Tuesday, 29 March 2011
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards
By Alan Bacchus
After the untimely death of Stanley Kubrick in 1999, Spielberg was given this project as a gift to adapt into his own film as his expression of his 20-year friendship with the master. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t work. Sure, as the stories recounted by Spielberg and Jan Harlan on the DVD featurettes say, it fit the sensibilities of Steven Spielberg better than Kubrick, but an intriguing concept is bungled by Spielberg’s aging tin ear for subtext.
I admire the all ‘round good intentions, the idea of two completely opposite but equally great cinema masters collaborating on one film. All roads are paved with good intentions, but this road wanders around aimlessly en route to its destination.
There’s a terrific idea at the core. And it’s probably Brian Aldiss’s, the author of the sci-fi story upon which this film is based. The moral question asks what the human responsibility is to a robot that is made to be just like humans. If a robot can love like a human and thus feel the pain of love as a human, are we obliged to treat him or her like one?
Unfortunately, Spielberg articulates this moral question with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head in the opening scene. It comes in the form of William Hurt’s speech declaring his intention to create a robot boy who can love, and in the counter-argument from his articulate female associate (April Grace), the ethical conundrum of such a venture. It’s a particularly awful and shameless speech written by Spielberg, depriving us of the ability to infer the theme based on what’s said between the lines. This is called subtext, a fundamental necessity for good cinema. And how Mr. Spielberg forgot this is astonishing.
This is not thinking man’s science fiction. This is children’s storybook entertainment. Even less so, because even when we do tell our kids the moral of our bedtime stories, it’s always done AFTER the story is over, not before.
It’s a shame because discarding this opening scene would make the experience of A.I. completely different. Of course, we would also have to get rid of the blockhead Pinocchio metaphors that continually hammer us with the subtext front and centre. So maybe this film with Spielberg at the helm was doomed from the start.
Along the way, we can appreciate the craft of many of the set pieces. Janusz Kaminski’s superlative lighting, for instance, creates an interesting sci-fi look combining the neon-drenched slop of 80s cyberpunk with the blinding backlit look usually seen in Spielberg’s pictures. And whether or not you find the Flesh Fare scene grossly juvenile, the explosion of light and colour is spellbinding.
Same with most of the performances, particularly Jude Law as the dervish lover robot who talks like he’s Fred Astaire singing and dancing his dialogue in an MGM musical. And Haley Osment's gradual arc from monotone robotic articulations to full fledged human emotions is deft and effectively subtle.The second act road trip and male bonding of boy and gigolo is enjoyable and adequately distracts from how far off the rails this film goes.
Even with the opening scene and the Pinocchio nonsense included, the film could have been salvageable if the third act wasn’t an hour long. This film just keeps going and going, one climax after another and doesn’t want to stop. Ultimately, I think the failure of this film is a product of Spielberg's age. The attempt to bring back that 'Spielberg magic' of his youth fails, as it has disappeared. As such, A.I. feels like a sad knockoff of his earlier work.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence is available on Blu-ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.