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'Transcendence': Latest Sci-Fi Movie About Artificial Intelligence


Filmmakers have been toying with the risks and rewards of artificial intelligence, at least since HAL went haywire in Stanley Kubrick's "2001 A Space Odyssey." What are you doing, Dave? Now comes "Transcendence," starring Johnny Depp, which our film critic Kenneth Turan says is worth paying attention to.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Transcendence" is an ambitious and provocative film about the perils and pleasures of artificial intelligence that is intriguingly balanced between being a warning and a celebration. Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a brilliant but distracted scientist reminiscent of Disney's Gyro Gearloose. His wife Evelyn, played by Rebecca Hall, is the more focused half of the couple, eager to raise money for the practical applications of Will's ideas. They attend a conference where the good doctor talks about the lure of what he calls transcendence.


JOHNNY DEPP: (as Dr. Will Caster) Once you're online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology. And in a short time, its analytical power will be greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world.

TURAN: For some people in the audience, that is not a dream but a nightmare. These are the members of RIFT, Revolutionary Independence From Technology, with the word Unplug tattooed on their forearms and mayhem in their hearts. RIFT soon does its worst and Will ends up with only a few weeks to live. Evelyn and the couple's best friend Max, played by Paul Bettany, argue about the best way to save him.


REBECCA HALL: (as Evelyn) Will's body through I'd dying but his mind is a pattern of electrical signals that we can upload into (unintelligible). He can...

PAUL BETTANY: (as Max) Ev, he's not a monkey. Assuming that implanting an electrode into his brain can actually kill him, and that this works, the very best you'll be making a digital approximation of him. If we missed anything, - anything, a thought, a childhood memory - how will you know what you're dealing with?

TURAN: "Transcendence's" exposition is not always sharp and making emotional connections, with the exception of the outstanding Rebecca Hall, is not its strength. But the ideas underlying everything are involving.

Some of "Transcendence's" characters feel the new Will is an unnatural abomination and a threat to humanity. Are their qualms justified? Or is it a question of people fearing what they don't understand? These are difficult questions and the best thing about "Transcendence" is that it refuses to pretend otherwise.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.