Steven Spielberg's A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is a captivating, science
fiction story about the quest for motherly love. A Pinocchio-like tale, it
features another astonishing, guileless and certainly Oscar caliber
performance by Haley Joel Osment as a robot ("mecha") named David. Frances
O'Connor (MANSFIELD PARK) plays his human "mother," Monica Swinton.
Originally the creative baby of Stanley Kubrick (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and
EYES WIDE SHUT), this joint collaboration of Spielberg and the late Kubrick
shows more of Kubrick than Spielberg. Divided into 3 sections, the movie is
two and one-half parts brilliance and one-half part unnecessary, feel-good
ending. Reportedly, it is this last part that is uniquely a Spielberg
touch. Kubrick, who wasn't involved after the development stage, is given
only a concept credit. The film is also dedicated to his honor.
Set in a time in the future after an ecological disaster has caused
Manhattan and other coastal cities to be under a few hundred feet of water,
the movie features a lot of wealthy people who are coping with the help of
human-like mechas. These mechanical wonders look exactly like humans unless
you penetrate their skins with knives or X-rays. What mechas can't do is
have genuine human emotions. They are, however, great at faking everything,
including love. Professor Hobby (William Hurt) makes a truly radical
proposal. He and his team will build mechas who can truly love "with love
that will never end." David is serial number one in this new line.
The professor believes that he has found an ideal couple to bond with David
in the Swintons. Mother Monica is racked with grief over the "death" of her
"real" son, Martin (Jake Thomas, THE CELL), who has been cryogenically
frozen until a cure is found for his disease. Her husband, Henry (Sam
Robards), is a remarkably unimportant character whose only contribution is
to attempt to get his wife some happiness by bringing David home.
The story raises intriguing moral questions at every turn with the greatest
of these being: what does it mean to love, what responsibilities do we have
as humans and what does it mean to be real? It also poses such eternal
questions of childhood as David's of, "Mommy, will you die?" His question
takes on extra poignance since it seems that he will live indefinitely while
she is mortal and therefore quite perishable. What David wants most of all
is to be a real boy so that his mother will love him.
A computerized teddy bear (voiced by Jack Angel), who asserts "I am not a
toy," is the film's most endearing character, calling to mind Spielberg's
famous and loveable E.T. David is the film's most tragic character.
The intricate script recalls parts of many movies, including Sid's toy chest
from TOY STORY and the bar scene from the original STAR WARS. Stan
Winston's robotic special effects are amazing, as always. His pièce de
résistance comes in something called the Flesh Fairs. These garish and
ghoulish spectacles are gladiator bouts as the World Wrestling Federation
would stage them. Mechas are chopped up, blown up, melted and otherwise
slaughtered to delight a cheering crowd. "Let he who is without sim cast
the first stone," Lord Johnson-Johnson (Brendan Gleeson) asks the crowd.
Humans, who have an organic brain and therefore no need for a simulator
("sim"), are deemed superior and therefore permitted to crush those inhuman
bits of fake flesh known as mechas.
Jude Law, as Gigolo Joe, is a lovable mecha who befriends and is befriended
by David. With a snap of his head, Joe can play music to soothe the ladies
before he beds them. And with a flick of his hand, he can change his hair
color. He's a love doll, who does not really love, but can only "make
Robin Williams -- who else? -- does a nice turn as the humorous Dr. Know, a
franchised, electronic knowledge dispenser, to whom David turns for advice.
Content providers who have had trouble figuring out ways to make a profit
from the Internet might look to Dr. Know as a model of possible salvation.
Adopting a mecha into the family has some frightening consequences that
aren't easily guessed. John Williams's music with its creepy undercurrents
reminds us to always be on our guard. Filmed in a beautiful haze by Janusz
Kaminski (SHINDLER'S LIST), the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat as
you are sweep into its mysteries and its characters.
After reaching an absolutely perfect concluding spot, the last act tacks on
a long feel good ending that is more likely to infuriate than to please.
The result is less than a masterpiece but much, much more than the typical
movie fare. And it is, thankfully, a summer movie with something on its
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE runs 2:20. It is rated PG-13 for some sexual
content and violent images and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and
My son Jeffrey, age 12, gave it ** 1/2. He thought it was interesting and
had impressive images. He was troubled by what he thought were many logical
holes. He also complained that it ended at the wrong place, saying, "not
all fairy tales have to end perfectly in happy endings." He, independently,
wished that the film would have ended in exactly the same spot that I did.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes