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A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Director: Steven Spielberg

review by Gary Couzens

In the not-very-distant future, the ice caps have melted, and many of the world's cities have been submerged. Professor Hobby (William Hurt) has developed a child robot, named David (Haley Joel Osment), who is placed with Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor) as a replacement for their real son Martin (Jake Thomas) who is in cryogenic storage until his terminal illness can be cured.

Inspired by Brian Aldiss' 1969 short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, via a screen story by Ian Watson, Stanley Kubrick had been developing A.I. for years when he died in 1999. Steven Spielberg took over the project, and this is the result. Kubrick's and Spielberg's sensibilities would seem poles apart, though the two were friends. The former's worldview was darker, more cynical and detached; Spielberg, on the other hand, can be excessively sentimental. The subject matter is more Spielbergian, though, with its child protagonist. (While he was alive, Kubrick considered producing the film only, leaving the direction to Spielberg.) For all its SF trappings, which are more detailed and convincing than most of what passes for big-screen science fiction, A.I. is fundamentally a fairy tale, a retelling of Pinocchio. David thinks he must become a 'real' boy to deserve his mother's love.

The plotline is episodic, held together by narration and Osment's presence; no other character is on screen for as long. When Martin is returned to life, he and David find themselves as rivals for their mother's affections. Forty-five minutes in, David is abandoned and left to fend for himself. With the aid of a 'love robot', Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), David escapes the horrors of a 'flesh fair', a kind of circus where 'mechas' who have outlived their usefulness are destroyed in front of an audience. This is an extraordinary, almost nightmarish sequence � as Joe explains to David, humans ('orgas') hate mechas because when humans die mechas will still exist... Note that speech: without it, it's easy to misinterpret the ending, which takes us into the far future and a bleak view of evolution.

Spielberg tells this story at some length and with a steady pace. Technically it's as accomplished as you might expect. Sentimentality is largely kept at bay: Osment plays David slightly 'off' so he's more creepy than cloying, especially in the early stages. Despite some Kubrickian homages and signature shots, this is ultimately a Spielberg film and I don't doubt that Kubrick would have filmed it differently had he lived and directed himself. But whatever the final mixture might be, we have a big-budget special-effects-heavy SF film that asks questions, provokes thought and doesn't insult the audience's intelligence. Especially nowadays, that's something to be grateful for.
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