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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
Pinochio. Joe and David are captured and made to
participate in the travelling 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 watchable and needs to be seen more than once.
It is the year's best film.