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Transcendence (2014 film)

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Title: Transcendence (2014 film)  
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Subject: Transhumanist art, Cinematographer, Alcon Entertainment, List of 2014 box office number-one films in Mexico, List of 2014 box office number-one films in Australia
Collection: 2010S Mystery Films, 2010S Science Fiction Films, 2010S Thriller Films, 2014 3D Films, 2014 Films, Alcon Entertainment Films, American Films, American Mystery Films, American Science Fiction Films, American Thriller Films, Brain–computer Interfacing in Fiction, Chinese 3D Films, Chinese Films, Chinese Science Fiction Films, Chinese Thriller Films, Cyberpunk Films, Directorial Debut Films, Dolby Atmos Films, English-Language Films, Films About Artificial Intelligence, Films About Computing, Films About Technological Impact, Films Directed by Wally Pfister, Films Set in San Francisco, California, Films Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, Films Shot in California, Films Shot in Los Angeles, California, Films Shot in New Mexico, Postcyberpunk Films, Summit Entertainment Films, Techno-Thriller Films, Transhumanism in Film, Warner Bros. Films
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Transcendence (2014 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wally Pfister
Produced by
Written by Jack Paglen
Music by Mychael Danna[1]
Cinematography Jess Hall
Edited by David Rosenbloom
Distributed by
Release dates
  • April 10, 2014 (2014-04-10) (New York City)
  • April 18, 2014 (2014-04-18) (United States and China)
Running time
119 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $100 million[3]
Box office $103 million[3]

Transcendence is a 2014 Christopher Nolan, served as executive producer on the project.

At one time, Paglen's screenplay was part of what is known as the Black List, a list of popular but unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Transcendence was a disappointment at the box office, grossing only slightly more than its $100 million budget. The film received mainly negative reviews; it was criticized for its plot structure, characters and dialogue.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Development 3.1
    • Financing 3.2
    • Casting 3.3
    • Filming 3.4
    • Music 3.5
  • Release 4
    • Home media 4.1
  • Reception 5
    • Box office 5.1
    • Critical reception 5.2
    • Accolades 5.3
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientist who researches the nature of death and sentience, including artificial intelligence. He and his team work to create a sentient computer; he predicts that such a computer will create a technological singularity, or in his words "Transcendence". His wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is also a scientist and helps him with his work.

During one of Will's presentations, a member of the anti-technology terrorist group "Revolutionary Independence From Technology" (R.I.F.T.) shoots Will with a polonium-laced bullet and carries out a series of synchronized attacks on A.I. laboratories across the country. Will is given no more than a month to live. In desperation, Evelyn comes up with a plan to upload Will's consciousness into the quantum computer that the project has developed. His best friend and fellow researcher Max Waters (Paul Bettany) questions the wisdom of this choice, reasoning that the "uploaded" Will would be only an imitation of the real person. Will's consciousness survives his body's death in this technological form and requests to be connected to the Internet to grow in capability and knowledge. Max refuses to have any part of the experiment. Evelyn demands that Max leave and connects the computer intelligence to the Internet via satellite.

R.I.F.T.'s leader Bree (Kate Mara) kidnaps Max and eventually persuades him to join the group. The government is also suspicious of what Will's uploaded consciousness will do and plans to use the terrorists to take the blame for the government's actions to stop him.

In his virtual form and with Evelyn's help, Will uses his new-found vast intelligence to build a technological utopia in a remote desert town called Brightwood, where he spearheads the development of ground-breaking new technologies in the fields of medicine, energy, biology and nanotechnology. However, Evelyn grows fearful of Will's motives when he displays the ability to remotely connect to and control people's minds after they have been subjected to his nano-particles.

FBI agent Donald Buchanan (computer virus with the purpose of deleting Will's source code, killing him. Evelyn plans to upload the virus by infecting herself, then having Will upload her consciousness. An unfortunate side effect of the virus would be the destruction of technological civilization. This would also disable the nano-particles, which have spread through the wind and have already started to eradicate pollution, disease, and human mortality.

When Evelyn goes back to the research center, she is stunned to see Will in a newly created organic body identical to his old one. Will welcomes her but is instantly aware that she is carrying the virus and intends to destroy him. The FBI and the members of R.I.F.T. attack the base with artillery, destroying much of the power supply and fatally wounding Evelyn. When Bree threatens to kill Max unless Will uploads the virus, Will explains that he has only enough power to either heal Evelyn's physical body or upload the virus. Evelyn tells Will that Max should not die because of what they've done, so Will uploads the virus to save Max. As Will dies, he explains to Evelyn that he did what he did for her, as she had pursued science to repair the damage humans had done to the ecosystems. In their last moment, he tells Evelyn to think about their garden. The virus kills both Will and Evelyn, and a global technology collapse and blackout ensues.

Five years later, in Will and Evelyn's garden at their old home in Berkeley, Max notices that their sunflowers are the only blooming plants. Upon closer examination, he notices that a drop of water falling from a sunflower petal instantly cleanses a puddle of oil — and realizes that the Faraday cage around the garden has protected a sample of Will's sentient nano-particles, potentially saving Will and Evelyn and providing a solution to the worldwide blackout.

The movie ends with the dialogue, "He created this garden for the same reason he did everything. So they could be together."




Transcendence is Wally Pfister's directorial debut. Jack Paglen wrote the initial screenplay for Pfister to direct,[nb 1] and producer Annie Marter pitched the film to Straight Up Films.[10] The pitch was sold to Straight Up. By March 2012, Alcon Entertainment acquired the project.[11] Alcon financed and produced the film; producers from Straight Up and Alcon joined together for the film. In the following June, director Christopher Nolan, for whom Pfister has worked as cinematographer, and Nolan's producing partner Emma Thomas joined the film as executive producers.[10]


The Chinese company DMG Entertainment entered a partnership with Alcon Entertainment to finance and produce the film. While DMG contributed Chinese elements to Looper and Iron Man 3, it did not do so for Transcendence.[12]


By October 2012, actor

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  1. ^ Jack Paglen's screenplay was featured in the 2012 survey of Hollywood's The Black List, a list of most-liked unproduced screenplays.[9]


See also

Award Category Subject Result Notes
Golden Trailer Awards Most Original Trailer Buddha Jones, Warner Bros. Nominated For the first theatrical trailer entitled "It's Me"
Best Motion/Title Graphics Nominated
Won For the second theatrical trailer entitled "Singularity"
Most Innovative Advertising for a Feature Film Nominated "Spraypaint"
Village Voice Film Poll Award Worst Film Won Tied with Interstellar

Despite the negative reviews, Transcendence was nominated for the following awards...


Months after the film's release, reviewer Scout Tafoya defended the film as an under-appreciated great work, claiming its failure was partially due to the marketing of the film as a thriller instead of a "heartbreaking" human drama.[48]

Contrary to the many less than flattering reviews that the film received, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times lauded the film and awarded it four stars, calling it a "bold, beautiful flight of futuristic speculation" and " a stunning piece of work".[44] Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times was also positive towards the film, praising the quality of the cast and intelligence of the script.[45] Some sources like The Independent thought that the negative reviews reported for the film were harsh and that the film was "stylish and entertaining", treading a "fairly well-judged path between paranoia and technological utopianism".[46] AI researcher Stuart Russell claims that despite particular technical aspects of the movie being "a non-starter", the basic premise of superhuman AI is quite possible, and that "AI researchers must, like nuclear physicists and genetic engineers before them, take seriously the possibility that their research might actually succeed and do their utmost to ensure that their work benefits rather than endangers their own species."[47]

Criticism was aimed largely at the film's poor logic and storytelling.[38][39] Michael Atkinson of Sight & Sound identified "vast plot holes and superhuman leaps of logic", writing that "for all its gloss, hipster pretensions, plot craters and sometimes risible attempts at action, Transcendence traffics in large, troublesome ideas about Right Now and What’s Ahead, even if the film itself is far too timid and compromised to do those hairy questions justice."[40] William Thomas of Empire believed that the cast and director had been "wasted on a B-Movie script with pretensions of prescience", dismissing the film as a "banal sci-fi slog"; he awarded it a 2 out of 5 star "poor" rating.[41] David Denby of The New Yorker considered the film to be "rhythmless, shapeless, and, with the exception of a few shots, cheesy-looking".[42] Nigel Floyd of Film4 concluded that it was "an ambitious, old fashioned, ideas-driven science fiction film that is never as mind-expanding as its futuristic images and topical, dystopian ideas seem to promise".[43]

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 19%, based on 193 reviews, with an average rating of 4.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "In his directorial debut, ace cinematographer Wally Pfister remains a distinctive visual stylist, but Transcendence‍ '​s thought-provoking themes exceed the movie's narrative grasp."[36] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 42 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[37]

Publications such as The Guardian, Forbes and International Business Times considered the film to be largely a critical failure,[28][29][30] with The Guardian stating that the reviews were "almost universally damning" and referring to the film as "one of 2014's bigger critical turkeys".[28] Film critic Mark Kermode said that the film got a "critical kicking" in the UK, much as it did in the US.[31] However, a number of sources considered the film to have received a mixed rather than a primarily negative reception.[32][33][34][35]

Critical reception

Warner Bros fronted the US marketing costs and Alcon backstopped their investment and covered Warner Bros loss, which partially contributed to the $30,000,000 loss that Alcon reported.[27]

The biggest market in other territories being China, France and South Korea, where the film grossed $20.2 million, $6.45 million and $5.3 million respectively.[26]

On the film's opening weekend, the film grossed $4,813,369 on Friday, $3,820,074 on Saturday and $2,252,943 in North America, for a weekend grossed of $10,886,386 playing in 3,455 theaters with an average of $3,151 and ranking #4.[24][25]

Transcendence grossed a $23 million in North America and $80 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $103 million, just above its $100 million budget.[3]

Box office


Transcendence was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 22, 2014.[23]

Home media

Warner Bros. distributed the film in the United States and Canada. Summit Entertainment (through Lionsgate) is distributing it in other territories, except for China, Italy, Hong Kong, Austria, United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Germany.[21] DMG Entertainment, who collaborated with Alcon Entertainment to finance and develop Transcendence, distributed the film in China.[12] The Chinese version includes a 3D and IMAX 3D release, funded by DMG, which is done in post-production.[22]

Transcendence was released in theaters on April 18, 2014. It was originally scheduled for April 25, 2014.[20]


The musical score for the film composed by Mychael Danna was released on April 15, through WaterTower Music. A CD format of the score was released through


Continuing his advocacy for the use of film stock over digital cinematography, Pfister chose to shoot the film in the anamorphic format on 35 mm film.[15] The film went through a traditional photochemical finish instead of a digital intermediate.[16] In addition to film, a digital master was completed in 4K resolution, and the film was additionally released in IMAX film format. Transcendence was also scheduled for a 3D release in China.[17] Filming officially began in June 2013,[18] and took place over a period of 62 days.[19] The majority of the movie was filmed in a variety of locations throughout Albuquerque, New Mexico.



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