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The UnPopular Opinion: Transcendence

01.29.2015

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

One of the biggest flops of 2014 was cinematographer Wally Pfister's directorial debut TRANSCENDENCE. The science fiction drama seemed to have everything going for it from a stellar cast that included Christopher Nolan veterans like Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy to the box office gold that is Johnny Depp. Couple that with a chilling trailer and you had the makings of a certified hit at theaters. Instead, critics bashed TRANSCENDENCE for having a non-sensical plot, thin twists, and a non-performance from Depp. What the hell happened?

My answer is that most critics simply just overreacted. For all of the critical acclaim heaped on Christopher Nolan's INTERSTELLAR, there was an equal and opposite amount of bashing put on TRANSCENDENCE. Both films share several thematic ties regarding the survival of humanity, the power of science, and the importance of emotional endurance. Both films showcase breathtaking visuals and state of the art special effects and yet critics and audiences were totally divided on the two movies.

Come on, Steve!  We're spitting on ants!

TRANSCENDENCE is fully of lofty ideas and a very high concept plot.  Comparisons have been made betweeen Pfister's film and the schlocky THE LAWNMOWER MAN, but this is not a movie about virtual reality but rather artificial intelligence.  But even that draws comparisons to MAX HEADROOM which this is not.  TRANSCENDENCE, as the title implies, is about crossing the line between humanity and technology.  TRANSCENDENCE really feels like an existential take on THE TERMINATOR but without the violence and warfare.  This is a movie that transcends the typical scifi yarn and tells an adult story with adult characters that do not resort to gunfire and physical combat.

Say what you will about the plot holes in TRANSCENDENCE or the lack of intelligent decision-making by these supposedly brilliant characters.  I found the story to be quite interesting and kept my attention for the duration of the film.  Unlike INTERSTELLAR, this film did not aim for any adherence to science fact.  This is a fantasy rooted in science but is by no means meant to be analyzed by Neil Degrasse Tyson for the possibility of becoming reality.  I heard all of the criticisms before seeing TRANSCENDENCE and in the end I found that the movie was an enjoyable ride.  I watched it a second time to make sure I wasn't insane and still found that all of the vitriol heaped on the movie comes from the belief that we should have expected more from this cast and crew.  In reality, if Johnny Depp had not headlined this film, I think the critics may have been a little more willing to give it a chance.

Why is no one else worried that Lucius Fox and Dr. Crane are working together?

In fact, Depp was criticized for "phoning in" his role as Dr. Will Caster.  Some said he was emotionless and robotic in his delivery of the character.  I found that his decision to play Caster as a socially stunted individual whose only true connections to the real world were his wife and friend played by Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany, respectively, was an inspired choice.  As we see the characters argue whether Caster is less human now that he is a machine, Depp's performance avoids us gaining sympathy for the character which makes the final twist all the more profound.  Some said there was no chemistry between Hall and Depp and others said Bettany's allegiance-shifting through the movie was inexplicable.  You can chalk it up to suspension of disbelief, but I found both characters to fit perfectly with the overall scope and tone of the film.

What nobody questioned about TRANSCENDENCE was the sheer beauty of the film thanks to cinematographer Wally Pfister being behind the camera.  The man is a genius when it comes to framing shots and some say that is where his skills should remain.  Pfister's visual prowess easily puts him above many others when it comes to who deserves a shot at directing any number of films.  As far as debuts go, I would rank this alongside Andrew Stanton's job on JOHN CARTER which was maligned by critical bashing and not an astute analysis of his ability as a filmmaker.  Pfister deserves another shot whether you liked TRANSCENDENCE or not.

Concept art from the reboot of LABYRINTH

I have a sneaking suspicion based on the box office numbers that most of you probably didn't go see TRANSCENDENCE but instead hopped on the bandwagon when it became a punching bag upon it's release.  Maybe it was high expectations that Johnny Depp would return to form or maybe it was the association with Christopher Nolan that folks were expecting something more from this cast and Wally Pfister.  Whatever it was that threw people off, this movie absolutely deserves another look.  If anything, I bet you will find it a lot more appealing on the small screen than you may have at the theater.  This is a movie that asks for your attention but doesn't demand it.  It is an easy to watch film with intelligent aspirations that doesn't require a degree in quantum mechanics to appreciate.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

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Source: JoBlo.com

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4:00AM on 01/31/2015
The movie was horrible in every sense of the word. It just completely fell apart & went all over the place, I just didn't understand the point of the film.
The movie was horrible in every sense of the word. It just completely fell apart & went all over the place, I just didn't understand the point of the film.
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7:18PM on 01/30/2015
You bring up some interesting points, but Transcendence is still one of the worst movies I've ever seen.
You bring up some interesting points, but Transcendence is still one of the worst movies I've ever seen.
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8:09AM on 01/30/2015
I just watched this movie a few days ago, so I have a fresh take on it. I don't think Transcendence was as truly awful as critics did, but I couldn't help but say to myself "This movie is stupid." while watching it. And I don't mean stupid by concept, it's actually a brilliant concept, dragged down by poor execution and lazy writing. And despite everything that happened throughout the film, it was pretty boring. Every actor, from Depp and Freeman on down the line, phoned in their performances,
I just watched this movie a few days ago, so I have a fresh take on it. I don't think Transcendence was as truly awful as critics did, but I couldn't help but say to myself "This movie is stupid." while watching it. And I don't mean stupid by concept, it's actually a brilliant concept, dragged down by poor execution and lazy writing. And despite everything that happened throughout the film, it was pretty boring. Every actor, from Depp and Freeman on down the line, phoned in their performances, like they too were bored with the script. But the idea itself needs another chance because even though this particular movie was poor (I've seen waaaaay worse by the way), the concept is actually a brilliant one just waiting for the right scribe and director to get it out there. (P.S. to any writers who want to give it a shot, do your research! Pick up a Manga comic. They've been doing it right for years!)
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3:16AM on 01/30/2015

Still not good

It's just not a good movie. It's sloppy, to say the least. Not going to nitpick every scene because we have all seen the movie. I do however find it very interesting that none of the reviews of this movie want to touch on the religious nature of the movie. Yeah, it's a story about singularity, but it also has a pretty "punch right to the face" religious message. I thought the concept of a "God" existing that can heal everyone, bring peace to the world, and connect everyone together under a
It's just not a good movie. It's sloppy, to say the least. Not going to nitpick every scene because we have all seen the movie. I do however find it very interesting that none of the reviews of this movie want to touch on the religious nature of the movie. Yeah, it's a story about singularity, but it also has a pretty "punch right to the face" religious message. I thought the concept of a "God" existing that can heal everyone, bring peace to the world, and connect everyone together under a common goal of good while still maintaining free-will refreshing. Heck, the humans even turn against the all-powerful healer and try to stop him out of fear. He's even betrayed and in a way sacrificed. They even go so far as to show him being part of the water, trees, and other freaking people. Hard to miss this subtext. This movie could basically be called "What if God Existed." Like I said, the concept is very cool. Great foundation for a science-fiction masterpiece. The movie just failed on so many levels, so all we can do is see its faults.
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3:53PM on 01/29/2015
I am glad you had fun with the movie, and feel it's something people should give a chance (or a second look). However, one cannot simply gloss over the major problems that everyone that did see this mess had issues with- there are huge plotholes (one doesn't even need to nitpick at all), and supposedly smart characters never acting smart (again, no nitpicking needed to point out when/ where this happens). There's a reason everyone that saw "Transcendence" didn't enjoy it- nothing about the
I am glad you had fun with the movie, and feel it's something people should give a chance (or a second look). However, one cannot simply gloss over the major problems that everyone that did see this mess had issues with- there are huge plotholes (one doesn't even need to nitpick at all), and supposedly smart characters never acting smart (again, no nitpicking needed to point out when/ where this happens). There's a reason everyone that saw "Transcendence" didn't enjoy it- nothing about the movie makes sense, and even the lowest common denominator audience can tell (even if they can't explain why) when the movie is cheating them by not having any thought put behind it at all (and when the "Transformers" movies have more thought put into their stories, things aren't going to end well).
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3:50PM on 01/29/2015

1/10 (could've been 0).

The main problem the premise: The debate of whether or not WILL is still himself. The audience doesn’t really get to know him during the first 1/2 hour so I couldn’t really tell the difference between him and the machine. Then it takes another 30 minutes for him to become a threat. Since that was shown in the trailer, I kept waiting and waiting. The characters just walk around and talk and there’s never any sense of danger or urgency. When the movie ended, I was left wondering “What exactly was
The main problem the premise: The debate of whether or not WILL is still himself. The audience doesn’t really get to know him during the first 1/2 hour so I couldn’t really tell the difference between him and the machine. Then it takes another 30 minutes for him to become a threat. Since that was shown in the trailer, I kept waiting and waiting. The characters just walk around and talk and there’s never any sense of danger or urgency. When the movie ended, I was left wondering “What exactly was the point of the story”? What I don’t get is why Pfister didn’t direct AND shoot the movie? There are people who do both things simultaneously (like Steven Soderbergh). I wished he had done that because: A) Jess Hall doesn’t do anything visually memorable. B) Pfister doesn’t know how to direct. The pacing is horrible (not just because of the script) and the cast tries but always falls short of conveying emotions. This is more obvious with Rebecca Hall than with the others. The exception is Johnny Depp, who’s not even close to a good performance. After his bad over-the-top performance in THE LONE RANGER, he went to the extreme here by being so bland. Yes, he’s playing a computer. The thing is that, in order for there to be a debate about whether WILL is still himself, Depp has to still act like a human. In fact, his wife does react like he’s her husband. And I didn’t understand why since Depp is so emotionless.

I get why one would compare this to INTERSTELLAR. Everytime Pfister made a decision, he most likely thought "What would Nolan do?". However, it still doesn't apply to your specific comparisons because Pfister didn't write the script.
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2:32PM on 01/29/2015
WTF does this movie have to do with Interstellar? It sucked. Just say it sucked. There is no way you can defend this movie with a straight face.
WTF does this movie have to do with Interstellar? It sucked. Just say it sucked. There is no way you can defend this movie with a straight face.
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2:18PM on 01/29/2015

Is Joblo trolling us with Alex Maidy?

I mean they're either on a wind up or he really is a lousy writer with appaling taste in movies.
I mean they're either on a wind up or he really is a lousy writer with appaling taste in movies.
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12:21PM on 01/29/2015
I didn't think it was as bad as everyone was saying. Lot of bandwagoners. Same with Blackhat, which I hope you cover next.
I didn't think it was as bad as everyone was saying. Lot of bandwagoners. Same with Blackhat, which I hope you cover next.
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11:24AM on 01/29/2015
One of the year's most disappointing films. Cool concept, but terrible script and very thin and poor character development.
One of the year's most disappointing films. Cool concept, but terrible script and very thin and poor character development.
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11:17AM on 01/29/2015
Interstellar. Should change the name of this column from Unpopular to Silly. it is one thing to argue for a particular viewpoint, it is another to just use all the words you know in random order to try and tick people off.
Interstellar. Should change the name of this column from Unpopular to Silly. it is one thing to argue for a particular viewpoint, it is another to just use all the words you know in random order to try and tick people off.
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10:56AM on 01/29/2015

Transcendence was Great!

I sat through this whole thing wondering why it was bashed so much. Johnny Depp's performance was appropriate given the material, Rebecca Halls charecter was clearly in denial throught most of the movie, and the plot was actually pretty damn creepy and unsettling. The idea that a computer could become that powerful that quickley.

Yes some of the charecters were somewhat thin and certain things like how quikley Paul Bettany switched alliances were a stretch but it didn't change the fact that
I sat through this whole thing wondering why it was bashed so much. Johnny Depp's performance was appropriate given the material, Rebecca Halls charecter was clearly in denial throught most of the movie, and the plot was actually pretty damn creepy and unsettling. The idea that a computer could become that powerful that quickley.

Yes some of the charecters were somewhat thin and certain things like how quikley Paul Bettany switched alliances were a stretch but it didn't change the fact that this was a terrific sci fi film.
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10:56AM on 01/29/2015

C'mon man Interstellar??

I know this is the unpopular opinion but c'mon. There is no practical reason why you keep comparing this to Interstellar. Other than a couple actors that used to work in Nolan films and it also falls in the sci-fi category, any other comparison you tried to make was a huge stretch.
I know this is the unpopular opinion but c'mon. There is no practical reason why you keep comparing this to Interstellar. Other than a couple actors that used to work in Nolan films and it also falls in the sci-fi category, any other comparison you tried to make was a huge stretch.
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10:59AM on 01/29/2015
The only really appropriate comparison to Interstellar or Nolan is that Pfster used a lot of the exact same people as Nolan has in the past.
The only really appropriate comparison to Interstellar or Nolan is that Pfster used a lot of the exact same people as Nolan has in the past.
10:54AM on 01/29/2015
I did watch it and felt it was outdated. Had this movie been made in late 1990s, it'd be a hit. I got "The Thirteenth Floor" meets "Strange Days" vibe from this movie. It felt boring when Johnny Depp finally uploaded himself. Sure, the cinematography was really beautiful but it didn't save the movie. Even Johnny Depp couldn't save this movie. It needed a better script.
I did watch it and felt it was outdated. Had this movie been made in late 1990s, it'd be a hit. I got "The Thirteenth Floor" meets "Strange Days" vibe from this movie. It felt boring when Johnny Depp finally uploaded himself. Sure, the cinematography was really beautiful but it didn't save the movie. Even Johnny Depp couldn't save this movie. It needed a better script.
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10:47AM on 01/29/2015

2/10

This was one of the worst movies of last year. I agree with you that the initial idea of the film was interesting but about 1/3 of the way in they decided to dumb everything down and the script got lost in its own plot devices. By the end it felt kind of like a bad joke playing out on screen. Terrible!
This was one of the worst movies of last year. I agree with you that the initial idea of the film was interesting but about 1/3 of the way in they decided to dumb everything down and the script got lost in its own plot devices. By the end it felt kind of like a bad joke playing out on screen. Terrible!
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