Runtime: 2 Hours
and 25 Minutes
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.
"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".
"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
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".