A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Robards, and the voices of Ben Kingsley and Jack Angel.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and violent images.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
June 30, 2001

It's been three long years since Steven Spielberg released his last directorial effort, Saving Private Ryan. In that time, he's been busy playing studio chief. That is, for the first year. After the death of Stanley Kubrick in the spring in 1999, Spielberg took it upon himself to direct what would have been Kubrick's next film: a futuristic version of Pinocchio.

Long after the polar ice caps have melted, humankind has developed intelligent androids to perform labor without using precious resources. Professor Hobby (William Hurt) is the chief engineer at Cybertronics New Jersey, and his latest project is to create a "mecha" that is not merely intelligent, but can actually feel love, and therefore dream and do everything else that makes organic people truly human. This mecha will also be a child that will be instructed to love its adoptive parents.

His first customers are Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards), whose only son (Jake Thomas) is in cryogenic stasis and unlikely to ever be revived. Henry brings home David (Haley Joel Osment) as a gift for Monica. She is at first hesitant and more than a little disturbed by the lifelike robot, but she eventually reads an activation sequence that makes David love her as a mother. This activation is irreversible, for David will continue to love Monica until he is destroyed.

What happens after that point has been carefully guarded by DreamWorks, so I'll respect their wishes of secrecy. However, the trailer shows that David eventually leaves the Swintons and begins a journey with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a literal sex machine designed to please women. The parallels with Pinocchio are many, but Spielberg's screenplay (which was based on a treatment by Kubrick) avoids Disney's version, going directly to Collodi's story for inspiration. The ending in particular borrows from a Collodi passage that was too dark for Disney.

However, the mark of Kubrick is most visible in A.I. Throughout the film, Spielberg seems to be at odds with Kubrick's legacy. His desire to be sentimental conflicts with his desire to construct the scenes as Kubrick would -- with stark imagery and long shots that explore the space. Meanwhile, he wants to build character and force the narrative instead of letting it play out. Making the film was an unenviable task, and making it a Kubrick/Spielberg film (as it is being promoted) does nothing to ease the problem.

That being said, A.I. still succeeds at being a good film, if not quite a great one. The performances are all solid and the art direction of the film (led by Rick Carter, who often works with both Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis) is breathtaking. It is refreshing to see such a big spectacle that manages to be intelligent and original, unlike so many other films this year.

A note from my sci-fi geek within: There is one thing that I still must address in this film. The plot really depends on these androids to be perpetual motion machines, which would violate the laws of thermodynamics. They require no fuel and can remain functional for thousands of years while under complete isolation. That was the other thing that bugged me from the beginning. Ignoring that, my claim of the film's intelligence stands.

Addendum by Eugene Kopman <eugene@filmhead.com> - July 13, 2001
In the tradition of Siskel & Ebert, here is my rebuttal.

One can definitely see Kubrick's mark on this film with a scene at the "Flesh Fair", but Spielberg did a fantastic job finishing what Kubrick started. I loved the film for its message of true love and fulfilling one's goals no matter what, and also the amazing direction and cinematography. Haley Joel Osment is a fantastic young actor who adds another great performance to his résumé, along with Jude Law. And after seeing this film, I would like to see more of Frances O'Connor's films, because she played her part so well; I would love to see what else she could do. [See Mansfield Park and Bedazzled. -- Ed.]

The only thing is that I thought the movie should've ended about 15 minutes earlier than it did. I can't go into details obviously, but when you see it, you'll understand what I mean. That is that place where I would think Kubrick would have ended it, but the ending still worked very well. To me A.I. was a Kubrick film with a Spielberg ending.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan