Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister is working on a science-fiction film that will release in 2014, but it is not Interstellar – director Christopher Nolan’s upcoming cinematic journey through time and space. Instead, after serving as Nolan’s director of photography on all his previous films (except for Following), Pfister is taking the helm on his own work of original sci-fi entertainment: the dramatic thriller Transcendence.
Pfister’s feature debut is based on a screenplay by relative newcomer Jake Paglen – who is currently scripting a Prometheus sequel for Ridley Scott – and features a cast that is headlined by Johnny Depp, alongside Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3) and Paul Bettany (voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man movies, incidentally). Unconfirmed plot details have been circulating for the past year, but Alcon Entertainment has now released an official synopsis that gels with most of the rumors we’ve been hearing.
Here is the synopsis for Transcendence:
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient 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 who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.
It is believed that Transcendence cast member Cillian Murphy – whose previous ventures in the sci-fi genre include Inception, In Time and a brief appearance in TRON: Legacy (possibly setting up a larger role in TRON 3) – is leading the “anti-technology extremists” in the film. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if Morgan Freeman (who collaborated with Pfister on Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) is playing someone friendly to Depp’s cause in the beginning; or, if he’s against Dr. Caster, even before the latter becomes obsessed with transcending the limitations of his feeble human body and mind.
Pfister won’t pull a Steven Soderbergh/Robert Rodriguez and serve as the d.o.p. on a film that he is also directing; the official cinematographer for Transcendence is Jess Hall (The Spectacular Now), though he probably got some pointers from Pfister during principal photography, given the latter’s relevant (and impressive) experience.
While Transcendence ought to look quite handsome for that reason, the film should also be interesting as a dramatic sci-fi work that examines some very timely issues (with the most obvious being the A.I. subject – something this month’s Her approaches from a rather different angle). The “scientist goes mad with power” premise isn’t exactly all that innovative, but Depp’s character sounds fittingly complex – and thus, an appropriately modern variation on the tragic figure-turned antagonist archetype. Indeed, the ensemble cast has more than enough talent to ground these proceedings emotionally.
Besides, the role of Dr. Caster look to be the rare dramatic offering from Depp over the next few years; otherwise, he’ll be playing quirky and/or comically-oddball types in films like Disney’s Into the Woods musical, the Mortdecai comedy/caper movie, and the Mouse House’s sequels Alice in Wonderland 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Transcendence opens in regular and IMAX theaters on April 18th, 2014.