|Haley Joel Osment
Time: 145 mins.
Genre: Science Fiction/Drama
Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score and Visual Effects.
I wasn't really sure what to expect when I set out to watch this movie. I was looking for a unique movie-going experience and on that level I can't complain. AI is one of the most compelling and strange films I think I have ever seen. As a collaboration between two of cinema's greatest directors, Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick the former creating some of the most enduring popular entertainment and the latter who has brought our darkest selves to light this film is an uncomfortable mix of their very different filmmaking styles. Stanley interpreted by Steven only works because Spielberg wants it so badly. The film is a roller-coaster ride of drastically conflicting visuals and emotions, never settling on a consistent look and feel. I felt like I was watching 3 separate movies, barely able to hang onto the thread that sewed them together. Lucky for Spielberg, that thread is another stunning performance by child actor Haley Joel Osment. His hope that his dream to become a real boy will become fulfilled is the only constant in this film's ever changing landscape. At times it's just bright enough to keep this behemoth afloat.
The film opens at some unspecified time in our future where global warming has put most of the Earth under water, causing mass starvation and therefore a need for population control. Mechanical beings, known as Mechas, have been created to ease the burden of this new world. The more advanced ones look and act just like humans, programmed to feel pain and emotions, yet they have no desires or dreams of their own. It's Professor Hobby's (Hurt) dream to create a robot who has the capacity to feel and give love. What better vehicle than a young boy, someone who could fill the void for thousands of childless couples. His colleagues are skeptical, wondering if humans would really accept the love of a machine...no matter how real it looked. Despite potential moral dilemmas, they move forward giving "birth" to David (Osment), a boy who wants nothing more than his mother's love. Monica (O'Connor) and Henry (Robards) Swinton are chosen to test the prototype. Their real son lies in a coma, possibly never to awaken. Monica is horrified when she first meets David, accusing Henry of giving up on their son. However, she is unable to resist this quirky, loving child, who looks at her with an undeniable yearning she can't deny.
Henry is never as taken with David as Monica is. She knows that he's not real, but his presence makes her happier than she's been in a long time. David moves into their son's room and is even given his old things, one a walking, talking, thinking stuffed bear named Teddy. Everything is fine until Martin, their son, awakens and comes home. He treats David like all his other toys, but sees that his mother doesn't. Nor does David understand that he's not human. He has no concept of being a machine, having never met any other Mechas. He has one program and that's to love Monica without question. Things get progressively worse between the boys, eventually ending in several incidents that make Henry uneasy about David's potential for evil. Monica makes the hard choice to save her real family and abandons David to the outside world rather than see him be destroyed. Since he's now hardwired to only love her, he cannot be adopted by anyone else. David is devestated by her desertion, believing she left him because he wasn't real. Thus begins his quest, like Pinnochio, to find the Blue Fairy so he can regain Monica's love.
This is where the films goes awry. This middle section where David hooks up with various other Mechas, including the exquisite Jude Law as Gigalo Joe (guess what his main function is), goes from creepy to downright grotesque. In sequences that seemed straight out of the horrifically awful ESCAPE FROM L.A., David and Joe are forced to fight for their survival against a group of humans who want to see all Mechas destroyed...in the most freakish ways possible. It's David's "humanity" that saves them from being melted with acid in front of a crowd of cheering white trash. Imagine a group of grown up Sids, the evil boy next door from TOY STORY, who want nothing more than to see Mechas in as many pieces as possible because they believe they're taking over the world. You know what, if this is all that's left of humanity than maybe we should leave the planet to the machines. Since David ends up saving Joe's "life" he agrees to help him on his search. They begin in a place called Rouge City, a den of sexual iniquity and once they find the answers they seek, move on to Man-hattan, the end of the world.
"It occurs to me with all this animus existing against Mechas today it isn't just a question of creating a robot that can love. Isn't the real conundrum, can you get a human to love them back?"
||David doesn't like what he finds in this underwater New York, which gave me chills. Not only does he discover that his quest was futile, but that he isn't as unique or special as his programming led him to believe. His "father", Professor Hobby, tries to get him to understand that the Blue Fairy is a myth, however not to lose heart because his search for her makes him extraordinary, a machine who dreams and is therefore as close to human as he can possibly be. That's not good enough for David. He refuses to give up his need to be loved and accepted by Monica. He eventually finds the Blue Fairy, but she doesn't exactly give him what he wants. The extremely lengthy denouement of the film is straight out of THE ABYSS and not the good ending. This wouldn't be a Spielberg film if it didn't end on a high note, but getting there is not as easy or simple as one would expect. Even though I didn't care for the middle section of the film, I found it easier to swallow than this final passage. Certainly the whole point of the film is to have David realize his dream, which is eventually satisfied. The only problem is, I wasn't. The film finally gains it's heart, but it still lacks soul.
The only reason this movie works at all is because of the acting talent of Osment. Spielberg is a wonderful director, but even he couldn't have made this overblown tripe work without this petite genius. If he does work like this as a 13-year-old, I can't wait to enjoy what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career. He is truly amazing here as the boy who refuses to give up. This is the first screenplay Spielberg has written since CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and I kind of wish it wasn't influenced by Kubrick. It's just too cold and cerebral to make you want to watch it again. Certainly, Spielberg has never directed scenes as inherently twisted and heartbreaking as ones included here, however, I don't think I want him to. He's the master of our dreams and hopes, not our fears and nightmares. Even SCHINDLER'S LIST, which was brutal to watch and is certainly his most perfectly realized vision, isn't as cold and remote as this. Though I wanted David to unlock Monica's love, I was never completely reeled in by his quest. Maybe I'm just a cold-hearted bitch. They don't treat him like he's just a machine, but innately that's what he is and I could never get over that.
There are also many other interesting aspects to this story that never get fully explored. Since David is a child, who will never grow up, he doesn't truly interact with the other Mechas. He's supposed to be different and view himself as real, but I wanted to know more about the world around him and since we are viewing it with a child's eyes that never happens. Maybe that's why his single mindedness seemed so one-dimensional. He's capable of learning, yet he never sees himself for what he truly is. Of course, then the film would be over. The only other stand-out performance is from Jude Law. He's always mesmerizing and here he takes your breath away. He also gives the film its only bits of humor. The look and feel of the film changes with each section, so it's hard to say whether I liked it. It starts out pretty normal and then goes into futuristic overkill at the Flesh Fair and Rouge City. I fear seeing the Big Apple underwater is going to give me nightmares. Treated like a normal occurence, it is one of the most visually arresting sequences of the film. It's just not right.
As you can probably tell from this review, I'm somewhat ambivilant about this movie. After thinking about it for hours, I still don't know if I liked it. What I can tell you is that it's truly one of the most amazing collaborations we are likely to ever see. This is a complete fusion between two very different approaches to cinema. I can't say whether it's a successful hybrid, but it sure is a marriage like no other. I'm not sure I want to sit through it again, but I am glad for the experience. A.I. is one of the most captivating, puzzling and disturbing films I've seen in a long time. A theatrical trip you won't soon forget.