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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Transcendence, Review


Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a scientist and leading researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence. He is working to create a machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known, with the full range of human emotions.  His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists, belonging to a secret society named RIFT, who will do whatever it takes to stop him. RIFT believes creating life forms is intruding into God territory.

However, in their attempt to kill Will, they actually end-up becoming catalysts for him to succeed—with himself as the human element of the composite super-being.  His wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both scientists like him, the question is not whether they should support him or stop him, for only they can.

Johnny Depp (the Pirates of the Caribbean films), Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, voice of Tony Stark's AI computer in four Marvel movies), Rebecca Hall (The Town), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Cillian Murphy (Inception), Clifton Collins, Jr. (Pacific Rim) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) comprise the star cast.

Transcendence marks the feature film directorial debut of Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (Inception, the Dark Knight movies).  Pfister directed the movie from a screenplay by Jack Paglen.

On the premise and possibilities of nano-technology, at the heart of the film, director Wally Pfister told New York Post, “There are people working on mapping the human brain right now. A neurobiologist at Caltech thinks we’ll be able to map a human brain and possibly duplicate it [in about] 30 years. When I visited MIT,” says Pfister, “I visited a cancer research institute. They’re talking about the ability of nanotechnology to be injected inside a human body, travel immediately to a cancer cell, and deliver a payload of medicine directly to that cell, eliminating [the need to] poison the whole body with chemo.”

The same paper quotes writer Jack Paglen as saying “In some circles, nanotechnology is the holy grail, where we could have microscopic, networked machines that would be capable of miracles. There’s the idea that nanotechnology could help repair the muscle fibres in your arm, then make your arm much stronger, because microscopic machines could go to the tissue in your bicep and repair it, and accelerate the natural process. One of the questions I’m really interested in is, ‘How will society respond if and when this happens?’ Will we keep our composure and humanity, in the face of something so inhuman?”

Profound concerns, and not too unimaginable either. In the film too, these thoughts are deftly inter-woven. Photography is state-of-the-art, and adds to the merit. The music is composed by Mychael Danna (Oscar for Life of Pi), and it strikes all the right chords of ominous foreboding. Depp is a far cry from his accented portrayals and language-based humour in recent films. He turns in an effort that does his talent some justice. Bettany’s Scandinavian looks (he is British) and understanding of his part helps him convey a kind of ambivalence that goes well with the film’s first half. On the other hand, half a sardonic pasted grin is out of place on the face of Rebecca Hall. One accepts the crazed Will in his ‘misplaced’ ambition, but it takes more believing to swallow the blinkered devotion of his wife. Here is where Hall falls short in characterisation. Morgan Freeman has been in some quite ludicrous sci-fi outings, and Transcendence comes as a relief. He is just too good an actor to be wasted in dull parts that try to cash in his dependability. Kate Mara, who is a skilled dancer and was co-director of the film The Whole Truth (2006), is suitably cast as a RIFT operative. Irish actor Murphy makes an unlikely FBI official. Collins (grandson of well-known 50s and 60s character actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez) has a small but memorable part as Martin.

Rating: ***1/2


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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