A.I. Artificial Intelligence [Retro Review]

“Please make me a real boy?”

The Scoop: 2001 PG-13, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt and Frances O’Connor

Tagline: David is 11 years old. He weighs 60 pounds. He is 4 feet, 6 inches tall. He has brown hair. His love is real. But he is not.

Summary Capsule: Deserted by adopted parents, little robot boy goes on a quest to bore us all.

Justin’s Rating: Kubrick’s revenge from beyond the grave!

Justin’s Review: A.I. is about the worst kind of film that you can see.

Free will is absent from the decision of whether you’re going to be anticipating it or not; you’re just a mere mortal, who has a soul of silly putty that’s ready to be molded by greater minds than your own. I mean, directed by Steven Spielberg! Starring that little kid from The Sixth Sense! From a story designed by the industry’s 600-pound pretentious gorilla, Stanley Kubrick! And there is a robotic teddy bear! Ladies and gentlemen, if Movie Law dictates our lives — and it does — you just weren’t allowed to cast doubts on the sanctity of A.I.. At all, otherwise E.T. and Indiana Jones would show up and give you a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence.

So there I am, ditching work on a Friday — along with my boss, mind you — to see this film. I’m fairly excited. SciFi always does that to me… I mean, not just two years back I found myself bowled over by the fantastic The Matrix, which mixed philosophy, plot and special effects into something groundbreaking.

A.I. comes on the screen, and I gradually, very gradually, figure out that this is a slow film. Very slow. The tempo is that of a director saying, “I’m going to come to the point in a minute, but let me first establish mood and environment and foreshadowing and symbolism and… waitaminute, what was I doing?” And it’s this carefully-paced slowness that just convinces you even more that this is going to be some sort of marvelous masterpiece. I just know I’ll be fully enriched by this experience, yes indeedy.

It was about halfway through this film when I began to realize that there wasn’t anything deep to this story. It was your basic robotic-boy-wants-to-be-loved tale that scifi authors have been dishing out for YEARS. I mean, wasn’t there a Twilight Zone about this exact same thing, or something? And sure, while the future looked all neon and weird, it just served as a lavish backdrop to a mere pamphlet of a script. I started to wonder, then, if Spielberg was trying to do his own impression of Kubrick, or if Kubrick’s will dictated that Spielberg be forbidden to use common freaking sense while making this movie. It’s long. It’s kinda boring, for a tale about rogue robots on an epic quest. It’s very impersonal and dry.

And then we get to the Pinocchio metaphor. Now, as an English major, I appreciate a good (or bad) metaphor just as much as anyone else, but that’s only when it’s done subtly, or with a deft hand, or whenever I brutalize one in the name of comedy. Here is how A.I. handles comparing the robot kid’s journey to the story of Pinocchio:

1. The audience has come to the conclusion that this story is a metaphor twenty-one minutes in. At least the audience over the age of seven.

2. Some of the characters mention a Pinocchio reference, and the audience titters faintly, for at least the movie isn’t ashamed of its homage.

3. Then Robin Williams, as a holograph, comes in and beats us over the head with a Pinocchio story. This is so blatant that babies still in their mother’s wombs are crying out, “We get it, already!”

4. THEN, robotic kid finds a statue of the Blue Fairy, which he talks to and asks to make him a, quote, “real boy.” This robotic kid, running on an Intel Pentium 78 chip, CANNOT DISTINGUISH A FAKE STATUE FAIRY FROM A “REAL” FAIRY, WHICH DOESN’T EXIST ANYWAY.

5. Then, with the power of aliens, the Blue Fairy comes to life and grants robotic kid a wish.

Now, while that horrible realization that I am not making any of this up sinks into your mind, let me go back to explaining why A.I. is the worst kind of movie to see. Because it’s got the chips so stacked in its favor that you all but HAVE to like it before you see it, you — like me — will watch it and be making little excuses for the movie’s behavior during the whole thing. You will be hoping against hope that soon, maybe after the first two hours, it will begin to get miraculously good. It has to, doesn’t it? I mean… Spielberg! Kid who can see dead people! Kubrick! Scifi!

Never tempt the fates, and don’t ever, ever tempt an all-powerful God with a sense of humor, because you’re going to get what you deserve. A.I. goes from meanderingly rank to absolutely putrid in the last twenty minutes or so. By this time, the film has gone on so long that you could have seen at least two Orlando Jones comedies and still have had time for McDonald’s. And, while depressing, the movie comes to a place which would make an excellent stopping point. Which, it doesn’t.

It was like some sort of horrible April Fool’s Joke. Buried underneath the ice, robotic kid is dug up thousands of years in the future by – ahem – aliens. (Some say they were robots, but I’m sticking with aliens, nah nah naa.) Aliens which are excavating Earth, since we apparently don’t exist any longer. Aliens which see Teddy Ruxpin and partner as the only remnants of the human race. Aliens which then give cyber-brat everything he could ever desire, including cloning his dead mother who didn’t really love him, spending a day with her, and then watching her die as her clone fails. This is so outrageous, so incredibly ridiculous, that you’ve long since stopped making excuses. You’ve just started to become really, really mad. Like, Incredible Hulk mad.

This isn’t a blockbuster. A.I. could barely be considered as legitimate film. Speilberg’s and Kubrick’s legacies will try to “forget” this flick ever happened. Mark my words.

Clare’s Rating: What the fu…? Huh?

Clare’s Review: Unlike Justin, I actually like most of Stanley Kubrick’s films. Some (Dr. Strangelove) more than others (A Clockwork Orange), but in general, I don’t find him pretentious or stupid. More often than not I find his work thought-provoking and generally heart-breaking in the best kind of ways. However, when I heard that he and Steven Spielberg were somehow teaming up to sort of but not really make A.I., I didn’t leap out of my seat in exhalant joy.

It just seemed like a bad idea. It’s like eating ice cream and clam chowder. Ice cream is good. Clam chowder is good. But eating them together would just make me question my better judgment. Then I found out that Haley Joel Osment, perhaps the most preternaturally poised and well-spoken non-adult ever, was playing a robot-boy. Which seemed like genius casting since his real life demeanor skirts around creepy pretty much all the time anyway. But did I really want to throw down $8.50 to sit through 2 and-a-half hours of Haley Joel non-blinking coupled with a mish mash of heart-breaking Kubrick and heart-warming Spielberg? The answer turned out to be no. But when it came on HBO recently, I decided to give it a peek.

My initial response to this movie was right. It was weird. Like really weird. Sometimes it was an interesting, sad, beautiful kind of weird. But most of the time it was an uncomfortable, befuddling, unnecessary kind of weird. I enjoyed a lot of the cinematography and special effects. I even thought that some of the individual scenes were well executed, but as a whole, cohesive piece of work, it left me feeling queasy. I’ll extend my ice cream/clam chowder metaphor a little further. This movie is the film equivalent of too many cooks in the kitchen. Nobody was able to decide what to make, so they just threw a whole bunch of everything in. The result? Tasted unpleasant.

[Spoiler!]
I actually was pretty into the whole philosophical conundrum that David represented: a machine that was built to love. A man-made artifice that had the capacity to do something uniquely organic. But then the whole thing gets all muddled up once David is forced out on his own and sets out to find a way back home somehow. The first half of the movie is a plainly Kubrikian look at the nature of love, jealousy and devotion and I found it telling and rather depressing (in a good way). Once the “fairy tale” portion of the film gets underway and David sets out on his journey, the movie loses focus and veers around in directions that take away from the rather interesting dilemma that had been previously established. I would have been quite happy if the fairy tale portion of the film had been allowed to end with David at the bottom of the ocean, slavishly devoted for all time to begging for love from another man-made object that reminded him of his mother. It would have been a perfectly pointed and sad end to the tale and I would have been able to excuse the meandering weirdness that took up the middle hour of this movie. But because Spielberg directed this movie and would rather screw something up than let it end on a sad note, an additional 20 minutes of aliens and ice caps and undead moms is tacked on that completely obliterates any opportunity I could have had to give this movie a good review. It felt forced, stupid and backwards.

[Spoiler End]

While I didn’t HATE A.I., I can’t say that I’d really recommend it to anyone. I’m not pissed off that I sat through it, but I wouldn’t do it again.

Plexiglass can't shield you from criticism, kid.

Interission!

  •  One of the buildings in Manhattan is actually an Apple Macintosh (Harman-Kardon) subwoofer.
  •  Haley Joel Osment suggested to Steven Spielberg that his character (David) should not blink. Spielberg agreed and so none of the androids in the movie blinks.
  • The Dreamworks SKG logo is featured a number of times, but most prominently in Martin’s bed. The film shows the World Trade Center towers standing 2,000 years in the future.
  • Spielberg had the good graces to include nods to several of Kubrick’s directing trademarks. Notable among them: The Kubrick stare when David finally finds the Blue Fairy.
  • Stanley Kubrick worked on the project for 12 years before his death, but along the way decided to let Steven Spielberg direct saying it was “closer to his sensibilities”. The two collaborated for years, resulting in Kubrick giving Spielberg a complete treatment and lots of conceptual art for the film prior to his death.
  • While A.I. was based on the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”, that short story has less influence on the movie than the famous poem by W.B. Yeats, “The Stolen Child”. The text of the poem appears in the movie in two places, and certain stanzas take on literal meaning as well (i.e. “Till the moon has taken flight”).
  • As a promotional tool, the creators developed an elaborate internet game of discovery and problem solving, through hidden messages and puzzles in internet sites, telephone answering messages, e-mail accounts and clues in the film’s trailers. The game, set in the world of A.I. involved websites registered in several countries around the world as well as telephone numbers from across the US, and a group of followers called “The Cloudmakers” followed the puzzle, sharing information.
  • One of the reasons Kubrick waited so long to make the film is because he wanted David (Haley Joel Osment’s character) to be played by a robot.

Groovy Quotes:

David: I like your floor.

David: Please make me a real boy?

David: My brain is falling out.

Professor Allen Hobby: You are a real boy. At least as real as I’ve ever made one.

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Minority Report
  • Blade Runner
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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Metropolis (2001) « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: Minority Report | Mutant Reviewers

  3. Pingback: Mutant Reviewers salutes Robin Williams | Mutant Reviewers

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