'Transcendence' finds Johnny Depp delving into the world of sentient machines

The film, which co-stars Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany, is directed by longtime Christopher Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister.

Jon Furniss Photography/Invision/AP
'Transcendence' stars Johnny Depp.

The film “Transcendence” is directed by “Inception” helmer Christopher Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, but Wally Pfister says not to go into the movie expecting “Nolan-lite.”

Pfister’s debut film centers on Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a man who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and is researching artificial intelligence. As Will pursues his goal of creating sophisticated machines, his wife and fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall of “Iron Man 3”) and his friend Max (“Priest” actor Paul Bettany) must decide how they feel about his increasingly radical work. Actors Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara of “House of Cards,” and Cillian Murphy of “Inception” co-star. 

Pfister, who won the Best Cinematography Oscar in 2011 for “Inception,” told the Los Angeles Times that he thinks his storytelling sensibility is different from Nolan.

“My training comes from Chris, but my emotional content comes from a different era,” he said. “I'm steeped in a 1970s, pre-‘Star Wars' period, films like 'Soylent Green.' Chris comes from a different place.”

The director says he thought the portrayal in film of machines in the future was getting a little tired.

“I wanted to get away from the cliched notion of a sentient machine taking over the world,” Pfister said. “There are deeper questions of what we're using technology for. To heal or to create a barrier? Is it benevolent or malevolent? I want the audience to understand both sides of it.”

He remembered telling Nolan that he was unsure whether he wanted “Transcendence,” with its ambitious script and big budget, to be his first film. “My hesitation is that it's just too big for my first adventure,” Pfister says he told Nolan.

But Pfister says the “Dark Knight Rises” director waved away such concerns.

“’Storytelling is the same whether you're dealing with $100 million or $10 million,’” Pfister remembers Nolan saying.

“Transcendence” opens Friday.

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