A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 25 Minutes

Reviewer: Jones
Grade: A+

Just two short weeks ago, if one would have told me I would consider this to be one of the year's best films I would have laughed in your face. More than likely, I would have responded with some sort of sentence that started with "That son of a bitch Spielberg...." But now I cannot overlook it's unmistakable quality, it's ceaseless brilliance, and it's overwhelming significance.

"A.I." is the Pinocchio-like story of a boy robot named David (Haley Joel Osment) and his journey through a futuristic world where New York City's shoreline has submitted to the yearnings of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a future where the number of children a couple can have is strictly limited and robots called "mechas" serve in many capacities including escort, nanny, and cook to name a few. Spielberg masterfully captures this stunning world with some of the most hypnotic cinematography in years. He melds this lush world with an easily identifiable children's story to make for a film the likes of which will never be seen again.

It begins with David being created and put into the care of a mother (Frances O'Connor) and father (Sam Robards) who have a son that has been in a coma for a number of years. At first the mother is resentful, but she quickly warms up to the idea of having a child around the house and initiates a code that will make the boy robot love her as if she is his true mother. The consequences of this become apparent when their "real" son awakens from his coma and returns home. The competition between the robot and the son escalates until the parents decide that their only resort is to abandon David to the world. After his abandonment, David embarks on a journey to find the Blue Fairy of Pinocchio lore in order to become a real boy so that his mother will love him. He does this with his faithful sidekick, Teddy, at his side.

It is during this phase of the film that the darkness of this futuristic world is revealed. Murder and infidelity run rampant in this world where light rarely chooses to be seen in any form other than neon. He runs across a male escort named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who quickly becomes an aid to David's quest. It is a quest that will take them to a Flesh Fair, which is an event where humans are entertained by the destruction of the "mechas". This is a truly dark sequence and as memorable a part of a film as any other this year. Following the Flesh Fair they find their way to Rouge City, which is probably the sort of sexual paradise that exists in Hugh Hefner's dreams, and finally the band of three will find their way to the end of the world before their journey is over.

This film raises some very interesting questions about the nature of love. At the beginning of the film Professor Hobby (William Hurt in a very dignified performance) responds to the question of whether or not a human could love a robot by stating that "In the beginning, didn't God create Adam to love him?" The moral ramifications that are prevalent in this discussion are at the very heart of the film. What responsibility do we have to love and to those who would love us? These are very basic, yet very difficult questions to answer. They are questions without answers, but rather questions that lead to personal fulfillment for those who ponder them. This is what makes "A.I." such an indelibly strong and gratifying experience. It's not the performances, direction, production design, or any number of other factors that alone make this film so moving. Rather, it is the whole of these parts that allows us to be moved, questioned, and ultimately changed by what we have seen.

It is movies like "A.I." that remind one of just how powerful a medium film can be. It exists on a level where few films have the honor to reside. It is the sort of film that could only be the result of the collaboration of two of the greatest filmmakers of all time. This film was Stanley Kubrick's baby for some fifteen years before his death, which is when Spielberg stepped in and took the reigns over and once again showed just how good he can be when he wants to be. Dale told me the other day I give Spielberg a lot of crap and I have to admit he's right. I have some misgivings about a number of his films, but when he is at his best, as is the case here, he can make films with the best of them.

After seeing this movie for the first time, I felt as if I had been short changed. I felt that the ending of the movie was a completely shameful representation of Spielberg at his worst. It seemed to me that the film should have ended at the two hour mark at, perhaps, it's darkest moment. It was after that, that it seemed that Spielberg became manipulative with the direction of the story, so that it would lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

Now, however, I see it for what it is. It is the resolution of an eternity of desire. It is the triumph of love over all obstacles in it's path. It is the falseness of an idealized dream being resolved through the same means upon which that dream was created in the first place. Even if it is for an insignificant period of time, the result is of infinite importance. Despite the constraints of space and time, the frailty of flesh and blood, and limitations of technology one absolute truth remains.

Love truly does conquer all.

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: B+

"A.I." is a strange beast of a movie, and a maddening one, at that. This is quite possibly the best movie with the worst ending that I have ever seen. Which is really too bad because until the movie starts moving in a polar opposite direction and becomes utterly wrongheaded in its intentions (even to the point where it seems to forget what it's intentions are) the film is truly one of the best science fiction films I have ever seen. I'm not even kidding. Until the last twenty minutes or so, this movie is like "Blade Runner".

Only better.

"A.I." is the story of a boy named David. David is not like your average boy, however. You see, David is a "mecha" or robot. He has been designed in a future where couples need a permit to be allowed to have a child, to act as a surrogate for all those couples who are not allowed a permit. He is unique among robots because he has been designed and programmed to love the humans who are imprinted to be his parents. He is a prototype given to a couple (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards) to fill the void left when their real child came down with a life-threatening illness and was put into cryogenic freeze.

David has a little difficulty adjusting to it all, and some large problems learning what it is to be human. Hell, I think all of us could agree that that would be difficult. What is it to be human? What is a soul? What happens to us when we die? And what will happen to David when a cure for the real son's illness is discovered and he is suddenly rendered obsolete? These are all big questions without easy answers and when "A.I." is working, it is fascinating to behold. These questions are presented in a hypnotic, stimulating matter and there is more than just an ethical debate going on here: this movie is genuinely entertaining. The plight of the characters (even the ones that are not human) sucks you quickly in and never entirely leaves you.

The movie continues to mesmerize and astound when David is cast aside by his family and is left to wander in a cruel world that he is ill-equipped for. Men hunt robots down and capture them only to dismantle them for the amusement of the crowd in "Flesh Fairs". The Flesh Fair that is portrayed here is disturbing and has an identifiable flavor to it. Imagine, if you will, a place that feels like a county fair of the present day combined with a Roman Arena show and you will get a hint of it. It has the feel of a modern fair: the feel of the dinginess of the everyday combined with a surreal flashiness and garish amount of color. It just felt real, which is a big compliment for a sci-fi film.

This portion of the movie also introduces us to another completely stimulating character: Gigolo Joe, played astonishingly by Jude Law. Both Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment are outstanding in the portrayal of their robotic characters. They both move and act like regular people that are just a little off. There is something artificial about them, but yet something undeniably human about them as well. They really do convince you that they are machines struggling to know what it is to be human and almost getting it right. And none of this is done with the usual set of herky-jerky motions and monotone speaking. It's more subtle than that. It is astounding. Both of them deserve immense congratulations for their splendid work here.

The movie only lets us down in the third and final act, which is so frustrating that you can no longer believe you are even seeing the same movie. Spielberg has often been accused of pandering a little too much to the audience and making things just a little too sweet for their own good. And, usually, I disagree with these criticisms. Take a look at "Empire of the Sun" (for example) which is a hard-edged movie where the main kid character has emotions every bit as complex as his adult counterparts. Maybe more so. There is no saccharine sweetness there. Same goes for "Schindler's List", "Saving Private Ryan", "Jaws", "Duel", well, the list goes on. But I will admit that there are moments of "The Lost World", "Hook" and fragments of "Amistad" where he lays it on just a little too thick. I'll admit it. Well, the ending of "A.I." is by far the most incompetent example of Spielberg at his worst. This is clumsy stuff. The rest of the movie has a fascinating, remarkable dark tone to it, which is lightened only by David and his longing to be loved and to be human. But the contrast works in the rest of the movie. It keeps us drawn in. David is surrounded by the darkness of the world, yet he keeps on trying, he does not give up. It works! It's realistic and it moved me. It made my jaw hang open in wonder.

But the ending is a totally different tone that just does not jibe with the rest of the movie at all. It's too much. Too many things are resolved. False answers are forced onto the material when more questions and deeper questions would have better served the plot and the characters on display. The movie is a fairy tale, inherently, and I will not argue that fairy tales are not sometimes bright and happy. But the first two hours of this movie is like a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. Whereas the ending is like a Disney one (at its most treacly). I may have cried if the movie's ending had not been so patently designed to draw tears from me.

But I have a theory about the end of this film. Much has been made of the fact that this movie was originally designed and conceived by Stanley Kubrick. And, considering the brilliant tone of those first two magical hours, I can see where Stanley had his input. Even the stuff that sounds like it could be lame and candy-coated has a remarkable edge to it. But Kubrick did not make this movie. He died before he could. And I believe that he had everything thought of...but the ending. That is why I think that the ending seems totally different: it seems like the imagination of a completely different person than the first two hours. And it may very well be. Few of us will ever know what is Spielberg's contribution and what is Kubrick's. And that is fine with me. Hell, I'm not saying Kubrick is some kind of god who never made a mistake in a movie either. I thought that his last four films were fairly weak compared to the first few he made (that means everything since "A Clockwork Orange" has been weaker, in my opinion). Kubrick had his mistakes as well. One of them was entitled "Barry Lyndon". But every one of those four final films shines with the brilliance of a master filmmaker. So do most of Steve's movies, in my opinion. Neither of them was perfect. But both of them, when at their best, are about the closest that cinema gets.

This film, I believe, shows both men at the top of their form. Unfortunately, it also shows at least one of them at their worst. Whose fault is which, I shall probably never know. Though the ending does smack of bad Spielberg. Not as bad as his segment of "Twilight Zone: The Movie", but that was his absolute nadir. Am I recommending "A.I."? Oh Hell Yes! It deserves to be seen. The stuff that works works extremely well. I'm just offering up a simple warning.

However, in a summer largely composed of CGI explosions, "A.I." is damn near a miracle. Two hours of "brilliant" and twenty minutes of "mediocre" is a hell of a lot better than two hours of "average" or even "bad".