A.I. Artificial IntelligenceThursday 20 Sep 2001
Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson and William Hurt.
The world of the future; polar ice-caps have melted due to global warming, natural resources are either exhausted or limited, there are stringent birth controls and science has accelerated at an extraordinary pace. Robots are now society's de rigueur luxury. Collectively known as 'mecha', they cater for human beings every need and whim. Every need, that is, except the most important and elusive one – love.
Grieving for a son who has been cryogenically frozen until a cure can be found for his illness, Monica and Henry Swinton (O'Connor and Robards) are offered the opportunity of adopting the latest advancement in mecha technology. David (Osment) is a robot boy with a difference – he is the prototype of the mecha of the future, one that is programmed to love and be loved. Choosing to proceed with the adoption, Monica initiates the imprinting of David, fixing an emotional blueprint which cannot be reversed.
When their biological child recovers, the Swintons' need for David becomes somewhat diluted, and events soon transpire to make life in the household impossible for the robot boy. Unable to reconcile herself with the prospect of having him/it destroyed, however, Monica jettisons David in the woods. Programmed to love, but abandoned by those with whom he is supposed to share that love, David, together with his super-toy 'Teddy', sets off on a quest to prove that despite his mecha genesis, his love is as bona fide as that of his creators.
With the risk of stating the obvious, 'A.I.' is exactly what one should expect from an alliance between Stanley Kubrick, the pre-eminent cinematic auteur of the past forty years, and Steven Spielberg, one of the most artistically and commercially acclaimed directors in the history of moviemaking. Taking Robert Aldiss' short story 'Super-Toys Last All Summer Long' as its primary seed, 'A.I.' is essentially hamstrung by the innately abstract subject matter it draws upon. While the theme of man v. technology is nothing new to the realm of film, the metaphysical questions that arise from the debate are not ones which are easily analysed on celluloid. The primary brief is to illustrate that the nature of love must be fully understood by the creator before it should proceed to pass it on to the creation. The film ostensibly succeeds in this regard, but it is the triteness of the final third which lets the piece down. Spielberg's insistence on labouring the Pinocchio resonance becomes extremely jarring, and nostalgia for the wide-eyed charm of his 1982 masterpiece 'E.T.' strengthens as the film staggers to its over-wrought climax.
With a gestation period of over twenty years, the development of the 'A.I.' project took its final twist in 1999 when Steven Spielberg received control of the project on the death of Stanley Kubrick. Polar opposites in terms of directorial style and artistic sensibility, the prospect of seeing the result of their combined and contrasting talents has been the film's biggest marketing coup. In truth, this is more Spielberg than Kubrick. Assessed in three sections, the first, with its cold, detached and patient glimpse of a futuristic society, is vintage Kubrick. Parts two and three, however, are firmly ensconced in the sublime humanity territory on which Spielberg has built the bulk of his career.
In a film which demands adroitly balanced performances as well as impressive visuals, Haley Joel Osment gives a satisfactorily engaging performance as the robot boy David, yet he still shows sporadic glimpses of the sickeningly twee facade which he perfected in the over-rated 'Sixth Sense'. Jude Law is eerily robotic as the android Adonis Gigolo Joe, while Frances O'Connor shines in the early scenes as David's adoptive mother.
'A.I. Artificial Intelligence' is to be commended for its ambition, its visual fervour, and Spielberg's resolve in assuming the task of bringing Kubrick's delicately nurtured pet project to the masses. It remains, however, a mixed bag. My guess is that the deceased master would have been proud of the first third, would have grumpily accepted the middle section, and would have bluntly rejected the sugary final segment. Unfortunately, we'll never know.