I went to Transcendence thinking I’d hate this film because of all the bad reviews it’s getting, but to my surprised I ended up enjoying it way more than I imagined. I went with two friends – Laurie walked out, and Ann said she liked it so much she wanted to see it again. I thought Transcendence had some big problems, but overall it was a nice exploration of the idea of brain uploading. Coincidentally, I’m listening to Accelerando by Charles Stross this week, and the science fictional ideas in the book overlapped nicely with those of the film. Maybe I enjoyed the film merely because it was more fuel for the ideas I’m entertaining at the moment.
If you read the reviews I do concur that the film is lackluster in action, that most of the acting was subdued, and the plotting is clunky, but it just didn’t seem that bad, not a 19% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. If you compare Transcendence to the dazzling Her, another movie about evolving computer intelligence, yes, this film is slight, but is it that bad? I’ve seen films I thought were much worse get much higher scores at RT.
I have a hypothesis to test. Does the acceptance or rejection of science fictional ideas in movies prejudice critics and fans opinions of a science fiction movie? So if a movie explores an idea you hate, you reject the whole movie?
I wondered, if Transcendence presents ideas that people don’t like? To talk about those ideas, I’m probably going to reveal some plot points, but many of these are in the previews. The movie is about three AI scientists, one of which, the husband of the couple played by Johnny Depp, is shot by anti-AI terrorists and his wife saves him by uploading his mind into a computer. Uploading also happens in Accelerando, and like that book, they also cover super technology brought about by post-human minds. The book covers vast stretches of time, but in the film, all the advance technology comes out in two years. This scares the regular folk in the flick, who feel they must destroy the Frankenstein AI.
Are movie goers tired of films about sentient computers? Do they find post-human life offensive? Are the networked humans too much like zombies to them? Is nanotechnology just too scary to think about? Or, was the ideas in the story fine, and they just didn’t like the writing, presentation, acting or settings?
Science fiction books and movies have a long heritage of tales about intelligent computers. Sometimes they are evil (Colossus), and sometimes they are fun (Short Circuit). In Transcendence, it’s ambiguous. Is that the problem? Uploading minds is not as common, but there’s plenty of precedent (The Matrix).
I’m a little tired of science fiction being about saving the world. Why does science fiction always have to involve a big threat to all of humanity? There was no need to involve guns or violence in this story. Gattaca was the perfect science fiction movie to me. It was a personal story. Ditto for Her and Robot and Frank. Can’t we have a story about a super intelligent being without involve armies and terrorists? Or maybe critics and audiences didn’t like this movie because there wasn’t enough action and explosions.
Or was the film disliked because it suggests that ordinary people will be obsolete? What’s weird is movie goers love mutants in superhero comic book stories, but they don’t seem to like post-humans. A human that can fly is fine, but one that makes us look past our due date is not?
Audiences are more forgiving than the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, and the audience response at RT was 47% for Transcendence. That’s pretty low for audiences. Maybe I should just accept that this film was a dog, and maybe I liked it because it was about some of my pet topics. That does fit in with my hypothesis – I liked it for its ideas, and others hated it for the same ideas. I really hated Marvel’s The Avengers, which got a 92% critics/91% audience rating at RT, and I disliked the movie intensely because of its ideas.
I wonder if movie makers could save a lot of money on special effects if they merely created science fiction movies with extremely popular science fictional ideas?
JWH – 4/22/14