2 August 2001 | Movie-12
One of the year's best films -- thought-provoking and deeply moving. ***1/2 (out of four)
AI - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE / (2001) ***1/2 (out of four)
By Blake French:
"AI - Artificial Intelligence" is the hardest kind of movie to review-but it's also the most enjoyable kind of movie to watch. It's been over three weeks since my screening of Steven Spielberg's emotionally harrowing epic about a robot boy. Before writing my review, I wanted to let its themes, content, and characters sink into my head and make a solid impact. The film was based on an idea by Stanley Kubrick, but when he died in 1999, Speilberg took charge of the project. I could spend pages discussing the techniques of Kubrick's intentions and Spielberg's decisions, but I will not. Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg are two of the greatest directors American cinema has to offer; it's pure pleasure watching their ideas clash and flow. I am not going to examine each individual theme here, either. That would ruin the movie for you.
"AI - Artificial Intelligence" presents many themes on screen, but it's important to take what you get out of it. Whenever I read a review of Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" I feel influenced by the reviewer's interpretation of the movie's themes. Every time I watch either of those movies I get something new out of it. I hate it when other critics state the movie's themes on paper as if it's a fact. There is far too much room for interpretation to reveal this movie's message, or the message of any Kubrick film for that matter. Ask 100 people, and you might get 100 different answers. "AI - Artificial Intelligence" is that kind of movie-one of the year's best.
Critics and audiences alike have torn apart this movie's ending-a clear miscalculation by Spielberg. If Kubrick were in charge, the movie would have called it quits about twenty minutes earlier in an unsettling sequence that takes place in the ocean. But Speilberg, who always seems entranced by science fiction, injects an additional segment into the mix that does not work quite as well, but isn't so completely awful that it deserves such harsh criticism. It still leaves us with an open, startled emotional disorientation. I left the theater with tears in my eyes. The movie before the conclusion is so complex, moving, and involving in so many different ways the last twenty minutes didn't even come close to spoiling the movie for me.
"AI" transpires sometime in the near future after the polar ice caps have melted and flooded coastal cities and reduced natural resources. Mechanical androids have become popular since they require no commodities. Reproduction has also become highly illegal. Machines provide sexual services and if anyone wants a child, they will purchase a robot. However, the difference between a robot child and a living child is that robots cannot love. That's the task professor Hobby (William Hurt) of Cybertronics Manufacturing has solved. He has made a robot child that can love.
We can separate "AI" into two separate segments. I do not want to reveal too much about each plot because the pleasure of watching this movie evolves from the revealing of the connecting plots. I will, however, briefly say the first details a robot child's interaction within a family, and the second deals with the robot's estrangement from its family and the quest to regain the mother's love.
I can imagine the material in Kubrick's hands. The movie's opening scene has a female robot begin to undress in a public office. Speilberg cuts the action before she reveals any explicit nudity. Kubrick would have had various shots of full frontal nudity. Spielberg, never comfortable with sexual material, leaves out much of the motivation behind Kubrick's ideas. One of the biggest problems in "AI" is the lack of edge with the sexual content. Jude Law plays a robot gigolo who lives in a sex fantasy called Rouge City where people from everywhere come to seek sexual satisfaction. The central character, a robot boy played by Haley Joel Osment, motivates every action in the story except for the scenes in Rouge City. Why contain such a perverse character and setting when his entire existence simply displays a mood that has already been well established. Obvious, the filmmakers toned the aspects of "AI" down to warrant a gutless PG-13 rating-but why? The movie isn't appropriate for children anyway, and it's far too complex. Undoubtedly if Kubrick were in charge "AI" would have to be re-cut to avoid an NC-17 rating. Spielberg should have either taken advantage of the perverse material or completely eliminated it.
Here I am, doing exactly what I said that I wouldn't do, and at nearly 900 words, I still have not clearly expressed my own opinions on the film. I have many notes in front of my that display my reaction as I watched the film, but I am not going to use them-they reveal too much about the movie. "AI" is a very personal film, a deeply moving, scientific, careful, and harrowing motion picture that displays startling talent on screen and behind the scenes. The special effects are extraordinary. The performances are alarming-the immensely talented Haley Joel Osment may once again be up for an Academy Award nomination. Go see the movie, then talk about it with others. It's the kind of film that you can spend hours thinking about, then go see it again.