Blu-Ray Review- Transcendence
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Street Date: July 22nd 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 119 Minutes
Earlier this year Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan’s go-to Cinematographer) received his big chance to showcase his directing talents with his debut film: Transcendence. To preface my feelings on the film, before we even jump into the plot synopsis and critique, I have to admit that films focusing on high science concepts and emerging technology have always been fascinating to me, especially when it involves the human mind. From Brainscan to The Lawnmower Man, there have been plenty of cinematic explorations on the subject that failed to capture the general movie-going public’s attention, but left me smiling with these concepts realized on the big screen.
In Transcendence, Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a respected leader in the world of artificial intelligence. His lovely wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), his fervent supporter in both science and life, has to drag him to lecture halls to discuss his work to continue funding their work. After discussing his ideas with the scientific community at one such event, a terrorist organization bent on collapsing the technological movement makes an attempt on Will’s life, leaving him with only weeks to live after being shot by a poison-laced bullet.
In a move of desperation and love, Will allows Evelyn and his team to upload his mind to a supercomputer with the hope that he will not only live on through this technology, but also to further his work in the field and combat the extremists responsible for the recent attacks. This move turns out to be a double-edged sword for not only Will but humanity itself, as Will’s conscience begins to seemingly take over the worldwide network, and his intentions are questioned by not just his enemies, but his former allies as well.
If my synopsis seems rather vague, it’s intentional, as I wouldn’t want to spoil Transcendence for those that wish to experience it for themselves. Knowing the critical consensus going in didn’t hurt me, because as I mentioned before, this sort of concept intrigues me, even in subpar films. But with Transcendence, Wally Pfister and crew’s fatal mistake was perhaps biting off more than they could chew. The first half of the film is poetic, fascinating, and engaging. The second half of the film begins to fall into all too familiar territory, and plot holes take shape when the filmmakers decided to speed up the drama over any rational explanation of the events that follow.
From Artificial Intelligence to nanotechnology and super-soldiers to singularity, Wally Pfister perhaps set his sights too high for most mainstream moviegoers. With that being said, I thought there was much to admire about his debut film, flaws and all. You have to admit, the concepts being discussed and the ambition that Pfister had to explore them on the big screen are admirable. When 99% of weekly entertainment at the cinema is all gunfire and explosions, a film like Transcendence is a welcome change. God forbid we give a movie a chance that actually makes us, you know, think.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided a High Definition transfer that is remarkable. Colors are alive and vibrant, and the detailed complexity of the image is very pleasing to the eye. Fine object detail is perfect here, with everything from facial features to clothing proving stunning clarity on Blu-Ray. This is a near-perfect transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track included is another standout aspect on this Blu-Ray edition, and though it’s a film that remains light on the explosions and mayhem, the score sounds terrific, dialogue comes through very clear and precise, and background noise and effects are dynamic and well balanced across all channels.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has included some oddball special features for this High Definition release, opting for several very short featurettes as well as teasers for the film somewhat disguised under new titles. I would have preferred a fifteen minute featurette with the first four segments, a teaser reel, and a trailer reel. The packaging makes one think that there are a ton of fun features inside, but in reality, these are short and rather repetitive. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- What is Transcendence– This is a roughly five minute featurette with the cast and crew discussing both the technology and humanity behind Transcendence. It’s a short, but nevertheless interesting promo for the film. The real technological advances that inspired elements of the film are fascinating.
- Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision– This one runs nearly three minutes and features the cast and crew discussing Wally Pfister’s debut film, and how much expertise he brought to the Director’s chair with his previous work on Christopher Nolan’s films.
- Guarding the Threat– Yet another short featurette that consists mostly of clips from the film itself, with a few scattered interview segments throughout.
- The Promise of A.I.- This one also runs about three minutes and features the actors and filmmakers discussing the artificial intelligence involved in Transcendence, and how close we are in reality to the ideas presented in the film.
- It’s Me– Running just over a minute, this one is rather baffling, as it’s just the theatrical teaser for the film with Johnny Depp’s running monologue.
- Singularity– Similar to the above teaser, here we have a promo featuring a Morgan Freeman monologue utilized as a teaser.
- R.I.F.T– Just under a minute, yet another teaser for the film.
- Trailers- Two theatrical trailers for Transcendence.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Warner Bros. includes a very nice looking slipcover featuring the main cast from Transcendence. On the reverse of the packing you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features, and technical specifications for the discs. On the inside of the packaging you’ll find a Blu-Ray disc, a DVD disc, and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy Code (not pictured). All in all, this is a fairly standard Blu-Ray edition that mimics many of WB’s past High Definition releases. There are no retailer exclusive editions for this film.
With Transcendence, Wally Pfister scored a chance to showcase his talents behind the camera after years of working cinematography for the likes of Christopher Nolan, among others. While Transcendence has some great ideas, and I feel that I appreciated it much more than other seem to, I will admit that its execution leaves much to be desired. The good news is that the Blu-Ray edition from Warner Bros. sports a beautiful transfer that is alive with color and complexity, and a fantastic audio track that is a wonderful showcase for your audio system. The special features are a bit misleading, as they are extremely short and consist mostly of interview snippets mixed with footage from the film. I would have enjoyed an audio commentary or extended interviews discussing the science behind the film. Though I feel that Transcendence was a missed opportunity for Pfister, I still took away something from this film, and it’s certainly a lot deeper and thought provoking than 99% of the popcorn entertainment that arrives in theaters each week. Transcendence receives a mild recommendation.
-Pete Macabre (“Film Fan” Pete)
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