"...A.I. is superior"

Spielberg Scores With the Kubrick Hand Off

(070601) A.I. is the magnificent exception to the brainless, heartless and empty products from the Hollywood assembly line: It's an intensely personal, provocative and engaging film made with major studio resources. It transports us - as the best films do - to a world of its own. It touches chords both dissonant and universal, a very unlikely triumph for its two oddly matched collaborators: the heart-tugging Steven Spielberg and the emotionally distant Stanley Kubrick. And a triumph for its 12 year old star Haley Joel Osment.

Based on Brian Aldiss's 1969 short story "Super Toys Last All Summer Long", Kubrick had been trying to get a handle on the material since 1985. He realized that the story needed an emotional subtext. For this he turned to Spielberg, whom Kubrick ultimately decided should direct the film while he produced. Although Spielberg was intrigued, he felt Kubrick could indeed, successfully direct it himself. The two collaborated off and on through the years until Kubricks death in 1999. At the urging of the Kubrick estate, Spielberg took on the project, writing the screenplay himself (his first since 1978's Close Encounters) and directing. The end result is a masterpiece that is both pessimistic and hopeful. The two differing styles mesh beautifully, without a hint of strain or overreaching.

In the future, the polar ice caps have melted, due to global warming. Several major cities are now submerged. Natural resources are stretched to their limits. Therefore, population growth is regulated. Robots, or mechas, as their called, are used as labor, entertainment and companionship. As the film opens, Professor Hobby (William Hurt) who is the chief designer of mechas at the worlds leading manufacturer has created a major breakthrough. In a world where having children is regulated, Prof. Hobby has designed a mecha child with the ability to "imprint". That is to love. A set of stringent guidelines is established to find the proper parents for this child. The Swinton's, Monica and Henry (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards), who's own child lies in cryogenic freeze waiting for the cure to the disease that struck him down, are designated as the ideal couple for testing. They are given David (Haley Joel Osment).

A.I. is divided into three distinct parts. In the first act , David and his parents attempt to acclimate to each other. Spielberg explores the paradoxes of being human and machine. David does not sleep, but observes bedtime. He cannot eat, but mimics using utensils. Initially, Monica is livid at Henry for assuming that what is essentially a glorified toy could take the place of their child. But eventually she warms up to David. Especially after she initiates the imprinting process. The process, which consists of saying seven predetermined, words including the parents name hardwires the mecha to love unconditionally. Events take place that cause David's "mother" to abandon him in the woods, in an incredibly heart wrenching scene. This begins the second extraordinary act of the film.

Here, David wanders through an underworld, a Grimm Brothers forest with his mecha toy bear Teddy. Here he encounters Gigolo Joe, played by Jude Law in a wonderfully all out , deft strutting performance. Joe is a love mecha, created especially to provide sexual pleasure. David is searching for the Blue Fairy, whom he believes will turn him into a real boy, just like in the story his "mother" read to him at bedtime: Pinocchio. Joe and David are captured and made to participate in the traveling Flesh Fair, where mechas are tortured and destroyed for the amusement of humans. The humans believe the mechas are a conspiracy to take over the world. After a harrowing escape, David and Joe go to Rouge City. Here, Joe believes, David will find out where to find the Blue Fairy.

It is here that the film begins its third act. It is here also., where the film moves into its most visionary and provocative material. I will not reveal what transpires. It needs to be experienced individually. This last act which involves a breathtaking twist and revelation has been attacked by some as being another warm and fuzzy Spielberg ending. Yet this ending- the bleakest of any Spielberg film seems to me to be far from happy. Instead, it comes across as chilling.

Through it all Osment proves that he has a talent for conviction and sensitivity that is amazing for someone so young. He conveys in subtle ways the notion of machine turning human. If, early on, David laughs with wild, forced, artificial laughter, much later we see him shattered by deep , palpable melancholy as he perches on a skyscraper ledge. The other actors Hurt, O'Connor, Robards and law are all excellent. But Osment always supplies the poignant center.

Technically, A.I. is superior. The cinematography of Janusz Kaminski is gorgeous. Stan Winston's mecha creations are staggering in their imagination and originality. But it is the special effects work of George Lucas' ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) that deserves a special nod. From Rouge City to the submerged Manhattan these are some of the finest effects work ever achieved. Completely convincing.

Spielberg has been a very different director since he first started artistic approval with 1985's "The Color Purple" and achieved it with 1993's "Schindlers List". He seems less eager for public approval, less programmed and more daring. Doing Kubricks material seems to have more tightly focused his vision.
But will today's audiences warm to a movie that is deliberately paced and intellectually challenging. Unlike most summer movies, A.I. does not bludgeon the viewer with explosions and an eardrum-shattering soundtrack. Filmgoers are programmed to embrace the superficial, the pragmatic, and reject the existential. For those who are weary of the superficial, A.I. will reaffirm the film faithful. A.I. is audacious, technically masterful, challenging, moving and ceaselessly watch able and needs to be seen more than once. It is the year's best film.

Directed by:    Steven Spielberg
Written by:    Screenplay by Ian Watson, Steven Spielberg.
 Based on short story "Supertoys Last All Summer
 Long" by Brian Aldiss
Starring:    Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor
Released:    06/29/01 (USA)
Length:    145 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and violent

A.I.  2001 Warner Brothers
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