Last time we met, I put up a poll to see if the readers of this blog would vote for me to plug myself into Transcendence or dodge it like a radioactive bullet. Simply put, I was placing my fate in your hands. That phrase turned out to be appropriate in more ways than one…as the amount of people who voted could literally be counted on one hand.
Well, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. Thank you to those 5 people who voted so unanimously for me to go and see Transcendence. I bet you’re dying to find out if I stayed true to my promises in the face of democracy, yes?
Alright, no need for me to be coy. I saw Transcendence this morning and can now say that…I get it. I understand why the film was so ill received. That doesn’t mean that I completely hated it, nor did I like it…in fact I don’t think it’s even a good film, but I’m glad I saw it.
Let me explain:
Transcendence is what happens when you take a first time writer, slap on a first time director, and give them 100 million dollars to play with. I think the blame of Transcendence‘s failure lies more with Jack Paglen’s droning dialogue than it does with Wally Pfister’s style and grasp of the actors, but the result is clearly a messy bag of honourable intentions either way.
As someone who’s looking for a way into the film business myself, Transcendence now stands before me as a glaring example of the one and only path to the top…from the bottom.
Wally Pfister himself has proven that the way to become a great cinematographer in Hollywood is to cut your teeth on simpler grain. Decades before he rose to the Oscar stage and collected his award for Inception, Pfister learnt his trade not by working with Morgan Freeman and Christopher Nolan, but by working with this:
Porn! Well no, it wasn’t strictly porn. It’s a soft core genre called “Erotic Thriller”, which straddles the line between story and sex. Crime and tension are supposed to be the bread and butter of the plot, but in the end everything just serves to ferry us from one love scene to another. When Pfister wasn’t making his money shooting exposed anatomies, he took up these projects:
Yay, crappy horror movies! I love these things! Even better, they’re straight-to-video Goosebumps-esque horrors. There was The Unborn, about an in-vitro fertilization attempt gone…evil (trailer here). Then we had Amityville: A New Generation, also known as Amityville 7 (trailer here). Following this we got The Granny, about a family finding out that their inheritance-hogging grandmother is actually an evil undead zombie (trailer here). Wrapping everything up was Stepmonster, which…kind of speaks for itself (trailer here).
The point I’m trying to make is that everyone, especially Wally Pfister, started out crawling through the muck. They weren’t born geniuses. Maybe you can find the odd exception to the rule, like Quentin Tarantino, but usually the evidence is clear.
Transcendence is another one of those films; a first attempt at directing by someone who’s trying really hard! It should, and I think will, be re-evaluated as such.
The difference here is that Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. stupidly gave Wally Pfister too much money! Typically, with a large wallet comes less creativity. Economic movie making is something that must be learnt at the barrel-end of a tight budget. It forces you to make up for a lack of star quality and expensive CGI with a stripped-down effort of exciting, and perhaps even exploitative, story-telling.
I can only hope that this outcome will not deter Wally Pfister, or Jack Paglen for that matter, but that they can instead learn from this. Next time start off with a smaller budget and rather substitute some narrative excitement. Hopefully in the future you guys will have a big hit that provokes a profitable response from the audience and delivers all the same messages and ideas that you’re clearly interested in sharing.
For now, however:
– Rant Over!