red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards,
        Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Voices: Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Anthony Hopkins
Screenwriter: Steven Spielberg
Director: Steven Spielberg via Stanley Kubrick (seriously)
Theatrical release: 2001; 2-disc DVD release: 2002

So what does happen when Steven Spielberg meets Stanley Kubrick? E.T.: A Clockwork Orange? Yes. No. Maybe. The answer to that question remains unclear but certainly worth examining through the looking glass of A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

In this "future fairy tale," as Kubrick always described it, the world has been flooded by melted polar ice caps (only the tops of a few skyscrapers and Lady Liberty's upraised torch and hand are visible above the waves in New York City's harbor), human society has become dependent upon ever-more-sophisticated computers and robots (think Blade Runner's replicants with a twinge less nefarious intent).

But at the heart of this film is the tale of Pinocchio, a little boy created to be a surrogate son who wants to be the real thing. As we listen to the film's opening discussion at a robotics manufacturer, we also discover the creator's goal for the next generation: a robotic child, who will be able to develop human capacities for intuition, imagination, dreams, love. Spielberg-the-screenwriter takes the issue further and uses the film to ask what responsiblity humans have for and to all of our creations. Be advised: the humans in this film don't come off all that well, which should, obviously, give those of us oxygen-breathers a lot to think about.

But this is also a movie of two creative and cinematic styles that would seem to be totally incompatible: the "cool cerebral irony" of Stanley Kubrick and the "warm sentimental streak" of Steven Spielberg. If for no other reason, that makes this film worth a look. Viewers will recognize Haley Joel Osment, who will go on to dazzle in films like Pay It Forward and The Sixth Sense, in this amazing first-child-robot performance.

At the time of its 2001 theatrical release (a Spielbergian homage to one of Kubrick's best known sci-fi films?), reviewers from publications like The New York Times, LA Times, Boston Globe, Time, Newsweek, Variety, and USA Today all noted the challenges inherent in trying to meld these disparate styles. But the DVD liner notes describe Spielberg's friendship with Kubrick and how, during Kubrick's "20-year odyssey" to convert Brian Aldiss' short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long into the film A.I. Artificial Intellingence, Kubrick "consulted often" with Spielberg, showing him thousands of storyboards and discussing how to bring the story to the screen. Apparently, Kubrick felt Spielberg was up to the task, and, after Kubrick's death, Spielberg took on the film, writing the screenplay in only two months and retaining the look created in the original storyboards.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence has enough whiz-bang special effects to dazzle any techno-geek — precursors to Spielberg's Minority Report are visible — while the story, although a bit muddled in places, should satisfy his E.T. fans. (They'll especially like "Teddy," the super-toy companion who seems almost smarter and more compassionate than any other character in the film.)

The 2-disc DVD set includes everything but the kitchen sink: lots of featurettes, trailers, documentaries, and "Making of..." segments, in addition to the 175-minute feature.

As early reviewers have said, this film doesn't always work on all levels, but it's certainly worth watching for its visual style(s), special effects, stories, sub-plots, and implications. What do we say and what do we mean? How do we develop the capacities for intuition and imagination and dreaming and love? How does emotion complicate and/or enhance our communication?

And what really makes us human?


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