Would have worked better as a TV (mini-)series
Transcendence Blu-ray Review
Transcendence sits slightly awkwardly as a sub-par blockbuster which sports visually extravagant effects sequences that unfortunately only smother and cloud the thoughtful sci-fi concepts within.Brimming with great ideas, impressive cinematography and a stellar cast, it's a shame that they didn’t distil the substance here into a larger vessel – a TV mini-series or even a planned trilogy of films – instead cramming far too much, complete with a jarringly let’s-skip-years-ahead timeline, into one film. Perhaps if they weren’t so busy focussing on the kind of grandstanding effects that they hoped would draw the Nolan crowd, that director's longterm DOP, Wally Pfister, might have produced a more independent directorial debut.
Ironically, Transcendence so desperately wants to have its own voice, despite also wanting to conform to such expectations, a conflict which is apparent throughout.Certainly the movie is at its best when it's delivering Terminator / Borg / Body Snatchers vibes, and when it's pondering the questions of what makes us who we are, and whether or not there could ever be digital replications of ourselves – whether or not the soul can be uploaded. Even Depp is not in the negative column, for once (although the rest of the cast are largely wasted), reminding us that he doesn’t have to bring Jack Sparrow to every role.
There's so much damn potential in here that you wish that they hadn't tried to cram it all in to a 2-hour movie. But, beyond the arguably unnecessary visual distractions of floating airborne nanobots, you can still see some pure sci-fi concepts on offer; whether or not that'll be enough for you will come down to the individual.
What is Transcendence Blu-ray Picture QualityThis really should have been clear-cut, shouldn’t it? Wally Pfister, who lensed most of Chris Nolan’s features prior to embarking on this, surely should have equated to reference video, shouldn’t it? Well I seem to remember it looking pretty good in the cinema. Irrespective of the shortcomings of the story; the flaws in the film itself, it looked largely stunning. Not so much here on Blu-ray, with some of the stylistic choices taken for the movie resulting in fairly drastic measures being taken to sharpen, clean and overly-process the image. Unfortunately, since there has been no digital intermediary, the scan for the 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation here – framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen – just accentuates the inconsistencies that appear to have developed at the printing stage.
With half of the movie bathed in darkness, which the release doesn’t appear to be able to handle, it’s only the second half that stands a chance of impressing you on Blu-ray.
Most of the most obvious issues raise their ugly heads in the first half, which is steeped in shadows and struggles to cope with both ends of the spectrum – black levels crush more often than not, and whites clip at the upper end, with the remainder of the image suffering from some sharpening and overt DNR application to counteract the effect of some of the other tools applied.
The second half of the movie has a far more naturally well-defined look, with skin textures, clothing weaves, and background flourishes appearing far more authentic and less heavily processed. Sure, a few less perfect shots still infect the piece, but this part of the production looks so impressive that you wonder why they couldn’t have rendered the entire film in such glorious fashion.
At the end of the day, though, it is questionable just how much this kind of digital tinkering will really distract you away from the main feature. In motion, without eagle-eye focus on what’s wrong with the image, there’s plenty to enjoy, but from a technical review perspective, this should-be-demo video just isn’t up to scratch.
How Does Transcendence Blu-ray SoundThere are no such worries about the audio track, a powerful and precise DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offering which delivers on all counts. Dialogue is rendered clearly and coherently throughout the piece, dominating the fronts and centre channels where necessary, despite the barrage of effects and score elements pervading the track.
A balance of punch and precision, the aural side is every bit as impressive as you'd expect, and every bit as good as the video should have been.
Effects are well-represented across the surround array, with voice given to both the subtle ambient flourishes as well as the more grand-scale latter-act action. The film manages to provide a welcome atmosphere to both the smaller and bigger setpieces, giving the score its own place on the array too, and ringing in as demo quality, if not quite reference perfection.
Transcendence Blu-ray ExtrasA quartet of insubstantial mini-Featurettes, each just a few minutes long, provide nothing to get your teeth into, nor anything more than aggrandised EPK promo fluff. Supporting that we also get a slew of Trailers.
Is Transcendence Blu-ray Worth BuyingThere's plenty to admire about this prominent directorial debut from Chris Nolan's acclaimed, long-term, cinematographer - but more of it has to do with the intriguing sci-fi concepts than with the pretty but pretty vacuous effects-driven visuals.
With longer to play in this sandbox - as there was clearly a bigger story to tell - this may have worked far better.
Funnily enough, what should have been a clear-cut demo presentation through and through, turns out to be a little more messy, with visuals that have been tweaked and corrected somewhat excessively for the Blu-ray release. The audio track is far more unhesitatingly impressive. With a fleeting few extras on the release, none of which are particularly substantial, this seems like a rental at best all round - whether you're a fan of the film or just interested in investigating it.
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