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Movie review: Transcendence

How reliant are we on technology? To what extent, and at what cost, will we allow technology to grow? How far would you go to save the ones you love? “Transcendence,” the debut film of cinematographer Wally Pfister, attempts to answer those questions. Starring Johnny Depp, the film follows Will and Evelyn Caster, a husband-wife pair of researchers who are studying the concept of self-aware artificial intelligence. When an anti-technology group named RIFT inflicts Will with a terminal gunshot wound, Evelyn believes the only way to save him is to upload his consciousness to one of their self-aware machines. Perhaps obviously and without spoiling anything, things go wrong.

Overall, “Transcendence” is a good science-fiction film. The story can seem familiar at times, but the product as a whole is an entertaining and aesthetically interesting affair. Pfister has made a career of visual mastery (a four-time Academy Award nominee and winner for 2010’s “Inception”), so the cinematography and visual effects are certainly of the highest caliber. From a narrative perspective, the film follows a similar structure to many science-fiction works before it. The artificial intelligence seems beneficial but becomes increasingly dangerous over time. It adds some interesting new twists, but mostly stays in relatively safe structural territory, which renders it somewhat forgettable. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is when it analyzes the underlying relationship between Will and Evelyn. Whenever “Transcendence” focuses on the married couple and how their relationship deteriorates over time, the film reaches its highest levels of profundity.

In terms of the acting, Rebecca Hall delivers the movie’s most important role with surprising depth. Her Evelyn is a conflicted individual whose desperation and bravery gives the film believable emotional weight. Johnny Depp is perfectly fine but nothing spectacular as Will, and Morgan Freeman adds his familiar presence to the proceedings. Kate Mara and Paul Bettany round out the cast as the leader of RIFT and the Casters’ fellow researcher, respectively.

While nothing that will be remembered by the end of the year, “Transcendence” remains a visually stunning film. Its thought-provoking themes don’t always cohere and the story follows a relatively predictable path, but the technical mastery and talent involved make for an enjoyable night at the movies.

Stephen Spoth is a senior at Williamsville North High School.