Artificial Intelligence

The new film “Artificial Intelligence” is just as conflicted as its lead character, a robot boy who believes he is real.

Directed and written by Steven Spielberg, “A.I.” was originally developed by Stanley Kubrick. Spielberg completed “A.I.” as a tribute to the vision of Kubrick, and even though Kubrick died two years ago, his influence is felt throughout the film.

Spielberg is so beholden to Kubrick and his vision that he never allows “Artificial Intelligence” to become his own. That loyalty creates some major conflicts in the film, both in style and content. Half of the film feels like Kubrick: antiseptic, cold, brutal. The other half shares Spielberg’s warm and fuzzy sensibilities.
artificial intelligence
What emerges is a film with a split personality. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Frosted Mini- Wheats. One side is plain, the other sugar coated. Kubrick sees the story as a dark morality play. Spielberg sees it as a fairytale. Spielberg ultimately wins out, creating a film that never really finds its own voice.

Handsomely made and produced, “A.I.” begins and ends with a voice over, yet another indication that what we’re watching is a fairytale. Indeed, what we have here is a futuristic version of “Pinocchio.” The fabulous child actor Haley Joel Osment plays David, a robot who wants to be real.

“A.I.” takes place in a distant future where the polar ice caps have melted, submerging costal cities like New York underwater. It’s a future shared by humans and robots, who have become so sophisticated they are now called Mechas. It’s also a future where space is so precious that couples are only allowed one child.

When Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica (Frances O’Connor) Swinton’s son Martin (Jake Thomas) is ravaged with cancer, they have him cryogenically frozen. After five years of waiting for a cure, Henry takes a huge leap of faith and brings home David, a new breed of Mecha designed to love.

At first Monica is outraged that Henry would try to replace their son, but the more time she spends with David, the more she loosens up. David is so advanced, that he comes with an imprint program that will forever bond him with his adoptive mother. That means if the family should ever give David up, he must be dismantled.

Martin is finally cured and returns home, much to the dismay of David. That leads to a rivalry between the two that eventually forces Henry and Monica to make a drastic decision. They must give up David for the sake of Martin.

Unable to return David to the high tech laboratory to be dismantled, Monica sets him free in a forest outside of town. David doesn’t understand why he is being abandoned.

His only clue lies in a fairytale Monica once read: Pinocchio. David believes that if he can find the Blue Fairy and become a real boy, then Monica will love him again.

Pretty heavy stuff, but not the way Spielberg lays it out. He milks every emotional tit for what its worth, desperately trying to get us to care about any of this. The very nature of the story forbids us from creating any real attachment to the characters, especially David and the various Mechas he encounters on his quest.

They’re robots, artificial humanoids who can be turned off and on with the flick of a switch. Despite the emotional pleas of the actors, it’s difficult to invest anything more than a passing interest in their dilemma.

Jude Law plays Gigolo Joe, a sex Mecha who finds himself on the run from the law. Engaging as Law is, it’s difficult to summon up any sympathy when he’s apprehended.

The same applies when David and Joe find themselves center stage at a “Flesh Fair,” an arena spectator sport that involves the destruction of Mechas. As their fellow robots find themselves being shot out of a cannon or dipped in acid, all I kept thinking was lucky them. At least they get to leave early.

Indeed, “A.I.” rambles on way too long. It wears out its welcome after two hours and has the nerve to hang around for another twenty minutes. Another great showman, P.T. Barnum, always said leave the audience wanting more. Spielberg should take that message to heart.

Spielberg fills the movie with familiar themes and scenes. There are several scenes at a dinner table that recall “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He addresses issues of abandonment, a common thread in films like “E.T.” and “Empire of the Sun.”

Spielberg uses these moments as a safety net. Kubrick was more fearless. Anyone familiar with both directors body of work will be able to distinguish who brought what to the party. That makes it easy to point fingers. I doubt that Kubrick would have appreciated the soft marshmallow center Spielberg has given the film.

Kubrick would have appreciated Janusz Kaminski’s stark photography that replicates his stark, almost sterile look, and John Williams’s peculiar musical score. Industrial Lights and Magic creates an interesting but hardly believable future, and Stan Winston’s robot designs give the film a surreal edge.

I just wish the rest of “A.I.” was as daring. If Spielberg really wanted to honor Kubrick’s memory, he would have left his sensibilities at the door.


Two genius filmmakers don’t equal one brilliant film


Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated PG-13. 143 Minutes.


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