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Why is this first look behind the scenes of Wally Pfister's directorial debut in Chinese? The answer is right there in the middle of the only English-language words you hear. Rebecca Hall had a pretty small role in Iron Man 3, but that movie-- specifically tailored to Chinese audiences-- was a big enough hit in China to make her a star. And as we hear over and over again, China is becoming a hugely important market for American studios, and Transcendence is just the latest Hollywood blockbuster to team up with China from the very start.
On Thursday The Los Angeles Times reported that DMG Entertainment, a Chinese company, would team up with Alcon Entertainment to help finance, produce and distribute the film, which will be distributed by Warner Bros. here in the United States. This video emerged as part of the announcement, and as you can tell, doesn't reveal a whole lot. You see glimpses of Depp, Hall, Cillian Murphy and Pfister, along with some storyboards that promise an "explosion" will be part of the action eventually, but the video seems to basically exist to prove that the movie is in fact in production-- here in the United States, not in China, incidentally. The Film Stage, which picked up the video, also snagged this promotional poster, which also doesn't tell you a whole lot:
Pfister, the longtime cinematographer for Christopher Nolan who won an Oscar for Inception, has clearly taken a cue from his collaborator and is keeping most of the details close to the vest as he starts work on his directorial debut. We've been picking up scraps of plot details as the film assembled its cast, with the most prevalent rumor saying the film follows a group of scientists experimenting with teaching a computer to become self-aware. The Los Angeles Times writeup suggests that, early in the film, Depp's character will die, but his wife (Hall) uploads his consciousness into the computer, creating "the singularity". DMG founder Dan Mintz, while eager not to reveal any details, essentially confirmed as much:
“Without giving away too much, ‘Transcendence’ is about that moment when human consciousness and the insanely fast rise of computing power collide. It pulls from the idea of singularity to tell a truly meaningful story that is more ‘science reality’ than science fiction. This is something that is likely to happen in our lifetimes and that makes it a story everyone can get into.”
The notion of the technological singularity has fascinated a lot of geek types here in the United States for years now-- check out the documentary Transcendent Man for much more on the idea-- and as modern technology sweeps its way across China, it's not hard to imagine they're just as interested too. At the very least, the producers think so-- unlike Iron Man 3, Looper and 21 and Over, Transcendence won't include any footage shot specifically for Chinese audiences, according to a DMG spokesman. That trend of completely altering a film for the sake of pandering to a single nation's audience was getting to look disturbingly common, so it's a relief to see one film at least buck the trend (and with a brand-new director, no less). In the coming years China will likely only have more influence on Hollywood's biggest films. How naive is it to hope that the influence will be limited to promos and partnerships like this one?
Transcendence-- still not to be confused with Christopher Nolan's Interstellar-- arrives in North American theaters April 18 next year.