September 27, 2016

Transcendence – Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Cillian Murphy

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Directed by: Wally Pfister
Written by: Jack Paglen
Main Cast: Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Cillian Murphy, and others
Past Oscar relations: Pfister won Best Cinematography for Inception and Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby

Here now we have the next article in this series on 2014 contenders hoping to compete for Oscar attention at the Academy Award ceremony in 2015. Next up is DP turned filmmaker Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence, which hopes to more or less establish Pfister as the next Christopher Nolan (especially since he’s Nolan’s longtime cinematographer), though that may be a somewhat overly optimistic ambition. There’s clearly a bit of Nolan in Pfister though, so we’ll see. He’s got a top notch cast in place here, including Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman (a Nolan veteran), Cole Hauser, and Cillian Murphy (ditto), so that’s a big help. If Pfister can take scribe Jack Paglen’s well regarded script and make it into something special, perhaps this can be the sort of smart blockbuster that the Academy notices?

What this flick has going in its favor is mainly its pedigree. From the A list cast to the directorial debut of one of the best cinematographers in the business to the hot script that got this all start, hopes have been high from day one here. There’s also the allure of seeing Depp in a role that doesn’t require massive amounts of make up, so older fans of his may be intrigued by this more than many of his recent Disney outings. Followers of Nolan also know Pfister pretty well, so there’s some level of anticipation of him getting to helm his own movie. There’s an original premise on display as well, which is sort of rare these days. This all adds up to a film with lots of potential.

Working against Transcendence is that it appears to be caught between the worlds of heady science fiction and summer blockbuster action. The film could be too talky for the crowd who wants to see things blow up and it could be too reliant on adding spectacle for those who are looking to really get into the nitty gritty of the story here. Honestly, the release date makes me think that Warner Brothers themselves aren’t quite sure how this will all play out, so unless there are top notch reviews and tons of dollars coming in, any sort of an awards campaign will be muted and mostly focused on some sort of a technical citation.

So, can this be a player at all? I’d say that it’s possible for a tech nomination or two, though overall it’s much closer to being a long shot nominee than a likely one at all. I’d be shocked if it did too much damage during the awards season, especially considering its likely narrow focus for nominations, but weirder things have happened in the past. Transcendence more likely than not won’t make it to Oscar nomination morning in any significant way, but it’s something different and represents a very intriguing option to consider at the moment, that’s for sure…

Grade: Long Shot Contender

Stay tuned for another one of these next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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