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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Thriller > Computer > Alien > Transcendence (2014/Warner Blu-ray w/DVD)/Under The Skin (2013/Lionsgate Blu-ray + DVD)

Transcendence (2014/Warner Blu-ray w/DVD)/Under The Skin (2013/Lionsgate Blu-ray + DVD)

Picture: B- & C/B- & C Sound: B & B-/B & C+ Extras: C/C+ Films: B-/B

For all the bad space operas and bad action films in bad sci-fi clothing, it is nice to see two films that actually know what hard Science Fiction is. Ambitious, interesting and worth your time, I was pleasantly surprised by both.

We start with Wally Pfister's Transcendence (2014), the directorial debut of the Director of Photography in a thriller that involves Johnny Depp (in his best work in a while) as a doctor with an advanced understanding of computers, the brain, intelligence and mind that may have a big breakthrough to offer the world, but some think this might be a disaster and he is the target of an assassination that has a man shot him down. He should be dead outright, but he barely survives, hooked up to an advanced system by his wife (Rebecca Hall) and computer friend & confidante (Paul Bettany) to complete as experiment he has worked on all his life.

What follows is an ambitious film with interesting ideas that often work, but the film has lulls where it becomes too much like a few films we have seen before. At best, you'll think 2001 and Demon Seed, but it also comes across as generic at times like lesser films than it like Simone, Johnny Mnemonic and the cyberspace cycle of the 1990s that produced so many duds. The supporting cast helps stop the genericness with Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Josh Stewart, Lucas Haas and Xander Berkley bringing life to this as well as some clever parts in the script many viewers might miss. It may not be a home run, but Transcendence really tries to work and if you have more than a short attention span, see it and enjoy all that does work.

Extras in both formats include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while the discs add Original Theatrical Trailers and promo featurette clips used to promote the film.

Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin (2013) is the remarkable short film and Music Video director's third feature film following Sexy Beast (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and Birth. This time, we get a creepy tale set in Scotland and England with Scarlett Johansson going around in a stolen van seducing all kinds of unsuspecting men. The twist is that she is an alien from outer space out to steal them outright for reasons we are not initially clear on. The film has a very challenging narrative we rarely see in any filmmaking anymore and is sometimes as creepy as a horror film.

She says she wants to have sex, but it is a black widow-like trap and she also is working with another mysterious man on a motorcycle (also likely an alien stealing a human body and/or taking on human form) but like David Bowie in Man Who Fell To Earth (also reviewed elsewhere on this site), her human form starts to affect her mission and hen we get surreal moments that actually add up, make sense and further the narrative. There are also masterful scenes and developments that truly surprise.

This is the work of a master filmmaker with great material and even though a little of this is we have seen in previous sci-fi masterworks, so much here is so well done that it is a personal breakthrough for the already amazing Glazer. Definitely set time aside to watch this one all the way through in one sitting, preferably in the dark!

Extras in both separate formats include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while we get a Making Of featurette in both packages.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Transcendence Blu-ray has some nice moments and fine shots, but also have some softness despite being shot on 35mm film, showing this transfer has had some minor detail issues. Otherwise, shot in real anamorphic Panavision by Director of Photography Jess Hall, B.S.C., it has a very consistent look with the creepy coolness that reminded me of Memento. The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Skin Blu-ray was shot on a combination of several HD cameras including the Arri Alexa by Director of Photography Daniel Landin, B.S.C., and has a soft look on purpose that is supposed to be a little but alien, but it works. That gives both Blu-ray limits, but they look much better than their much softer, anamorphically enhanced, DVD counterparts.

Both Blu-rays fare better in the sound department, sporting DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that are as smart and narrative-connected, as they are clever, unique and creative with solid music scores to match. Transcendence was issued at its best theatrically in a Dolby Atmos 11.1 mix, so this mixown is rich, while the same on Skin is very sonically impressive as Glazer's works always are. Both DVD versions have lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 that are not bad, but no matches for the lossless DTS versions.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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