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Steven Speilberg's A.I.

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A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)

Directed by Stephen Speilberg. Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor and William Hurt. Warner Brothers, 2001, $29.99. ASIN: B00003CXXP.

Stanley Kubrik and Stephen Spielberg are two directors that, while both are very popular and have highly acclaimed volumes of work to their names, aren't normally connected to one another. A.I. is a film which was the brain-child of the late Kubrik picked up upon, written, and directed by Spielberg. Kubrik had the idea some point in the mid-1980s and talked on and off about it with Spielberg until his death. The movie hadn't been made earlier, since each thought the other would be a better director for the film, but when Kubrik died, the decision was made for Spielberg, and he finally made the movie as an homage to his departed friend.

The basis and inspiration for the story of A.I. is the short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" written by Brian Aldiss. Kubrik originally "discovered" the story in the early 1970s, bought the rights to make it into a film soon thereafter, and over the next 20 years worked on the film off-an-on using Spielberg to bounce ideas off of and as a confidant, prolonged primarily due to technological limitations of producing the necessary visual milieu. He later offered Spielberg the opportunity to direct the film while Kubrik would produce. After Spielberg finished shooting Jurassic Park, Kubrik thought technology had finally gotten to the point where he could film A.I., but Kubrik put off the project for a short time while he made Eyes Wide Shut. This was, of course, to be his last film, and it looked as if A.I. would never be made.

It was Kubrick's wife Christiane who finally approached Spielberg and asked him to make the movie. Spielberg agreed not only to direct it, but he also decided that he was the only one who could also write the film. And, this is where, in this reviewer's opinion, things go horribly awry. A.I.'s script is an absolute mess. It's obvious that Spielberg was trying to instill many of Kubrick's sensibilities into the movie, but it is unavoidable, of course, that many of his own also make their way into the film. The result is a movie which changes its tone, momentum, and even plot, at the snap of a finger and with no warning. A times, such as in the very opening set-up of the movie and in the scenes at the "Flesh Fair" -- an arena where robots are destroyed for public amusement -- it has a sharp edge and tense, gritty feel typical of Kubrick's style. While other parts of the movie have the more heartwarming, "feel-good" style of some Spielberg movies such as E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The ending ofthe movie, in particular, seems horribly out of place and tacked on, having almost nothing to do with the rest of the film.

Despite the outrageously flawed script, though, the actors pull off an amazingly well done job. Haley Joel Osment stars in the film as David. David is the titular A.I. of the film. He is an experiment by a major robotics company to make a robot which can actually feel human emotion, and in particular to feel love for his parents and act as a substitute child in a world where resources are scarce and couples are not allowed to have children without a state mandate. Osment performs this role admirably, and is quickly proving himself to be perhaps the first child actor in history who is not only not annoying, but actually quite good at his craft. Jude Law also plays a robot in this film, a mechanical gigolo whose only purpose in life is to pleasure women. His performance is at the same time eerie, funny, and enjoyable due to his ability to capture perfectly the idea of a robot with an entirely focused sense of purpose forced to act outside of his programming and deal with the world around him in a way not originally intended. While these two stars of the movie are definitely the most outstanding, all the other performances are certainly solid -- including Frances O'Connor as the "mother" of David and Brendan Gleeson as the Emcee of the Flesh Fair.

Like most Spielberg films, the true star of this movie is the special effects. Spielberg uses every trick in the book from puppeteering to CGI animation to stop-motion video to create the world of A.I. And while all the special effects are certainly top-notch, the feel some of them give to the movie seem horribly out of place. Many times throughout the film, one wonders why anyone -- futuristic world or no -- would consider the look of the world they have created to be pleasing. It is one thing to make a futuristic world look dark and dreary due to necessity and practicality winning out over aesthetics, but that is not the case in this future world. The architecture is simply laughable throughout much of the film. The robot special effects, however, are truly a spectacle to behold, and the damaged and deranged robots of the Flesh Fair are particularly visually engaging.

The extras on the DVD version of A.I. are plentiful and very well done. Almost every aspect of the production of the film is covered in its own featurette, from the lighting to the music to the acting to the animation -- no stone is left unturned. In fact, watching the extras on the production of the movie are more interesting than watching the movie itself. The production notes included are, for once, interesting to read, telling the entire story of the creation of the movie throughout its entire 30 year history (which was the basis for most of the information given at the beginning of this review, though there is much, much more to it than what was written here).

Overall, A.I. is a movie which despite its wonderful special effects and good acting, cannot be recommended due to its horribly flawed script. Watch it only for the visual spectacle, if you watch it at all. And might I recommend finding the largest screen you can to watch it on, to make the experience at least somewhat worth the three hour investment.

Shaun Ferguson