A scene from 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 146 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, June 29, 2001
Written & directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson

Voices of Ben Kingsley, Jack Angel, Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Chris Rock


The incredible scale of this movie may lose a lot of punch on the small screen. But at least watching it on video you can shut it off where it should have ended anyway. Just watch for the camera pulling back from the underwater ferris wheel. Trust me, you don't want to see the rest.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 03.05.2002


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Kubrick's fantastical cautionary fable about an android boy gets the gushy Spielberg treatment in 'A.I.'

By Rob Blackwelder

No Steven Spielberg movie without dinosaurs or lost arks is complete until some part of it is slathered in schmaltz, and no Spielberg finale has ever been as thick with it as "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."

Of course, I can't go into detail without spoiling said finale, but just imagine something so soft-focused, saccharine and teary-eyed that E.T. himself would go into sugar shock -- then multiply that by 10 and you'll get the general idea.

As with most Spielberg films, the irony is that up until the Gatorade cooler of sappy sentimentality is dumped over the audience's collective head, "A.I." is an admirable cinematic feat -- a mesmerizing mix of cautionary futuristic fairy tale, prudently measured intentional corniness, and neon-colored three ring circus.

The terminally adorable but always surprisingly profound Haley Joel Osment ("The Sixth Sense," "Pay It Forward") stars as David, the world's first android programmed to feel emotion, specifically love for his adoptive parents. A prototype, he's assigned by his creator (William Hurt doing a Silicon Valley Geppetto) to replace a young couple's comatose son, and the first 30 minutes of the film pretty much covers the expected robot-developing-his-humanity territory, comparable to any "Star Trek" episode prominently featuring Commander Data.

But in "A.I.," every scene -- even these most obvious moments -- has a spine-tinglingly eerie, almost disquieting atmosphere that harks of the influence Stanley Kubrick had on the evolution of the film. Interested in making a children's picture at some point, Kubrick fiddled with this project (based on a 1969 Brian Aldiss short story called "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long") for a decade before his death last year, and often discussed it with his friend Steven Spielberg. (Ironically, while the ending is tailor made for children, the rest of the movie is most definitely not.)

Kubrick's enigmatical influence is undeniably felt in the way Spielberg wrote the script (his first since "Close Encounters") and helms the film. Spielberg deftly pays homage to the great director with visual and stylistic touches (all the characters are strangely, subtly calm even when they're angry) throughout "A.I." He's also paced it like a Kubrick movie (146 minutes), but honoring him that way didn't turn out so well. The last 30 minutes are spent waiting impatiently for the other shoe to drop.

The most Kubrickian element of all may be Osment's incredible warm and fuzzy but quite unsettling performance. When David first arrives at the home of Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor), he may strike some as being full of overly-mannered robotic boy clichés, until they realize this stems not from Osment over-playing the part but from David being over-programmed and Osment playing it so well. The kid never blinks. He moves with ever-so-slightly mechanical precision. His boyish laughter turns on and off like someone flipped a switch on his back. You want to hug the kid, but he also gives you the heebie-jeebies.

Osment's finest moment comes when Monica goes through a pre-programmed bonding protocol literally to boot up the mother-child bond. His plastic automaton smile goes through a infinitesimal but significant transformation as his emotions kick in and his face becomes flushed with warmth and devotion. When he suddenly looks at Monica with moist doe eyes and calls her "mommy," you'll get goosebumps. But whether those goosebumps come from the suddenly moving sincerity of Osment's delivery or the preternatural premeditation behind it is enticingly hard to determine.

But not long after flipping the switch that imprinted David with his unshakable childhood affections, the Swintons' flesh-and-blood son makes a miraculous recovery. Unable to cope with this emotional dichotomy, Monica abandons David in the forest (she can't cope with him being returned and deprogrammed either) in a heartbreaking scene in which he pleads to stay with her and promises to become a real boy if it will make her love him. This becomes his only goal throughout the rest of the film.

Soon David meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a suave, satin-suited "Mecha" (short for "mechanical" in the picture's parlance) designed to be a superhuman lover. Joe is on the run after being framed for the murder of a client by her jealous husband and in the world depicted in "A.I.," being on the loose means he's in great danger since many humans are so paranoid about the advancements in Mecha technology that a movement is on to "purge ourselves of artificiality."

Like Osment, Law does a outstanding job of playing his character's programming. Even as they both evolve, David is still driven by his pre-programmed undying devotion to his mother and Joe applies erogenous logic and cheesy seductive dialogue to all situations. Joe makes for great comic relief, confidently strutting like a cross between John Travolta and Gene Kelly as he guides David through the second act, which turns into a fantastical blend of "Blade Runner" (if it took place in Las Vegas), "Pinocchio" and "Tron," with pinches of "Waterworld" (in the future the polar ice caps have melted, submerging coastal cities), with "Road Warrior" and "Brazil" thrown in for seasoning.

"A.I." has some trouble with minor continuity problems and logical flaws (wouldn't the Swintons' friends wonder what happened to David?). It's also burdened with a seriously intrusive score by Spielberg's loyal composer John Williams. But such blunders are balanced out by the deeper themes the film explores -- the definitions of humanity, the potential dangers of self-aware artificial life and the potentially paranoid, knee-jerked human reactions to the possibility of such life (the second act Joe and David are captured by a "Flesh Fair" which violently destroys androids before ravenous crowds).

But then comes the feel-good fantasy epilogue which is so slowly paced and emotionally soggy that it almost counteracts all the uncanny wonder that went before it. If Spielberg had shortened and toned down the weepy mood of this finale by 75 percent, "A.I." would have been 50 percent better.


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