Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Transcendence (2014)

I’m usually a good judge of whether or not I’ll like a movie based on the coming attractions.  When I saw the coming attractions for Transcendence, it looked interesting.  A guy is able to upload himself to a computer.  I was thinking it would be about all the horrors that might ensue from having a human mind freed from the constraints of a human brain.  The movie wasn’t anywhere near what I expected.

Dr. Will Castor is said guy.  He’s an expert on AI.  He’s even had success copying the brain of a nonhuman primate to a computer.  Not everyone likes his work.  They fear what they don’t know.  Some are so afraid that they confront and shoot him.  Castor survives the bullet, but not the radioactive material it was laced with.  He’s forced to upload himself to a computer.

But is it really him?  We have no way of knowing if it’s his consciousness or just a program using his memories.  Will’s widow, Evelyn, is convinced it’s him.  Others, not so much.  The group behind the shooting are after her and the AI.  They’re even able to turn his friend to their cause.  Still, Will (in AI form) is able to set up Evelyn with more money than she’d ever need.  She uses the money to build a complex to house Will’s AI, allowing him to make all sorts of medical breakthroughs.

Things turn sinister when it’s revealed that by treating people, Will is able to absorb them into a collective consciousness.  Evelyn can’t stand the thought of losing what remains of Will.  Everyone else sees the inherent danger.  Eventually, she comes around, but the odds of her being able to help don’t look good.

For those of you that don’t like spoilers, I should warn you that the movie starts with the final scene, making it somewhat obvious that things don’t end well.  I’ve always hated this movie because I’m constantly wondering what brought the movie to that point.  I’m always trying to read things into everything.  It doesn’t really work well here.

Also, I know I’m not the first person to point out that the movie is kind of derivative in many respects.  Fear of AI is nothing new.  Could Will help people by curing all manner of problems?  Yes.  Could humanity lose its humanity?  Maybe?  Is it really Will?  As I said, there’s no way to be sure.

Also, the idea of uploading consciousness has been seen in The Lawnmower Man, Max Headroom and Caprica.  The idea of assimilating people has been done with Star Trek’s the Borg and Doctor Who’s Cybermen.  If you are the kind of person that really likes science fiction, you’re going to notice parallels to other movies and TV shows.

That was my big thing here.  I don’t feel like the movie did anything new with any of the ideas.  Actually, I don’t feel that the movie did much of anything with any of the ideas.  Most of the movie is Will in computer form.  The other characters are worried about what this could mean.  The most obvious threat is that he could absorb all of humanity and/or bring about The Singularity.  There isn’t much said about this other than it’s happening.

There are other issues that could be explored here.  Will is a nice guy.  What would happen if a dictator had uploaded himself?  Also, power corrupts.  Will is shown as being a little more aggressive, but at no point does Evelyn ever state that it’s gone to his head, so to speak.  Will is able to do almost anything he can think up.  What would stop him from becoming a dictator?  Is it better to stop him out of fear of him becoming ruler of the world or do you let him help people?

The movie seems like an episode of The Outer Limits stretched too far.  Where does humanity end and technology begin?  How do you stop someone who could easily become unstoppable?  The movie touched on these subjects, but not very well.  It was a 48-minute concept that the writers had to stretch to two hours.  It seemed forced.

Ultimately, the movie fell flat.  I kept waiting for the action to start and it didn’t.  There was no suspense.  There was nothing to make you think or feel for the characters.  Once Will is dead and uploaded, he’s not really shown as being in any danger.  The danger lies with Evelyn, who’s effectively being held hostage.  However, she has a nice-looking place to live and enough food and water to last her indefinitely.  The only problem is that she’s at Will’s mercy.  The movie presents the issue, but doesn’t deal with it.

I had used a free Redbox code to rent the movie.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to pay money for it.  It ended up being a disappointment.  It ended up being a movie in desperate need of a direction.

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