Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why the movie Transcendence Sucked....

Transcendence is a 2014 movie starring Johnny Depp, who was incredible as always.  Rebecca Hall also did a great job, as did Paul Bettany.

I note that on IMDb it lists "Warner Brothers" after "written by".   Frankly, "written by committee" explains a whole heck of a lot.

The idea of "transcendence" is relatively standard in science fiction.  In essence the "essence" of humanity is uploaded to the cloud and we leave our physical limitations behind.  Sometimes this is expressed as the "singularity".  I'm not at all fond of this particular sub-genre, though my husband prefers it to other science fiction sub-genres.  He agrees with me about this movie, which he should have loved.

The movie opens with the aftermath... there is an implication of a police state, food shortages, and the absence of technology, even refrigeration.  This situation would be utterly horrific and involve the death of millions... or so I would assume, since you know, reality.

So back we go... an anti-tech domestic terrorist group kills a bunch of scientists at Lawrence Livermore who are working on artificial intelligence (except for Morgan Freeman who was too busy working to eat his cake) and blows up some random college students surfing porn and shoe blogs... I mean, doing homework... in computer labs at a number of Universities.  A crazy person shoots Dr. Will Caster after a TED talk and then blows his own head off.  Will Caster survives but the bullet had traces of radioactive stuff on it and Will Caster will die of radiation poisoning in a matter of weeks.  His wife, Evelyn, is desperate to save him and convinces him to try to upload himself onto a computer, because someone had previously done so with a monkey (and thus spawned the terrorist group).  He loves her, so he agrees.  Their partner Max Waters also loves her so he also agrees.

It works.  Max freaks out and wants to turn it all off.   Evelyn is desperate to save her husband and drives him off.  He immediately gets kidnapped by the insane terrorists to use his phone to back track to the old school where they had set up their lab to upload Will.  But they are too late!

As I'm describing this it's clear that Evelyn is driving what is going on.  In the movie this was not clear.  In fact, Evelyn spends almost the entire movie mindlessly doing whatever Will asks her to do.  Which was undoubtedly on purpose because it was a bait and switch.  We're supposed to think that the uploaded Dr. Caster has run off the rails and wants to take over the world.  Max gradually gets "turned" by the terrorists as he recognizes the danger.  But even at the very beginning of his captivity he never ever (and this was my first instance of WTF) throws the fact in the lead terrorist's face that SHE caused all of this directly through her own actions by poisoning Will so he was dying.  The "third smartest person I know" according to Will Caster and Max is passive in his captivity.

So the uploaded personality of Will Caster turns into a terrifying, slave creating, power consolidating fearsome thing and everyone bands together with the terrorists... the military, the FBI, Morgan Freeman who apparently doesn't recall all of his dead friends... and they're going to destroy the monster.   Then at the end we find out that the uploaded AI really was Will Caster and that he was just trying to fulfill Evelyn's dreams of curing disease and saving the planet... which no one knew and Evelyn didn't know, because evidently in approximately three years she never actually had a conversation with Will about what he was attempting to do or why.

Which is why this movie sucked.

They never had a conversation about their goals.  They never had a conversation about how quickly and in which ways to release new biomedical information or other breakthroughs to the world.  They never had a conversation about how to ease people into accepting this frightening thing.  Will can rebuild people, make the lame, walk, and the blind, see.   Yet they apparently never sold a patent.   Will even figures out how to create a new body for him to be inside (instead of controlling people, which he also does) and he doesn't tell her that he's working on it, that he can be a person again.  Evelyn, who we assume is the "second smartest person" that Dr. Will Caster knows, spends three years never asking a question.  About anything.

And that's why this movie sucked.

It's Evelyn Caster's story.  She's the driving force behind the decisions that her "transcended" husband makes and everything he does.  But if she had been active past the point of "saving" him, the plot would have gone in different directions than it did.  So the result is that the whole movie lacked focus... and then it ended with what I'm now coining as a "spinning top" moment in honor of that execrable movie "Inception".  Are they dead or aren't they?



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