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    Transcendence Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Warner

    Jul 22 2014 04:40 PM | Ken_McAlinden in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister's directorial debut, Transcendence, is a science fiction thriller revolving around the concept of the technological singularity. Pfister enlists a big name cast to wrestle with these big ideas. Balancing heady science fiction concepts, action movie tropes, and a central romance would be a daunting task for even an experienced director to accomplish in a two hour film, and Pfister pursues all of those elements with gusto. Does he succeed? Read on and find out...

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Warner Brothers
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
    • Rating: PG-13
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 59 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
    • Case Type: Standard sized 2-disc Blu-ray case in cardboard slipcover
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 07/22/2014
    • MSRP: $35.99

    The Production Rating: 2.5/5

    Transcendence

    Directed by: Wally Pfister

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, and Morgan Freeman

    In Transcendence, Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, a pioneer in the field of Artificial Inteligence (A.I.) whose two abiding passions are his groundbreaking research and his wife, Evelyn (Hall). Shortly after giving a lecture on his work pushing technology to the point of "the singularity", where human consciousness can transcend biology by being transferred into an artificial intelligence, he is attacked and shot as part of a coordinated attack by a terrorist group on multiple scientists in his field. Will is only grazed by the bullet, but subsequently learns that it was doped with toxic amounts of radiation that will kill him in a matter of weeks. With the help of Evelyn and their colleague, Max (Bettany), Will's consciousness is transferred into a machine. After an apparent success, Max has almost immediate concerns about whether or not the A.I. construct is actually Will, but Evelyn remains determined and begins to collaborate with the "A.I. Will", achieving remarkable advancements in technology while eventually drawing the attention of law enforcement, the military, other scientists, and the same terrorist group that targeted Will for assassination.

    Transcendence is filled to the brim with big ideas and philosophical concepts, but mis-steps by trying to incorporate these elements into plot mechanics that do not flow naturally from the film's characters. This leads to a frustrating viewing experience where, for example, actress Rebecca Hall provides an outstanding performance, but must subject herself to the whims of a plot that requires her to have strong reactions to transgressions at one moment that she seemingly forgets about a short while later.

    The problems with the character of Evelyn could potentially have been solved with a less aggressive narrative pacing allowing for a build up and release of suspicion, dread, and revelation. To a lesser extent, the same could be said for Paul Bettany's character of Max. No amount of extra film would solve the problems with the other antagonists to Will and Evelyn in the film, though. Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, and Rooney Mara are completely wasted in one dimensional parts that seem purely functional. The characters as presented in the film are mere agents of contradictory viewpoints designed to drive the film towards a couple of action set pieces at its climax. A more carefully constructed film would have had characters that actually embodied their convictions. Johnny Depp fares only a little bit better in the central role of Will, but he is disembodied for a good chunk of the film and presents an ambivalently cold demeanor as "A.I. Will". This is necessary to create narrative suspense, but torpedoes any chance of him being dynamic or interesting.

    As one would expect given Pfister's reputation as a top-tier cinematographer and his employment of Jess Hall as his director of photography, Transcendence is visually impressive and stylishly lit. The sumptuous visuals are not done full justice on the Blu-ray disc (see video assessment below), but they are still easy on the eyes, making the awkward narrative contrivances go down a little easier than they should.
    "Transcendence" Playlist


    Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA

    The film is presented in 1080p AVC encoded video letterboxed to its theatrical ratio of 2.4:1. Director Wally Pfister is a devotee of shooting on film and timing his interpositives photochemically. Whatever care was taken in realizing his vision on film, something appears to have gone wrong in the process of rendering it on digital video. Grain frequently appears to be unnaturally filtered resulting in a digital video look that would seem anathema to Pfister's publicly stated aesthetic. There are a couple of wide shots with what looks like edge ringing, but they are brief and infrequent. Color and contrast fare better than detail and texture, with shadow transients that seem appropriately characteristic of film.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    The DTS-HD MA audio uses the 5.1 sound field creatively, but rarely in a way that draws attention to itself. Dialog, music, and effects are nicely balanced, and dynamics are effectively exploited in the action oriented scenes that comprise the film's climax.

    Special Features: 1.5/5

    ​When the disc is first played, viewers are greeted with the following skippable promos:
    • Ultraviolet digital copy promo
    • Dolphin Tale 2 trailer
    Proper Special Features consist of the following featurettes and promos. They are presented in high definition video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated below:

    What is Transcendence? (5:19) is the only featurette on this disc that is worth the time it takes to watch. It provides a quick overview of the film and the ideas and concepts behind it. On-camera comments are provided by Morgan Freeman ("Joseph Tagger "), Johnny Depp ("Will Caster"), Director Wally Pfister, Producer Aaron Ryder, University of California at Berkeley Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Michel Maharbiz, Kate Mara ("Bree"), Producer Andrew Kosove, University of California at Berkeley Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Neuroscience Jose Carmena, Rebecca Hall ("Evelyn Caster"), Producer Broderick Johnson, 2045 Initiative Founder Dmitry Itskov, Screenwriter Jack Paglen, and Cillian Murphy ("Agent Buchanan").

    Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision (2:52) is almost three minutes of collaborators on the film singing the praises of accomplished cinematographer and first time director Pfister. On-camera comments are provided by Hall, Mara, Bettany, Depp, Pfister, Producer Annie Marter, Producer Kate Cohen, Freeman, Producer Marisa Polvino, Director of Photography Jess Hall, and Visual Effects Supervisor Nathan McGuiness.

    The next two featurettes overlap significantly with the What is Transcendence? featurette and contain little additional information or insight. They are a curious blend of trailer and featurette:

    Guarding the Threat (2:18) Comments are provided by Freeman, Pfister, Hall, and Depp.

    The Promise of A.I. (2:34) - Comments are provided by Depp, Pfister, Bettany, Maharbiz, Johnson, Itskove, Kosove, Carmena, Hall, and Murphy

    BIlled as Viral Videos on the disc packaging, the next three features are teaser promos that were used to promote the film online:
    • It's Me (1:02) teaser with Depp dialog
    • Singularity (1:09) teaser with Freeman voiceover
    • R.I.F.T. (:57) year with Mara narration.
    Rounding out the special features are two Theatrical Trailers, both presented with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio:
    • Trailer 1 (2:33 DD 5.1)
    • Trailer 2 (2:34 DD 5.1)
    This Blu-ray combo release also includes a SD DVD copy of the film. It presentes theWhen this disc is first played, the film in standard definition with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French, and Spanish with available subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. Ejen the disc is first played, viewers are greeted with the following skippable promos:
    • Ultraviolet Digital Copy Promo
    • Dolphin Tale 2 theatrical trailer
    • Jupiter Ascending theatrical trailer (touting a July 18th, 2014 release date which has since been pushed back to February of 2015)
    • Edge of Tomorrow theatrical trailer
    The SD DVD special features include the What is Transcendence? and Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision featurettes.

    Overall Rating: 3/5

    Transcendence as a movie disappoints by saddling a five star cast with two dimensional characters. Transcendence the Blu-ray disappoints by not doing full justice to Director Wally Pfister and Director of Photography Jess Hall's lush visuals and by providing special features that are large in number, but shallow in depth.

    Reviewed by: Ken_McAlinden
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    5 Comments

    The image quality was about the same on digital IMAX, and not much different than the non-IMAX portions of TDKR.  I think that might be Pfister's intended look.

    A 3 out of 5 rating for PQ for a Blu-ray in 2014 seems unthinkable. Well, maybe for an old catalog title that hasn't been properly mastered, yes, but not for a recent theatrical feature. I didn't like the film enough to buy it on BD but for those folks who were planning to pick it up - all I can say is, wait for a sale.

     

    BTW, I really dislike seeing actors' faces plastered all over the covers. I know it's a marketing tool studios use to help move copies at Best Buy but, man, it's just ugly. Why don't they just stick a file photo of the actor on there and call it a day? It'll save them money

    Photo
    Josh Steinberg
    Jul 25 2014 02:16 PM

    I saw this in digital IMAX, and I thought the image was underwhelming then too.  I don't know if it was a matter of being Pfister's intended look or if the color timing on the finished prints somehow didn't translate into the digital realm.. but it wasn't a pretty movie.  I remember seeing a featurette with Pfister on the IMAX site about how the IMAX format was his choice for how to see the movie, so you'd think he'd have seen how it looked in IMAX before saying that.  I wish I had had an opportunity to see a 35mm print of the movie but it wasn't screening on film anywhere near me.

     

    Long way of saying, I wonder if the Blu-ray looks exactly like the DCP.  And I wonder if the DCP looks the same or different than a 35mm print of the title.

    Heard terrible things about this movie but would love to blind buy this for a cheap price.

    Photo
    Josh Steinberg
    Jul 26 2014 04:18 PM

    Heard terrible things about this movie but would love to blind buy this for a cheap price.

     

    I don't regret seeing it.  Wasn't great, and in my opinion it suffered from having a lot of big ideas but not really developing any of them, but it wasn't one of those where I left wanting to scream "that's two hours of my life I'll never get back!"  I'd be curious to know how close the finished film is to the script that was greenlit, and if anything got lost along the way.

     

    I can't imagine many people rewatching this, though.  To me, it was a strictly one-and-done affair.