REVIEW SUMMARY: Director Wally Pfister’s first feature film tries to tackle themes of transhumanism and the singularity, but gets knocked aside by the inelegant thriller plot tacked onto them.
SYNOPSIS: When artificial intelligence research Will Caster faces death at the hands of anti-technology extremists, his wife attempts to save his life by scanning his brain into a computer, which sends him on a journey to transcend to a new state of being.
PROS: A breathtaking vision of an uploaded mind entering cyberspace; intriguing moral questions raised by the actions of a hive mind.
CONS: Mediocre thriller plot that drowns ideas; sluggish pace; clichéd plot and characters; uninspired direction.
It was only a matter of time. It only took 20 years for Hollywood to read Vernor Vinge’s essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” and now, with Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, it seems to have…well, “getting its head around it” might imply that the great studio machine actually possesses something resembling consciousness or thought. Perhaps Hollywood realizes it can now read these daring if daft speculations as source code for contemporary blockbusters, allowing the estate of Philip K. Dick a reprieve from handwringing over the next ill-fated adaptation of his work. After all, how many times can you twist reality until you begin popping off the heads of audiences like a toddler with a grudge decapitating her older sister’s Ken doll?