Like a kid waiting for Christmas morning, I've been counting the days
until the release of "A.I. Artificial Intelligence." While the prospect
of a beyond-the-grave collaboration between filmmakers Stanley Kubrick
and Steven Spielberg was exciting, what really juiced me up was the
concept, because the era of sentient machines is coming.
Our brightest minds will construct mechanical beings that independently
think and feel. Their first efforts will be crude, and we will need to
treat the androids with the sort of extra patience we reserve for our
mentally limited loved ones. Over the years, these creations will grow
ever more sophisticated, eventually improving on their own design
without the aid of man.
There will be controversy, of course. Some will claim that such efforts
are an affront to God, while others will insist that we are simply
carrying out the next step in a divine plan. How we behave towards these
children of mankind will measure our own humanity. Will we dismiss them
as mere appliances or treat them with condescension, regarding them as
slave labor made to serve our needs? Hopefully, we will come to
recognize them as an equal life form, leading to an age where organic
and mechanical beings work together (Cue the orchestra as I continue my
Captain Picard rant).
I picture a faraway time when a human can opt for earthly immortality by
moving his or her consciousness to a designer body, co-existing with the
"pure" androids. Heck, there may even come a day when mentally superior
androids must remind themselves not to be patronizing to the less adept
cybernetic humans. Kind of makes you dizzy, eh?
"A.I." is an incredibly ambitious film that addresses these notions
along with many others. Loosely based on the short story "Supertoys Last
All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss, the production was Stanley Kubrick's
dream project for years. After collaborating with Steven Spielberg on
the particulars, Kubrick finally passed the film to Spielberg, believing
it was better suited to his sensibilities. Fractured, but dazzling, the
result is a dark, often cruel tale of obsession and intolerance. Ads for
the movie trumpet it as a fairy tale, but moms and dads should be aware
that this is a grim story that could trigger nightmares. Despite its
PG-13 rating, the film is appropriate only for very mature, reflective
children and then only if their folks also see the movie and set aside
time to discuss the images and issues. Anything less is irresponsible
The futuristic drama is broken into three acts (SPOILER ALERT: The
following reveals basic plot elements). The first, set a few decades
from now, begins with the announcement from a professor (William Hurt)
of his intention to upgrade the current crop of robots by creating a
mechanical boy with a subconscious, capable of dreaming and experiencing
emotions. Twenty months later, David (Haley Joel Osment) moves in with
Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor), a couple
grieving the absence of their son, who was forced into cryogenic stasis
by illness. The exacting 50-minute segment is mesmerizing and maddening,
as a potentially workable situation grows intolerable due to a series of
misunderstandings that could have been corrected had the involved
parties simply talked things through.
But they don't, which leads to the second act, a fantastic journey
teaming David and his supertoy Teddy (voiced by Jack Angel) with Gigolo
Joe (Jude Law), a sex-robot on the run after being framed for murder by
a jealous husband. Together, they experience Flesh Fair, a "Thunderdome"
style extravaganza where runaway "mechas" (mechanical creations) are
tortured and destroyed for the amusement of twisted humans. Some of the
more visually horrific moments take place here.
Fueled by David's quest to find the Blue Fairy that can make him a "real
boy," just like Mommy read aloud in "Pinocchio" (how very sensitive of
her), they move on to Rouge City, a flashy, trashy neon enclave for
mechas. After a visit to "Dr. Know," a business where a cartoon hologram
(annoyingly voiced by Robin Williams) answers questions for a fee, the
trio moves on to Manhattan, flooded by melting polar ice caps to the
point where only the tops of buildings remain above water. Here David
has a fateful encounter that leads to the final act, set 2,000 years in
the future, with the distant descendants of the mechas (incorrectly
labeled as aliens in many reviews) providing the means for the story's
bizarre conclusion (END SPOILERS).
The tagline for "A.I.," "His love is real, but he is not" reflects a
fundamental problem with the movie. David can reason, care and suffer.
He is quite real. Sadly, his "love" is actually a programmed obsession
that blocks the boy from growing emotionally, but I'm not sure whether
or not Spielberg understands that. The relationship between David and
his "mommy" is about co-dependency, not love and the final scene of the
film, which I believe Spielberg considers satisfying, is but the last
painful image in an epic tragedy.
Flawed though it may be, "A.I." stands head and shoulders above most
films. I could go on for pages, but unfortunately, space is limited, so
I'll leave you with this: "A.I." is packed with freaky, haunting,
generally amazing images, accented by one of John Williams' better
scores. Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law are terrific, and the bleak story
offers a cornucopia of intriguing concepts. Do not miss this movie.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott