Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blu-ray Review: TRANSCENDENCE (2014) [Warner Brothers]

Transcendence (2014)

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD

The Movie

Wally Pfister is best known as being Christopher Nolan's Director of Photography, and as such, he has proven that he knows how to create fantastic imagery for the big screen. However, his directorial debut, TRANSCENDENCE, suggests that maybe that's where he should focus his talents. The film has a great concept, but unfortunately, it suffers from pacing problems, predictability, and some of the least enthusiastic acting that I've ever seen from Johnny Depp.

The film's official plot reads as such:
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him. 
Based on the above, I was really looking forward to the film. I knew that Pfister was talented, and spending all of that time with Christopher Nolan, some of that directing skill had to rub off on him. Unfortunately, all of the good things here are negated by the film's issues; the biggest of which is Jack Paglen's script. The film's dialog is over-explanatory and wooden, which becomes an even bigger issue when the cast begins delivering lines like robots (Depp looks horribly bored throughout the entire film). When Morgan Freeman can't make your words shine, then you know there's a problem.

The result of this is that I really didn't care about any of the characters, so when they were put in danger, there were no real stakes for me. And that's exactly the wrong reaction that a film should leave you with. TRANSCENDENCE isn't bad, it's just there, and I don't really have any strong feelings about it one way or the other.

On the more positive side, though, the film's cinematography is great. As mentioned before, Pfister is a very accomplished DP, so this should come as no surprise. I also really liked the film's music and overall sound design. The score is never overpowering, and in a lot of ways, it reminds me of the scores to some of Nolan's films. Again, this makes sense, given Pfister's background.

At the end of the day, I'm sure there is an audience out there for TRANSCENDENCE. The most curious folks will be Johnny Depp fans and those, like me, who are already familiar with Pfister's DP work. It's possible that my expectations for the film were unrealistic, but I can't help but think that the best reaction TRANCENDENCE will get from viewers is that it is "okay" or "pretty decent." It may be cliche, but I'd rather strongly dislike a film than be ambivalent towards it. That would mean that it at least had a significant impression on me. 

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

Warner Brothers brings TRANSCENDENCE home in their usual Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy package. I really like this about them, as it gives the consumer every format in one swoop. Believe it or not, there are still cases when DVD copies come in handy. The initial pressing of the film features a slipcover.

Video Quality (4/5)

I've heard rumblings elsewhere that insinuate that Warner's 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for TRANSCENDENCE is very flawed. However, I don't agree with them. The image here is very clear, and I noticed few issues with it. Is it the best that I've ever seen? No. But it looks good, and I imagine that it's as close to the source as the director wanted. In my opinion, TRANSCENDENCE is solid from an image perspective.

Audio Quality (5/5)

From an audio standpoint, I have no issues with the treatment of TRANSCENDENCE on this disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is flawless. The track is dynamic and well-balanced, with some great low end performance.

Extra Features (2/4)

TRANSCENDENCE comes with a handful of small featurettes. They are interesting, but all-in-all, they total to less than 20 minutes of runtime. That's hardly enough to satisfy even fans of the film.
  • What Is TRANSCENDENCE? (~5 minutes): Your typical EPK featurette; with the cast and crew praising each other and discussing the film's themes. Unfortunately, it is so brief that it barely scratches the surface of the production.
  • A Singular Vision (~3 minutes): Another short piece; this time, focusing on Pfister and his directorial work on the film.
  • Guarding The Threat (~2 minutes): Another (very) brief EPK featurette about the film's themes.
  • The Promise of AI (~3 minutes): A talk about the technology featured in the film.
  • Teasers (~3 minutes): Three one-minute teasers for the film; narrated by different cast members.
  • Trailers

Final Thoughts

Overall, Warner's Blu-ray release of TRANSCENDENCE is good. While I didn't care much for the film itself, I can't deny that it looks and sounds great. However, fans of the film will likely be underwhelmed by the bonus material included on the disc. If you are curious about the movie, this disc is definitely worth a rental, but I would caution against a flat-out blind buy.

Blu-ray Score


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