shot by a member of a terrorist organization known as RIFT. RIFT believe that building AIs is an act of playing God, and that the Casters specifically are their targets.

It is later revealed that almost everyone that worked for them was killed in a mass terrorist attack, with their old friend Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) one of the only survivors. They begin to try and rebuild, when it is discovered that the bullet Will was shot with was laced with a radioactive isotope, and that he is quickly dying. In a last-ditch effort to save him, Evelyn and their good friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) attempt to move his mind into a computer, so that he can live on as an AI. It works, but there are unexpected complications, and soon they must decide if the survival of Will is worth the danger he poses to the entire world.

The special effects in the film are quite exceptional. Johnny Depp’s face is transposed onto various computer monitors at multiple moments; it looks incredibly believable, with graphical ticks and other common errors when projecting an image. There is also a scene later in the film involving nano-bots that is truly visually stunning, and they move like gusts of wind through the sky. There are also a few impressive uses of slow-motion, especially in one case where the audience is shown the movement of drops of water through the air, a truly gorgeous sight to see.

One of the highlights of the film is its soundtrack. For such an intense and fast-paced film, it has an incredibly subdued soundtrack, and while that sounds like it would be a horrible contrast, it actually accents the film’s events quite excellently. The brooding, quiet music makes the films twists and dramatic sequences seem even more intense, providing a somber background to the events of the movie.

The main fault of the film is that some of the twists are difficult to believe, and the ending is a slap in the face to the audience. Also, some of the “science,” while this is obviously a work of fiction, seems a little ridiculous, and might detract from one’s enjoyment of the film. This honestly doesn’t take that much away from the film, however, and is more just an annoyance.

“Transcendence” is an incredibly good movie, and well worth watching if you are a fan of the science fiction genre. It asks some very interesting questions about the nature of consciousness, and how far is safe to go with the development of artificial intelligence. While it has a couple minor flaws, the film is truly exceptional. I would give it a 4 out of 5.

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