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A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
(Widescreen)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Robards, William Hurt
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  See Review
Length:  145 Minutes
Release Date:  March 5, 2002

“You’re a machine.”

“I’m a boy.  My name is David.”

Film ***

There’s a scene in the movie D.A.R.Y.L. where a child robot is deemed expendable by his creators, and one particularly hard-nosed scientist surprisingly helps it escape.  When asked why, she responds, “A machine starts being human when you can’t tell the difference anymore.”

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence goes even further, posing the question quite literally:  what responsibility do WE owe to a robot that truly loves us?  A difficult question, because the concept of a machine that loves is beyond all reasonable logic.  Director and screenwriter Steven Spielberg, however, has asked himself that question, and makes it clear what his answer is by giving his main character the most implausible and inexcusable ending out of no other reason than kindness.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  A.I. was initially the brainchild of legendary director Stanley Kubrick, who developed it from a short story entitled “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss as early as 1984.  From then until the ending of his life in 1999, he shared his creative vision with Spielberg, even going so far as to suggest that Steven direct it himself.

The long delay in realization was more than just Kubrick’s usual methodical pacing and penchant for perfectionism.  Believing no child actor could fulfill the demands of the role he envisioned, he prepped his story while waiting for technology to catch up with his vision.  While he would not live to see Final Fantasy and the first amazingly convincing artificially created people, a young boy would burst onto the cinema scene in the meantime by making the world believe he saw dead people, and the rest would be history.

That boy was, of course, Haley Joel Osment, and there has seldom been a better on screen match than his bona fide talent and the tricky role of David.  David is the future’s answer to parenting, after the polar caps have melted, our coasts have disappeared, our living space has shrunk, and pregnancies have become regulated by the government.

He is a mecha, or an artificial person, but he is also the first major breakthrough after artificial intelligence.  Call it artificial emotion, if you will…and if you can tell the difference.  David is meant to take his place amongst a real family.  If the family accepts him, they claim him by saying a seven-word coded sequence.  This makes David “love” his family for all eternity.  It cannot be switched off…it only ends with his destruction.

He comes to the family of Henry and Monica Swinton (Robards and O’Connor), whose real child has been in a coma for sometime.  Monica’s reaction to David is about what you might expect…distant, and maybe even a little fearful.  David wanders through his new home with open eyes and a childlike curiosity.  His manner is sweet, but despite his convincing looks and movements, there something unreal about him that makes his new family uncomfortable.

As Monica warms to David, she eventually programs him with the code, but things turn complicated when her real child awakens.  Unfortunate events follow, and she decides to abandon David in the woods, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in recent memory.

David’s adventure through the world begins there.  Familiar with the story of Pinocchio and thinking if he too can become a real boy, he’ll win his mother’s love, he sets out into a surreal futuristic landscape with a supertoy teddy bear.  He makes a friend out of another mecha, a love-machine named Gigolo Joe (Law), who decides to help David on his impossible quest.

The film has many stunning sequences, beginning with a “Flesh Fair” scene that is as horrific as anything that took place in the Roman Coliseum in years past, and all about humans trying to reclaim their superiority from their creations.  We see an amazing futuristic landscape in Rouge City, and best of all, we see what happened to our once proud coastlines after the polar caps melted…these are some of the most astonishing visuals of recent memory.

But at the heart of it all is Osment, as David, whose performance is so real and truthful every step of the way, we feel for him like a little boy even though we always believe him to be a sophisticated machine.

My complaint, however, is that the ending is purely Spielberg, and it disrupts everything about the picture that was Kubrick.  I’ll not give anything away, but treading carefully, I would simply like to say there is one point where the story could have concluded and A.I. would have been a four star film.  But it goes on to something that not only feels like a cheat, it feels like a cheat Spielberg lifted off of another one of his own films!

Spielberg’s decision, therefore, was that he was responsible for his robot that knew how to love.  Kubrick would have never forgotten that no machine could ever really love past our own ability to project love into it.  A.I. could have been one of the landmark films of this early century; instead, it is merely good.

Video ***1/2

This is generally a quality anamorphic presentation from Dreamworks (a full frame DVD is also available; you don’t need it).  Given the tremendous amount of backlighting used by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, the high contrast film stock sometimes reveals a little more grain than you’re used to seeing.  I saw this movie in the theatre and it was there, too…not distracting, but noticeable.  Occasionally, there are some darker sequences that lose a bit of definition and seem a little softer; others are much more well-defined, with sharper images and better lines.  Coloring is very good throughout, though.  Keep in mind that the ending sequence has a bit of a deliberately unreal, muted look to it…this is intentional, and not a transfer flaw.  Overall, a good effort.

Audio ***1/2

You have a choice of Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 soundtracks here…either way, the listening experience is quality.  Most of the front and rear stage effects are for overall ambience, with only infrequent uses of true crossover effects, but you notice both stages open throughout the picture, and the way the sound is constructed is appropriate and tasteful.  John Williams’ terrific score sounds great, too.  Dynamic range is moderately good, but there were some moments where I thought it could have reached back for some extra power…minor complaint.

Features ***1/2

A commentary track is missing here…that being said, this double disc offering boasts a nice extras package.  With the exception of a 12 minute featurette on Disc One, the other features are all on the second disc, and they are mostly broken up by subject matter (to put all of the information into a single documentary film would have resulted in far too long a film).  There are interviews with Osment and Law, and several detailed looks at the film’s design, special effects, sound, music, and more, including a look at Stan Winston’s creatures, interviews with the team from Industrial Light and Magic, John Williams, producer and Kubrick friend Jan Harlan, and more. 

There is also an archives section that features two trailers (both horrible, in my opinion), storyboards, sketches, production photos, notes, talent files, and more.  Finally, there is a brief conclusion offered by Spielberg as the DVD credits roll.  Not a bad offering!

Summary:

A.I. offers plenty of visual imagination and boasts a pair of stunning performances by Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law.  It hits most of the right emotional notes and creates a glimpse, if not a complete picture, of what Stanley Kubrick’s final film might have been.  The ending, however, is decidedly Spielberg, and robs some of the courage from the story, but the overall results still rank as a film worth seeing for its many pure pleasures.