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A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: William Hurt, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

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 parenting.

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

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