Judge Clark Douglas is certainly artificial, but not very intelligent.
Our review of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, published March 18th, 2002, is also available.
Discover the next step in evolution.
Colleague: "If a robot could genuinely love a person, what
responsibility does that person hold toward that mecha in return? It's a moral
question, isn't it?"
Facts of the Case
The future is as grand and terrible as we imagined it could become. While much of the world is still suffering from the devastating aftermath of severe climate change, remarkable technological advances have been made which allow some to live in greater comfort than ever. The latest and most remarkable new invention is a young robot (or "mecha") named David (Haley Joel Osmont, The Sixth Sense). While there are many different mechas capable of doing many different things, David is the first which has been successfully programmed to feel love and produce unique, emotionally-driven reactions to various situations. David is adopted by a married couple named Henry (Sam Robards, Life as a House) and Monica (Frances O'Connor, Mansfield Park), and after a tentative introductory period he begins to feel like part of the family. David and Monica in particular form a strong mother/son bond of sorts.
Alas, the happiness is short-lived: after David unintentionally makes a couple of potentially harmful errors, Monica is forced to abandon him. Inspired by a fairy tale his mother once told him, David determines that he can become accepted by his family once again if only he can track down the mythical Blue Fairy and persuade her to turn him into a human boy. Aided by the romantically-inclined mecha Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, Closer), David embarks upon a long and perilous search for his savior.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a very unusual film, and we're unlikely to ever see anything quite like it again. It is unmistakably the fused vision of two very distinctive cinematic voices; pushing and pulling against each other to fascinating, absorbing effect. The film was a pet project of Stanley Kubrick's for many years, though Kubrick eventually determined that the tale was better-suited to Steven Spielberg's directorial sensibilities. The plan eventually was that Kubrick would produce A.I. and Spielberg would direct it, but Kubrick passed away in 1999. Determined to honor his friend's legacy and make the film a reality, Spielberg charged full speed ahead and released the film into theatres in 2001.
The result is a curious blend of Kubrick's nightmarish cynicism and Spielberg's tender warmth, but that seeming contradiction actually works to the film's advantage in a number of ways. After all, this is a film which spends a great deal of its time exploring puzzling contradictions: the manner in which society's technological evolution seems inextricably tied to its social devolution, humanity's tendency to believe passionately in the things it cannot see or understand while doubting and rejecting plain realities, the notion that a creation can achieve far more than its creator and the idea that humans can create robots with the ability to love but cannot find a way to love the robots in return.
While on a surface level the film may appear to be little more than a grim fairy tale with a wildly sentimental conclusion, there's so much going on beneath the surface. While's it hard to say just how well Spielberg managed to capture Kubrick's vision for the film, there's no question that an immense about of nuance percolates beneath the hot-and-cold structure of A.I. Artificial Intelligence. That Spielberg wrote the screenplay himself is worth noting; it's the only screenplay he's written since 1982's Poltergeist. The director (working from Kubrick's extensive treatment) packs the film with layers upon layers of rich philosophical ideas, and manages to insert both Kubrick's icy precision and his own gift for intense emotion into his execution of those ideas.
The film begins on a quiet and effective note, as the first act details David's creation and his time with Henry and Monica. It's the leanest and most understated portion of the film, and it's understandable that many critics found this to be the strongest fusion of the Spielberg/Kubrick cinematic personas—it's certainly the cleanest. The tonal pendulum starts swinging rather wildly as the film proceeds, but it could not have been otherwise.
The eccentric midsection of the film is in many ways the most blatantly dark, particularly during the harrowing "flesh fair" sequence. It's remarkable that the film managed to escape with a PG-13 rating given the raw savagery of this material; loaded to the brim with warped imagery which seems to have been pulled from the darkest corners of children's fantasy. There are a few moments in which Spielberg seems to be pulling some punches (we aren't permitted to explore much of the hypersexualized Rouge City, as one senses the NC-17 rated head trips await around most corners), but much of the second act is unforgettable in an entirely positive way.
The hushed, cerebral third act is the film's most hotly-debated and controversial, as it masterfully takes the film to its natural conclusion…and then keeps going. I'm a defender of the film's final handful of scenes, though, as I believe they permit Spielberg an opportunity to thoughtfully, elegantly explore themes which had been introduced earlier in the film. These scenes bear Spielberg's personal touch most blatantly, but even these moments have a potent Darwinian (er, Kubrickian—the line gets a little hazy) touch which adds an atonal shading to the sentiment. That's the yin yang beauty of this collaboration: even the warmest moments have dark undertones, but even the bleakest moments offer faint glimmers of hope.
This is very much an idea-driven film as opposed to a character-driven one, but the performances are nonetheless quite solid. Haley Joel Osmont's turn as David is far and away the actor's best work; demanding considerably more of the young actor than his better-known role in The Sixth Sense. Osmont disappears in the role very quickly and handles some remarkably difficult scenes quite capably. Jude Law makes exceptionally interesting use of his movie star looks as the flirty Gigolo Joe, and William Hurt is persuasive as a scientist absolutely convinced that his advances are working towards the overall betterment of mankind. Noted names like Ben Kingsley (Schindler's List), Meryl Streep (Doubt), Chris Rock (Dogma) Robin Williams (Jumanji) and others provide voice work for CGI characters. Interestingly enough, most of these actors were cast long before the film was made and their performances were actually directed by Kubrick himself.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence arrives on Blu-ray sporting a handsome 1080p/1.78:1 transfer. You might expect a film like this to offer a glossy, super-slick visual palette, but like Spielberg's Minority Report it bears a distinctively grainy, filmic look. The imagery is intentionally soft, blown-out and dreamlike much of the time, but the transfer is as sharp and clean as it was ever supposed to be. Those unfamiliar with the film might initially think we're dealing with a subpar transfer, but the director's intentions have been preserved impressively. The lossless audio is quite strong, accentuating both the film's often-subtle sound design and John Williams' marvelous, underrated score (which reflects the Kubrick/Spielberg dynamic by blending memorable melodic material with considerably more sinister, harsh ideas in addition to making specific references to other Kubrick soundtracks). Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and there's never a moment that should cause you to adjust your speakers despite the fact that this film contains very quiet dialogue scenes and blustery action sequences.
All of the extras are featurettes recycled from the previous DVD release: "Creating A.I." (12 minutes), "Acting A.I." (15 minutes), "Designing A.I." (13 minutes), "Lighting A.I." (4 minutes), "The Robots of A.I." (13 minutes), "Special Visual Effects and Animation: ILM" (24 minutes), "The Sound and Music of A.I." (13 minutes) and "Closing: Steven Spielberg: Our Responsibility to Artificial Intelligence" (2 minutes). You also get some theatrical trailers and a collection of still galleries.
Intelligent, superbly crafted, and remarkably ambitious, A.I. Artificial Intelligence remains an underappreciated cinematic gem. The Blu-ray release is solid on a technical level, though it doesn't bring any new supplements to the table.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.