The Promise and Dangers of New Technology: Behind the Scenes of TRANSCENDENCE with Johnny Depp


By Carl Kozlowski, Contributing Writer

Ever notice how annoying people are getting with their connections to computers? Everywhere you turn, people have Bluetooths that attach to their ears or Google Glass devices that provide an instant video stream of what our eyes see to the World Wide Web. At what point, do we have to stop and say, “Enough’s enough?”

The new movie TRANSCENDENCE takes a powerful look at that dilemma, serving up frightening questions through the context of a thriller about a scientist named Dr. Will Caster, who is at the forefront of research into artificial intelligence (otherwise known as A.I.). As played by Johnny Depp in a rare role that doesn’t require absurd costumes or makeup, Caster seems to be a nice enough guy who just wants to continue mankind’s progress towards ever-greater scientific accomplishments.

However, there are protesters who fear that A.I. will enable computers to someday surpass the human mind and take control over their human masters. So, Caster finds himself shot by a radioactive bullet that will kill him over the course of a mere month. As he wastes away, leaving his wife and research partner to grieve and wonder what might have been both in their marriage and their life’s work, Caster suddenly arrives at a drastic idea.

He wants to see if he can upload his own mental and spiritual consciousness into the giant computer system that drives his work, just as he had managed to upload a monkey’s consciousness into earlier research. Figuring he has nothing left to lose, Caster attempts the experiment and finds that it succeeds. However, this creates a whole new set of problems when he realizes that his brilliant mind can now be immortalized. That sense of power sets him off on a dangerous path in which he tries to place whatever is good for himself ahead of what’s good for everyone in society.

Thus, TRANSCENDENCE sets a powerful string of moral quandaries presented to viewers. Could they manage to use the same powers for definite good, or would the temptation for greed, selfishness, and other forms of evil take over?

“I thought there was something beautiful to the idea of the film,” said the movie’s star, Johnny Depp, who recently appeared at a press junket for the movie that Movieguide® attended.

“I thought there was something very beautiful to [director Wally Pfister’s] idea, a certain disintegration to the character and watching him go out. There’s a progression to him being uploaded to the computer, and then once inside, he could become anything.”

At first, Will appears younger when his face appears onscreen to talk with his wife and other partners, as a measure of the perfect man he appears to become through his moment of transcendence. As anyone who follows the evolution of A.I. in the real world fears, such a moment could also lead to very dangerous consequences for mankind.

“[Director Wally Pfister] has spoken to a lot of high up scientists and scholars, so knowing that a great bit of the tech is active, actually happening, and the tech we’re talking about uploading the human consciousness to is probably not that far away,” Depp noted. “They’re all agreed about it happening, just a matter of when. A Caltech expert told me 30 years.

“It was terrifying to learn that scientists we spoke with felt that what we’re heading towards a crash with technology and that the next phase of our evolution will involve machines,” Depp added. “The questions I asked professors was, if we were able to take consciousness and the mind and transfer, would it include our emotions? They said yes, but whoever is doing the hard drive will have some effect on what carries over. It opens up a lot of fascinating questions.”

Interestingly, Depp doesn’t consider himself a tech wizard at all.

“Things go wrong all the time, especially between me and technology,” Depp said. “I’m too old school a brain to figure it out. Anything I have to attack with my thumbs for any period of time makes me feel stupid, so I try to avoid it as much as possible.”

One other aspect of Depp’s experience with TRANSCENDENCE also blew his mind. A recent trip to promote the movie in China gave him his first glimpse behind that most complex and contradictory of nations, giving him both good and bad things to mull over.

“It was amazing on a cultural level, with just constant information, with something new everywhere you looked, something interesting,” he said. “I found a real warmth in the people and quite a turnout wherever we went, but there were also a lot of strange things that went down that I’d rather not talk about because I value my life.

“But the strangest thing, amid all the foreign culture I’m being enlightened by, four little Chinese boys dressed in priest outfits come out on stage at an event,” Depp said. “Transcendence comes out written on their heads in four Chinese characters, they shaved one of them each onto the little boys’ heads and brought them onstage with me. Little boys brought on stage with the name of a movie shaved into their heads – yeah, it scared me a little.”

Depp also spoke at length about his next big role, portraying the colorful real-world mobster Whitey Bulger, who recently was arrested and convicted for an array of crimes, including murder, after decades on the lam. That role would represent another distinct turn away from the characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tonto whom he has relied on playing for the past decade, and towards a more mature style that perhaps reflects Depp turning 50 and becoming newly engaged to actress Amber Heard.

“There’s actually a lot of parallels between Whitey and Will Caster, because it’s about how people think they have the power to do anything,” Depp said. “It should be a little vague – is he losing it? You could make an analogy to a security guard who three weeks before was mowing lawns for a living but as soon as he puts a uniform on he’s the overzealous guard.

“Is there something lying dormant in the man? Does it appeal to him? Does it change him? You don’t know,” Depp said wryly. “Once Will’s in the computer, as he’s growing at a rapid pace – does any bad person think they’re doing bad? Historically most think they’re ok, but of course a few were off. By a lot! So when Will was dedicated to the cause and the feeling that he was God. Nothing on earth is more powerful than you.”

Just as Christian leaders and other moral and ethical teachers around the globe have had to reformulate their decisions on what constitutes a just war in an age of carpet-bombing possibilities, or what constitutes extraordinary care in an age when machines can take on more and more survival functions for people, these questions of computer power and where it is leading mankind will present many dilemmas in the coming years.

Ultimately, TRANSCENDENCE is just a thriller, albeit a thought-provoking one. Depp and his director, Wally Pfister, are not required to lead viewers to a definitive answer, just to open the door of possibilities and ask viewers to think long and hard about the road we are on in human society, and to remember to not lose sight of moral truths and biblical principles in the pursuit of faster, better, stronger modern comforts.

“We’re hoping to create ambiguity in this film,” Depp concluded. “If you’re able to do this [upload a dying person’s mind and emotions into a computer], is this the fair and right way to do it? Technology is reshaping itself radically every day. If you’re in that situation with a split second decision of promise to save [people], this movie asks would you do it, or is it too big a risk?”

TRANSCENDENCE opens nationwide Friday. Before you pay your money, please check out Movieguide®’s review of the movie here.

Easter Hope – Based on Facts of History


By Jerry Newcombe, Contributing Writer

Jesus sells. That’s why they have cover stories on Him in magazines and TV specials, even if some of them offer strange theories to try to explain away things like the original Easter.

I’ll never forget the evolution of a famous TV newsman, the late Peter Jennings, the anchor ABC’s nightly news broadcasts.

In 2000, Jennings hosted a special, “The Search for Jesus.” He never found Him because he relied almost entirely on liberal Bible scholars who dismissed the reliability of the Gospel accounts. The special, though well done, needlessly cast doubt on all the basics about Jesus.

But in 2004, Jennings hosted another ABC special, on Jesus and Paul. This special was fairer, at least they featured an occasional conservative scholar, such as the great Dr. Paul L. Maier.

During that 2004 special, Jennings was walking around Rome, observing that Peter and Paul, two key leaders in the early Church, were absolute nobodies in the first century when they came to that city. They were total outcasts, and both were put to death there as martyrs for their faith. Yet now these two dominate the city. As does, of course, the Jesus they served.

When Jesus walked out of the tomb, He changed history. This is 2014 because Jesus was born circa 2014 years ago. We wouldn’t be talking about Him if He had stayed dead.

The famous skeptic David Hume argued that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because dead men don’t rise from the dead. True, they normally don’t. However, that’s what makes Jesus’ case so special. Hume employed circular reasoning here. But the Christian does not.

I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead, only because the Bible says so (which would be circular reasoning). Actually, I believe in the Bible, largely because of the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

The biggest single reason I believe Jesus walked out of that tomb bodily is because the disciples were so transformed. At Jesus’ death, they had been very scared. Peter, their leader, denied three times that he knew Him, just to save his skin.

But then something happened that transformed them and made them unstoppable. They claimed that they saw Him risen from the dead, not just once, but many times. They were not wallowing in credulity. In fact, if you read the Gospels, we see that many of the disciples were the original skeptics of the resurrection. We even have the common phrase “Doubting Thomas” because Thomas didn’t believe it—until he saw Jesus alive.

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many leading Jesus scholars (both believers and skeptics) on the questions of who is Jesus, are the Gospels reliable, and did He rise from the dead?
All of them, even the most skeptical, agree at least on this: The disciples were convinced that they saw Jesus risen from the dead. The skeptics don’t think He arose, but they acknowledge that  the disciples absolutely thought so.

How else do you explain their fearless preaching to the ends of the known world (and beyond)? There is historical evidence that ten of the remaining eleven apostles (twelve minus Judas) died a horrible martyr’s death. Only John lived to old age, though he was reportedly boiled in hot oil.
None of them denied that Jesus rose from the dead after He died to provide forgiveness for fallen humanity. No, not one. They sealed their testimony in their own blood.

But, you say, people die all the time for what is a lie. Perhaps—but not knowingly so. If the disciples were a part of some supposed “Passover Plot,” if they had stolen the body and made up this story, would they have given their lives for what they knew was a lie?

Historian Dr. Paul Maier once told me, “Myths do not make martyrs. And if this story had been invented, they would not have gone to death for it. If Peter had invented the account as he’s ready to be hoisted up on a cross in Rome, he would’ve blown the whistle and said, ‘Hold it! I’ll plea bargain with you. I’ll tell you how we did it, if I can come off with my life.’”

British theologian N. T. Wright noted, “The disciples, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, were completely devastated….Since everybody knew that a crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah, the only thing which explains why they said Jesus was the Messiah is that they really did believe that He had been bodily raised from the dead.”
Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday changed the day of worship for the church, and established it as a day of rest. Each Sunday through much of the world now serves as a weekly reminder of that resurrection. Thus, even the atheist who sleeps in this Sunday morning will be ironically paying homage to Jesus’ walking out of the tomb 2000 years ago. He is risen indeed.

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a TV producer and the cohost of Kennedy Classics. He has also written or co-written 24 books, including The Book that Made America and (with Dr. Kennedy) What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? and (with Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Jerry hosts Thursdays at noon (EST). @newcombejerry


BEARS is an adorable Disney Nature movie following a Momma Bear and her cubs. BEARS is a great movie for the entire family, though some young children may get scared from the bears fighting.
In beautiful Alaska, a momma bear and her two little cubs wake up from hibernation. The cubs and momma have been in their hibernation hole for months. Momma bear, called Sky in the movie, needs some food.
Sky and her two little cubs, Scout and Amber, come out of their hole to start the perilous but necessary trek to gather food. Amber is the little female cub who is shy and stays around her mother, while Scout is the adventurous cub, who wants to see and learn about everything. The three trek over huge mountains while the spring is coming. Once they arrive at a nearby meadow, Sky is able to get some much-needed sustenance, but she must journey further to get what is really needed, protein.
At the meadow, Scout is surprised to find other bears. He never knew there was such a thing. Excitedly, little Scout looks toward the other bears for a model on how to be a strong, confident bear. Scout doesn’t find one right away, but he has a good mother to support him.
Along the way, Sky, Amber and Scout come across some dangerous things, including one of the largest bears, weighing 1,000 pounds, looking for food. This bear is so hungry he could eat anything, including little bear cubs. At the same time, there is a wolf also on the hunt for Amber and Scout.
In every instance, Sky must be on the lookout for her cubs. In the end, Scout finds out that his mentor is right in front of him, his loving and protective mother.
BEARS is an adorable documentary. Disney has once again given heart, drama, and intrigue to nature that will teach children while they are entertained. Wonderfully crafting a story line, even giving the animals names, Disney has done a great job at keeping viewers fully entertained. BEARS is a beautifully crafted movie that has no real objectionable elements, though very young children may get scared when the bears fight. No blood is shown, however.

I Thought I Knew How Christians Should Act Toward Hollywood, Until I Read This. . .


By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher, with Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor

Twenty years ago, when Jesus’ name was used in a movie, it was usually used as a curse word. Last year, 67 percent of the movies released had at least some pro-Christian, pro-biblical content. This year, in 2014, an incredible number of the major movies being released have positive, overt biblical, and often evangelical, content. As might be expected, many of these movies have attracted criticism. Sadly, some of the most spiteful, angry and mean-spirited criticism has come from Christians.

MOVIEGUIDE® was built on the premise of exposing the fruitless works of darkness and commending the good. As a result of doing this consistently for many years, we have seen a great growth of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, and a decrease in the darkness in the movies released. Much of that could be attributed to our detailed economic analysis of the box office, combined with the fact that we see the Gospel for what it is: Good News! So, we try to present our analysis and criticism in light of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control), which dictates that we love the people who created the works we’re examining enough to try to be constructive. There are exceptions, but the exceptions are not the rule.

Recently, there’s been a tremendous amount of criticism bashing Darren Aronofsky and the producers of NOAH, criticizing Roma Downey and Mark Burnett for SON OF GOD, and even criticizing the producers of HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. Recently, I had a chance to talk to one of the top people at Paramount Pictures, whom I’ve known for years, who’s a co-producer of NOAH. He had told me about NOAH years ago when we met for lunch. He wanted NOAH to be very evangelistic, which it is not, and he wanted to tell an Old Testament story in light of the New Testament revelation of God’s grace. I asked him about Darren Aronofsky, and he said Aronofsky was wrestling with forgiveness and mercy because of a crisis in his family. The producer, one of the brightest, most conservative Christians in Hollywood, noted that the same thing had happened to him. We discussed the fact that Mel Gibson had been bashed so badly for the trumped up charge of Anti-Semitism that he went off the deep end. There is no doubt that my friend, and Aronofsky, needed guidance and perhaps even faith formation, but personal, ill-conceived attacks don’t make it easier for him, as a conservative evangelical Christian, to do more movies that touch upon Christian and biblical themes.

With regard to Roma and Mark, the situation seems even more mean spirited. One attack article claimed THE PASSION OF CHRIST was more biblical, when, in fact, THE PASSION was based on visions a Catholic nun had had over one hundred years ago. Other articles commended the JESUS film, which, for the record, is only 66% of the Book of Luke and is produced by a good friend of mine who is Jewish and extremely wary of the Christian community, and a director who’s known for some very salacious movies. In fact, the star of the JESUS film told me years later he was an atheist. Also, JESUS OF NAZARETH was funded by a Muslim and directed by a bi-sexual who chased one of the male stars around his villa.

Thus, of all the 130 Jesus films that have come out, Mark and Roma’s SON OF GOD is one of the few made by people who constantly say they love Jesus. That doesn’t mean they got everything right. In fact, I sent them a theological analysis months before the movie was locked in editing.

In this regard, however, has any sermon ever gotten everything right? If so, I have yet to hear such a sermon, though I have walked out several times on sermons that have gotten most of their theology wrong.

Many of the mean-spirited articles about NOAH have been written by people who admit to having never seen the movie. Others have been written by people who don’t seem to understand some of the Bible’s basic theological concepts or realize the difference between a Christian ontology (a real world, with real sin and real pain, that needs a real Savior, Jesus Christ) and an anti-Christian, nominalistic ontology (a non-material, great thought, maya world where all is an illusion and there is no need for a savior, such as THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST).

MOVIEGUIDE® has been critical of NOAH, but also fair. We’d love to see the theology of each movie improved and would love to see the theology of most of these articles improved.

One theologian complained to us that, unlike HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, no one has gone from Heaven and come back, although I pointed out to him that Paul said he did just that in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Was Paul lying? Where do we get such strange eisegetical views?

Thank God that iron does sharpen iron.

But even so, what enabled a small group of Christians to overthrow the most debauched Empire in history, Rome? As Professor Alvin J Schmidt points out in the book How Christianity Changed the World, one major reason was that people knew the Christians by their love and wanted to convert.

Did the people who criticized Mel Gibson love him? Or, those who criticize any of the Christians working behind the scenes in Hollywood?

Most biblical movies, and most movies dealing with Heaven, contain things that you won’t find in the pages of the Bible. To make a really dramatic movie that millions of people will go see requires at least some dramatic artistry. Furthermore, it’s really easy to poke holes in almost any movie, whatever the subject matter.

So, let us commend the good while gently instructing those who might have gone astray so that we may encourage everyone to focus on the Good News of Jesus Christ that enlightens us all.


Based on a true story, THE RAILWAY MAN is a gut-wrenching tale of wartime atrocities, post-war emotional agony and a miraculous cure. Extreme caution is advised only for the scenes of brutality and torture that set up the movie’s gloriously redemptive ending.
The movie opens with Eric (Colin Firth) meeting and falling in love with Patti (Nocole Kidman). Their romance leads to marriage, but with it comes the realization that Eric has horrible dreams and fits because of his brutal mistreatment during World War II. The movie includes many flashbacks to the period when Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine) was among the British taken captive during the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese. Eric is taken to participate in the building of the Burma-Siam Railway, the same project featured in the classic movie THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.
An engineer, Eric managed to build a radio with parts either smuggled out of Singapore or stolen from the Japanese. Broadcasts heard on secret radio tell of Allied progress in the war, building the moral of the surviving prisoners. When the radio’s discovered, the Japanese single out Eric for intense torture.
Cut to the 1980s, where Patti seeks the help of some of Eric’s fellow soldiers to learn how she can help her husband. Finally, Eric receives a news story showing that his primary Japanese tormentor now works at a museum in Burma that draws BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI tourists. He goes to Burma seeking some kind of closure through revenge.
Eric’s stamina, decency and honesty during the war are inspirational enough for a whole movie, but (SPOILERS FOLLOW) but his willingness to forgive lifts the story even higher. The great lesson is that forgiveness empowers people to let go of justified hate and bitterness. A very popular theme in violent action movies is justified revenge. Rare is the movie, however, that shows justified hatred can simply be laid down and put behind us. The result, as shown in THE RAILWAY MAN, is healing: Miraculous healing!
While the movie seems to say that Eric’s love for Patti enabled him to forgive, for most people such astounding forgiveness is made possible by God’s demonstration of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The movie includes a very emotional scene in which you see a friend of Eric reciting the 23rd Psalm while watching Eric be beaten to a pulp. In fact, much of the worst brutality is committed while audiences see only the upset expressions of fellow soldiers.
MOVIEGUIDE® only advises extreme caution for THE RAILWAY MAN because of the depicted Japanese atrocities and the suicide of a friend. Shockingly, it has no foul language. The fact that you don’t miss it at all shows you can still make a very strong war story without spewing vulgarity. THE RAILWAY MAN is not the kind of movie that’s going to top the box office charts or even come to your local multiplex, but it’s certainly worth seeing and a must for anyone struggling to forgive.


Based on a bestselling book, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL tells the story of a four year-old named Colton who says he goes to Heaven during an operation where he was near death. Wonderfully written by Chris Parker and directed by Randall Wallace, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is one of the most engaging, most inspiring Christian movies ever made. The acting, dialogue, cinematography, and editing are first-class. Best of all, the movie shows the truth of God’s love.
Colton is an adorable 4-year-old with a loving family, including his hard working father, Todd. Todd works as a garage door repair guy, volunteers as a fireman, and is a pastor of a local church in a Nebraskan small town. His wife, Sonja, leads the church’s music department, but the two are barely scrapping by on finances.
When Todd breaks his leg playing softball and has kidney stones, the couple gets in to even more financial debt. Sonja suggests they should take a road trip to relieve the pressure.
When the family returns Colton gets very sick. For days, Colton is sick and his temperature is extremely high. Todd and Sonja take Colton to the emergency room. Doctors have to operate on him immediately because Colton’s appendix has burst. While they operate, Colton’s mother calls their friends asking for immediate prayer. Meanwhile, Colton’s father goes to the hospital chapel, where he angrily rails at God.
Happily, Colton survives the operation, though at one point he was near death. Everything starts to return to normal, until Colton tells Todd that, during his operation, he went to Heaven and met Jesus. At first, Todd is amused by the little boy’s statements. Then, he becomes perplexed and questions whether Colton is telling the truth.
However, some of Colton’s statements have the ring of truth. For example, he knew exactly what his mother and father were doing during his operation. Suddenly, Todd feels that he must share with other people, including his church congregation, Colton’s experience. This causes resentment and concern in the church, and even causes a rift between Todd and Sonja. What will happen next?
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is an extremely well done faith-based movie. Though it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s one of the most captivating, inspiring movies of this or any other year. The dialogue is wonderful. Greg Kinnear does a superlative job as Todd Burpo. Also, little Connor Colum is absolutely amazing as Colton, the boy who went to Heaven.

Randall Wallace (the writer of BRAVEHEART, writer/director of WE WERE SOLDIERS, and the writer/director of SECRETARIAT) does a brilliant job of directing HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. With this movie, he’s clearly become one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. The cinematography in HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is beautiful. The editing is sharp. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is simply terrific in almost every way.
Of course, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL has a very strong, positive Christian worldview. It honors Jesus Christ while, at the same time, showing that the Christian life won’t always be perfect, that doubt often is part of faith, and that each and every Christian must always grow in love. Thus, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is an honest portrayal of Christian faith and its struggles, with little or no ham-fisted preachiness. In the end, the movie shows that God is real, Heaven is real, Jesus is real, and God is love. As such, it challenges all of us, not just Christians, to go forth in faith and love. Bravo!


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