Prey is one of many novels written by Michael Crichton. It was published in 2002, and involved a story about nano-robotics and the havoc they wreak. After Timeline, it is my favorite Michael Crichton book. I always thought it would make a really interesting and terrifying movie. Apparently, Transcendence is as close as we will get, and that’s a shame – it’s not based on the book, but maybe it should have been.
Transcendence tells the story of Dr. Will Caster, who, with his wife Evelyn, and their friend Max, are working to create a more powerful Artificial Intelligence. They are collaborating with several other experts in the field at various other labs. One day, a radical anti-technology group called RIFT (basically what John Connor would create if he was real) attacks all these labs at once with varying degrees of deadliness, ranging from poisoned cake to exploding computers to radiation-laced bullets. The bullet was for Will, who begins to die, and during the process, works with Evelyn and Max to upload his consciousness to the A.I. they were working on. Max is a little concerned, but Evelyn doesn’t want to live without Will, so they upload him. Once uploaded, he grows more powerful. The terrorist group sets out to stop him, as he leads Evelyn to a rural desert town to start building nano-bots, which he begins to use to “fix” humanity, making them stronger and regenerative. Max flips sides to the terrorist group, who team up with the government once they realize the threat that Will has become. But – is it really Will? Or is it some other A.I. mimicking him to get what it wants? That being, to ‘transcend’ everyone on the planet to a hybrid A.I. type being.
That sounds pretty interesting, right? Well, here’s the problem. It really should have been, but the movie is way too slow, and gets bogged down in itself. It’s directed by Wally Pfister, who has worked with Christopher Nolan over and over again – that’s why half the cast is Nolan regular players. I wonder if it would have been better had he directed it himself. The movie takes way too long to get Will uploaded, and once uploaded, it’s never really clear what exactly he’s doing. We spend way too long with the anti-technology group without them ever really explaining why they think they way they do. The strange thing with this movie is that it either needed to be elevated a bit = more on the philosophical side, with more drama, and more questioning of the direction humankind is going …or, it needed to drop down a few clicks = and become more of a sci-fi action flick. A few more action sequences, more with the nanobots, and more ‘spolsions. It would be less high-brow, but way more entertaining. However, the cast of this particular movie would lead it more towards the first option.
- Johnny Depp long ago slid into the realm of becoming his own punchline. What was the last Johnny Depp movie you saw that you really liked? The first Pirates? He’s really only comfortable playing an over-the-top character with a costume he can disappear into. When he has to play a real person, he comes off as wooden and un-interesting. Will Caster is supposed to be a brilliant scientist, and Depp could have pulled that off, but really he just looks bored. He’s actually way better once Caster ‘transcends’, because then Depp can play the monster part.
- Rebecca Hall, who was recently in Iron Man 3, but is in this because she worked with Nolan on the Prestige, plays Evelyn. She is actually pretty good, because she starts out desperate to have Will back, then slowly becomes terrified of what he’s become.
- Paul Bettany, who was with Depp in the terrible Tourist, plays Max. He’s pretty great in almost everything, and does his best here. He wants to help Evelyn, but he really knows that uploading Will’s consciousness is the wrong thing to do.
- Cillian Murphy – who worked with Nolan in Inception and the Dark Knight triology – plays Agent Buchanan, who’s connection was unclear. He seems to be a government agent who stops by in the beginning of the movie to have things explained to him (thanks for the exposition), and comes by in the end to help bring down the monster that Will becomes. If you actioned-up this movie, his character would have had more to do.
- Kate Mara (older sister to Rooney Mara) plays Bree, she’s currently on House of Cards, and will be your new Sue Storm. Bree is a member of the anti-technology group, and she, with other members, kidnap Max to get him to see what is happening. Again, in this movie, that is several slow scenes of her and Bettany looking at each other and talking, but if you action-ed up the movie, they would be more running, yelling and escaping from things as she tried to get him to see what was happening.
- Cole Hauser plays Colonel Stevens, who again seems to be a military person who shows up at the end to help bring down Will. Just imaging how cool his role would have been in the action version of this movie.
- Clifton Collins Jr. plays one of the residents of the town that Will and Evelyn take over, he’s also the first person that Will ‘transcends’, causing him to be able to have super strength, and crazy regeneration powers, and also – telekinetic connections to Will and other transcended people. Again, that could have been so cool, but he gets one or two scenes using that.
- Morgan Freeman, who worked with Nolan in the Dark Knight Trilogy, plays Joseph Tagger, who seems to be a scientist who was working at one of the other labs, and avoids eating the poisoned cake – so he makes it through the attack. He meets up with Will and Evelyn before Will gets taken out, and then shows up later to visit Evelyn, and warn her that Will is probably not Will. He hands her a tiny note that says “Run from this place”. Which is pretty cool – but, again, if you action-ed up the movie, could have been a much more interesting scene.
Overall, it’s another movie that suffers from wasted potential. I would really like to see the Saturday Night SyFy version of this movie, I bet it would be way more entertaining, with far less shots of people looking shocked, and less shots of sunflowers. Yes, I understand why we’re looking at the sunflowers, but it didn’t need to be for that long. The final moment of the movie seemed to imply that the question we were supposed to be asking the whole was “Is it Will? Or is it something else?”, and honestly, that was barely touched on – and when it was, it wasn’t clear.
5 out of 10 – it really just needed to be sped up. Gained points for Cillian Murphy, then lost points for him barely being in it. Gained points for the interesting aspect of a anti-technology terrorist group, but then lost points for not using them all that much. Gained points for bringing in the government on the sly – but then lost points for not explaining that connection. Gained points for the creepy way Will cyber-stalks Evelyn around the base – but then lost points for him nano-bot building himself a body, creepy. Read Prey – it’s good, don’t see this, it’s too slow.
Bonus Video 1: The Prestige – a really great Nolan movie.
Bonus Video 2: Now You See Me – the Freeman/Michael Caine movie.
Bonus Video 3: Transcendence cast interviews