Transcendent Man: The Life And Ideas Of Ray Kurzweil
Docurama // Unrated // $29.95 // May 24, 2011
Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 20, 2011
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Ray Kurzweil is one of modern history's great thinkers and inventors, whether or not you buy what's being sold. He's already outlived his father by almost a decade...and if that weren't enough, he's planning to live forever. In the meantime, Kurzweil hopes to one day "resurrect" his father using artificial intelligence and DNA extracted from his gravesite. He takes roughly 150 supplements a day (cut from 250 just a few years ago) and insists that technology has grown---and will continue to grow---at an exponential rate, paving the way for massive achievements that may be only decades away. Despite his bold (and in many ways, frightening) claims, Kurzweil's demeanor is relaxed, reassuring and optimistic. In short, he leans heavily against the thought of a dystopian future.

In any case, Kurzweil has his fair share of detractors---and even if you agree with his core philosophies, it's hard to take everything he says without a grain of salt. Nonetheless, he's an MIT graduate, wrote his first computer program at age 15, has created and still owns a multitude of businesses, helped to invent text-to-speech software and flatbed scanners, and even developed a few musical synthesizers along the way. Kurzweil may be more than a little "out there" in some regards, but he's a gifted thinker and has changed technology for the better. He's also written a half-dozen books on nutrition, technology and what's been called "The Singularity", the time in which artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Kurzweil intends to live until The Singularity is reached...and if he doesn't, he'd like to be cryogenically frozen until science can revive him.

Transcendent Man takes a look at the life and ideas of Kurzweil, reminding us just how much his father's early death shaped decades of hard work. It's an intimate look at an undoubtedly fascinating man, and it's also told from the perspective of his friends and colleagues. Directed by first-time filmmaker Barry Ptolemy, Transcendent Man speeds by and remains engaging from start to finish, even though it doesn't dedicate much of its running time to "the other side". Fair enough, since this is meant to be more of a living biopic than a civilized shouting match. Keeping this in mind, Transcendent Man is an entertaining and enlightening endeavor, so it's good to know that Docurama's DVD release carries its own weight. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Transcendent Man looks very good from start to finish. The film's natural color palette holds up well, and only a few trace amounts of artifacts and edge enhancement can be spotted along the way. News broadcasts and other clips shot in 4:3 format are often cropped to fill the frame; an unfortunate choice, but it's not reflected in the overall rating. In any case, what's here looks good and fans should be pleased.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is low-key but still has its moments. Separation is fine and the talking-head interviews come through clearly---and when they don't, forced subtitles are provided. The film's excellent score is also strong without fighting for attention. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions are offered during the main feature or any of the extras.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Seen above, the plain-wrap static menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 86-minute main feature has been divided into a dozen chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes a promotional insert for other Docurama releases.

Bonus Features

A few notable extras are on board here, including a post-screening Q&A Session with director Barry Ptolemy and Ray Kurzweil from the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival (58 minutes). This lively and engaging chat practically doubles as an audio commentary, since many of the audience questions draw directly from the film's major themes.

A collection of Deleted Scenes is up next (12 clips, 19 minutes total), including "Canal Street", "Ray at Home", "Times Square", "Mom" and others. These are relatively hit-and-miss, but a few standouts definitely make these clips worth a look.

Next up is "Who is Ray Kurzweil?" (8 clips, 17 minutes total), a collection of extended interviews with friends and colleagues. Featured guests include Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Ed Begley Jr. and more. These are perhaps less engaging than the deleted scenes, but they do offer additional layers of insight to Kurzweil's legacy and influence.

Also tucked away here is a Filmmaker's Bio, a statement About Docurama and a collection of Trailers from the company. All bonus features, like the film itself, are presented in 16x9 widescreen and do not include Closed Captions or subtitles.

Final Thoughts

Transcendent Man is an engaging and thoughtful documentary, no matter if you subscribe to Ray Kurzweil's beliefs or not. Director Barry Ptolemy recognizes this by presenting an even-handed look at the man's life and ideas, never leaning heavily towards one extreme or the other. Docurama's DVD gets the job done, pairing a decent technical presentation with a few appropriate extras. The price seems a bit steep, but interested parties should consider this one Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.

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