His film is real. But he is no longer with us. “Artificial Intelligence” is the Stanley Kubrick – Steven Spielberg hybrid film that is three acts Kubrick, one act Spielberg. Can you guess which director gets his choice of endings? Hint: one of them no longer has any say in it.
When a mother’s child is lost to her, she and her husband become eligible to test the first robot designed to actually love: David (Haley Joel Osment). David acts very much like a loving little boy, but his adoptive family can’t forget that he’s also a robot that shows emotions. When a few mishaps make the adoptive parents wary of David’s emotional unpredictability, David finds himself on his own in the world with only a supertoy named Teddy (voiced by Jack Angel) as a guide. With the help of other ‘mecha’ like himself, such as Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), David pursues the only dream he has: to become a real boy and gain the complete acceptance of the mother he cannot help but love.
First, a disclaimer: I have been following the “A.I.” movie ‘game’ online, which has provided a much more detailed background than the movie has time to tell about. The online game pretends that the future is now and is set a bit after the events that start this film; it provides infinite insight into a world divided into those that love and shun mechanical lifeforms, some violently opposed. Like the original “Blair Witch Project,” the online websites provide extended detail that is not required to watch the film, and yet it’s hard to say that knowing about this fictional future world in advance had no impact on watching it.
“A.I.” begins with just enough backstory to introduce us to David, whom appears very unsettling in what everyone assumes to be mere robot programmed to act like a human boy. The story then shifts to be told through David’s eyes, and the bad dream changes from “what horrible thing is David going to do” to “what horrible thing is going to happen to David.” From this point, there is a very child-like feel for the story, as if Spielberg is your guide through a Kubrick film. Storybook elements (particularly “Pinochio”) are shadowed against a violent, distinctly non-fairytale future showing that morality and humanity is in a downward spiral. Spielberg doesn’t let these images settle in too long since our hero doesn’t really understand the implication of what he is seeing, meaning that David’s imagination allows him to choose elements and interpret them as he can best relate to them: he’s thinking like a little boy. Not everyone watching may get this; “A.I.” is a thinking movie first and a visual assault second.
Unfortunately, there are two problems with this film overall, the first of which stems from something we can now call “Atlantis” syndrome (as in Disney’s “Atlantis.”) The storybook elements are too childlike for adults, but the serious elements are too adult for children. The ‘PG-13’ rating may be designed to keep little ones out, but with a little tweaking, this film could have been a family film with them in mind. As it is, only dedicated science fiction fans and true film lovers will likely find this film engaging or recommend it to others. Were that not enough, the third act ends in a way that could have easily ended the film satisfactorily, but is then hijacked by Spielberg and given the Hollywood treatment. The intrusion, for all its interesting bits, reeks of “Close Encounters” and “E.T.”, and the only reason it couldn’t have ended at the two-hour mark is because the credits read “Directed by Steven Spielberg.” Then again, in Spielberg’s defense, Kubrick would have taken three or four hours to get to the two-hour mark, so pick your own poison.
Had the film ended where it should have, “A.I.” could have been one of the more enjoyable and thought-provoking films of this summer. Due to its mostly-unnecessary afterthought ending, however, it falls prey to what destroyed “Pearl Harbor.” Note to Spielberg: enjoyed the film, but sometimes bad things do happen to good people, even at the movies; don’t be afraid to let a good story end where it should.
(a three skull film minus a half for tampering)