August 7, 2011

Classic Review: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Steven Spielberg and Ian Watson. Based upon the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss.
Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Jude Law, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson

A collaboration between cinematic masters Stephen Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a sublime story about a robot's journey towards becoming a "real" human. Outside of a problematic ending, this is a near perfect motion picture with powerful acting, writing, and direction.

Following global flooding caused by global warming, humans are forced to rely increasingly more on robots, known as mecha, that are controlled by highly sophisticated artificial intelligence programs. When software expert Prof. Hobby creates David (Haley Joel Osment), he gives him to human parents Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor). Henry and Monica are both wary of their new charge, but Monica soon finds that David can fill an emotional hole caused by the coma her biological son Martin (Jake Thomas) is in. When Martin wakes up though, David is soon ostricacized and then abandoned by his human family. The problem is that David had been programmed to love and he believes the only way to have that love returned is to become a "real" boy. Thus begins David's quest to find the blue fairy, a character from The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi that David believes has the power to make him real.

The Queering
A.I. attempts to tackle a whole host of provocative philosophical questions. At point can it be said that a machine is sentient? Would conscience thought mean that the machine would therefore be capable of human emotion such as love? If we made a machine capable of loving us, would we owe that machine anything in return? And most importantly, what does it mean to be human?

Naturally, this philosophical inquiry means that A.I. is a highly ambitious film. Although I should point out that sometimes the film's reach exceeds it's grasp, as not all the answers provided are necessarily all that substantial. But I would much prefer an ambitious film that fails in all that it attempts over mediocre crap that aspires to little.

One area where A.I. does not disappoint is with the technical elements. There is some truly awesome cinematography and set design here. The glimpses of a flooded New York City - complete with still standing twin towers as A.I. was released only a few months before 9/11 - are hauntingly beautiful and eerie at the same time. In fact, all of the technical components, from the score to the editing to the special effects, are superbly executed.

The acting by Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law as synthetic humanoid machines is also superb. Haley Joel Osment is particularly interesting as David, who suggests that there is something different about David through slightly exaggerated mannerisms and by rarely blinking. No one else really is around long enough to leave much of an impression.

Then of course there is the ending, which is the film's weakest element by far. There are several natural endings that occur earlier that the filmmakers could have chosen but for whatever reason, did not. The cathartic nature of the ending led many to speculate that Spielberg, rather then Kubrick was the creative force behind the ending. Spielberg however later refuted that notion, claiming that the ending was in the original treatment by Kubrick. Regardless of who's idea the ending was, it still is extremely creepy and provides an unnecessary closure to the main storyline.

Of course, while the ending does not work as far as the characters or plot are concerned, it does work on a thematic level by providing an interesting Biblical parallel. In Genesis, after God had given life to human clay, he walked amongst Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. As time goes on though, God becomes increasingly more distant from humans and by the time of the New Testament, he has to send a human son in order to deliver a message to the human race. This mimics the role humans play in the development of Artificial Intelligence here. At the beginning we humans are still playing a significant role in our creation, but the ending leaps forward several millennia, to where we have become extinct, leaving our mecha creations to evolve without us.

Strongly recommended. Issues with the ending aside, there is nothing artificial or unintelligent about this movie.

The Rating


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