Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Transcendence" seems like the prequel for "Revolution"


Transcendence” (directed by Wally Pfister, from Warner Brothers and Alcon, 119 minutes), as a titling word, means the “singularity” or point at which consciousness capable of will (that is, possibly, free will, with knowledge of good and evil and their inevitable consequences for self and for others) emerges, or, conversely, where consciousness actually directs the replication of molecules.  In astrophysics, a “singularity” may exist at the center of a black hole.  The notion seems similar.

The film is about two kinds of issues: one is the nature of consciousness and its attachment to a particular physical body and whether that is malleable (which artificial intelligence overcomes), and the danger of overdependence on technology and computers.  In fact, the film could be viewed almost as a prequel to the NBC series “Revolution” where Will Caster (played by Johnny Depp, although I kept thinking of the “Days” character Will Horton, one of the strongest in daytime television) corresponds to Aaron Pittman, played by Zak Orth in the NBC series. The film begins with a prelude set five years later, when there is no more Internet and apparently no electricity, and the world has become “smaller”.

In the mainline of the story, a terrorist group attacks all five artificial intelligence companies and centers in the US and shuts down four of them.  Only Caster’s remains.  But then Caster is shot by a hit man, and quickly develops radiation sickness, as the bullet contained polonium.  This group means business.  (Well, so did the People’s Party of New Jersey in 1972, and so did Patty Hearst’s kidnappers.) 

Caster’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and cohort Max (Paul Bettany) get the idea to go whole hog and upload Will’s brain onto their supercomputer.  (Such an idea had been proposed in Omni Magazine back in the 1990’s.)  That part of the film starts to get a little hokey.  Soon, the philosophical question as to whether Will, as the same person, is still “alive” surfaces.  Will’s image starts appearing on computer screens as he talks, and eventually a new body appears.  How? Well, nanites (or nanobots), of course, just as in “Rvolution”.  The special effects with them in the second half of the movie, as they assemble themselves into new objects gets pretty silly. 

There are other notable members in the cast, such as Morgan Freeman (as always), and Cillian Murphy. 
Will becomes so omnipresent and God-like that the only way to stop him is to turn off the Internet, and that turns off the power grid, maybe for good.


The official site is here.


I saw the film at the Loudoun One Alamo Draft House, with sensational sound and projection (the theater is properly configured at 2.35:1).  The theater chain is strict on cell phone and no talking policies.  It advertised that it will soon have special screenings for the New York Film Critics of independent film.
There was a short film with professor Michio Kaku discussing artificial intelligence.

As an extra business matter, I’ll mention Rick Sincere’s blog post April 15 “Should Virginia taxpayers subsidize the film industry?”,link

But “Transcendence” was filmed in New Mexico (not even Louisiana, the favorite these days).  But the outdoor scenes (with all the solar panels) needed to resembled the Mojave Desert.

The film may have some predecessors with old horror films from the 50s, such as "The Disembodied" and especially "Donovan's Brain" (1953) with Lew Ayres.

Update: April 22

See related review of Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man: How to Live Forever" on the TV blog today. 

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