Most of us have a ritual, or perhaps several, when it comes to going to the movies. For all but the most spontaneous among us, these rituals almost always involve a quick trip to RottenTomatoes or IMDB.
There’s definitely something pretty convenient about being able to log on to one or two websites and see pretty much the entire world of film criticism condensed into one handy number or a series of 100-character blurbs.
The more I reflect on this, though, the more I realize how absurd it is. At the same time, I also realize that I’m not exactly thinking outside the box here; plenty of people enjoy lambasting critics for their holier-than-thou attitudes and insistence on tearing down all of our guilty pleasures.
These tastemakers speak for us. But why do we let them? Again, I’m treading some fairly well-traveled ground here, so I’m going to get a little more specific.
Waiting for Transcendence
For the three or four of us who are actually excited about the release of Transcendence on DVD and Blu-ray on July 22nd, the intervening weeks will be spent wondering whether a second viewing of Wally Pfister’s directorial debut will change our opinion of it.
In case you couldn’t guess, I was actually a bit of a fan of Transcendence. I was riveted from the very first trailer, despite the ham-fisted voiceover from national treasure Morgan Freeman (does that guy ever turn down a role?).
In fact, the trailer so impressed me that I decided not to read any reviews before seeing the movie. Unfortunately, the Internet doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and so I was, in short order, tipped off to the movie’s tepid reception soon after its release.
Reviews for the film contained phrases like “What went wrong?” and “A movie too terrible to even hate-watch.” Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed and so finally caved and went to RottenTomatoes; Transcendence, a movie I’d managed to get rather excited about, was a certified flop: it sits now at a paltry 19%.
And then I saw it anyway. And I liked it. And I'm not going to apologize to the New Yorker's David Denby.
I Think It’s Good, so It Is
Jonny Depp will be enjoyable in just about any role, and after you get past the fact that you’re seeing the same man that played Edward Scissorhands and Captain Jack Sparrow, you realize that he was a pretty good choice to play Will Caster, the obsessive artificial intelligence researcher and soon-to-be digital human.
The singularity – that perhaps-not-too-distant point in the future where artificial intelligence will become self-aware and all bets will be off – has always been a potent source of inspiration for film and literature. I don’t need to remind you of the weirdly poignant scene in 2001 where HAL gets shut down, or the devastated world left behind by the coming-of-age of Skynet in the Terminator franchise.
Does Transcendence live up to these lofty forebears? Of course it doesn’t. But to its credit, as much as it seems to want to serve as a timely warning for humankind about technology, it not once encourages us to delete our Facebook accounts, microwave our hard drives, or head for the hills to live out our days with naught but our collection of Amish furniture. It’s a surprisingly balanced film, asking questions but providing few answers.
Which, I suppose, might be one reason that contributed to the film’s scathing summary on the TomatoMeter: “Transcendence’s thought-provoking themes exceed the movie’s narrative grasp.”
If I’m being totally honest, I did expect a little more from the film. The Singularity is such a bold and terrifying concept that I’d expected a film that gave it the gravity it’s due. Transcendence is not that movie, though it comes close; the final scenes do manage to create some kind of fledgling emotional resonance, but after spending two hours with characters that I neither fully understood nor totally sympathized with, it was too little, too late.
Doesn’t Matter; Had Fun
And yet I still recommend the movie to friends. It’s the rare breed of film that takes on difficult and portentous subject matter and neither succeeds brilliantly nor falls completely on its face.
Very simply, I enjoyed it, despite the fact that it wasn’t a great movie – and no matter what America’s tastemakers say, that’s always going to be enough for me.
Daniel Faris is a freelance writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. You can join his alter ego at The Sound of Progress for conversations about progressivism in music and politics.