Is the acronym “A.I.” really so obscure that they felt they had to spell it out in the title? In any case, Stanley Kubrick’s vision for the film, based loosely on Brian Aldiss’ “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” would never reach the screen. I wonder what kind of movie it would have been had he directed it himself, but I suppose we’ll have to make do with Steven Spielberg’s take on it. Which is not to say that I dislike the film, or even Spielberg’s work in general, though I will hold Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World against him.
A.I. is one of the better sci-fi films concerning robots in the past decade. It focuses its lens on David, an extremely realistic robot child played to perfection by Haley Joel Osment, designed for infertile parents yearning for a child of their own. The first act explores the relationships that develop between the robot and his adoptive mother, as well as that with his real life, flesh and blood “brother” who unexpectedly returns home from the hospital. The complications that arise from this dynamic are wonderfully illustrated, ramping up to David’s heart-breaking abandonment by his “mother”.
Beginning in the 2nd act, David’s quest to become a real boy begins in earnest, borrowing unabashedly from the story of Pinocchio. David’s desire to become real is however, so much more potent than that of Pinocchio, for it is driven by the longing to be loved by his mother. And it’s here that I feel the film loses much of the impact it could have had had it stayed within the domestic setting. As a result of this shift it becomes more of an adventure movie, though it continues to examine the role of robots in the world: as victims in the mock-execution show Flesh Fair, and prostitutes in sinful cityscapes. David’s partner through much of the film is expertly portrayed by Jude Law, who’s Gigolo Joe seems to possess the innocence (and perhaps the intelligence) of a child.
The film has a weird double ending, one where David is frozen under the sea wishing in front of a statue of his elusive Blue Fairy for centuries. Instead of rolling credits, we’re taken on one final journey somehow reminiscent of the final episode in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only remnants of life left in the frozen wasteland that was once New York City are robots so advanced that they appear alien, excavating the ruins of human civilization. Like the domestic setting in act one I feel that this final act could have been more fully explored at the expense of scenes like the Flesh Fair.
A.I. is an intelligent and well crafted film, playing to Spielberg’s strengths rather than his sometimes stupid sentimentality (as seen in, for example, War of the Worlds‘ ending). John Williams’ score is typically brilliant. I think Kubrick would have been pleased with the final film, and I don’t think I can give it a better recommendation than that.
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