A.I. Artificial Intelligence Review

A.I. Artificial Intelligence was considered a weak effort by Steven Spielberg in terms of critical reception and box office takings. The minute the late Stanley Kubrick's name was banded with the production, the vultures hovered in the air awaiting the opportunity to peck at Spielberg as soon as the film was released. Sure enough, Kubrick fans and Spielberg's critics swooped down instantly. Kubrick guarded the film's original story (based on the Brian Aldiss short Supertoys Last All Summer Long) ferociously and it was only after years of secret development that he allowed close friend Steven Spielberg in on his movie plans. After toying with directing the film himself, Kubrick decided to produce the film and ask Spielberg to direct it, claiming it was "closer to [Spielberg's] sensibilities". However, Spielberg passed on the opportunity, therefore throwing the ball back in Kubrick's court. Kubrick died just after completing his erotically ambiguous Eyes Wide Shut, and his widow begged Spielberg to reconsider filming the adaptation of the Brian Aldiss short.


Set far into the future, but not so far as to be completely removed from our society, A.I. Artificial Intelligence tells of a world where the polar icecaps have melted and most major cities are underwater. Parents wishing to have children need strict licensing before being allowed to conceive. A robotics corporation therefore produces a latest innovation to fulfil this parental need; they create a robotic boy that is, in terms of appearance and capabilities, the same as a human boy, but unlike other mecha-beings, capable of love. One of the scientists working for the corporation is given the first mecha-child to test, due to his son being disabled and in a coma. The mecha-boy, named David (Haley Joel Osmont), soon yearns to be treated like he was real, using the story of Pinocchio as inspiration and believing that the Blue Fairy will one day turn him into a real boy. As David's integration into his new family hits the obvious teething problems, he is abandoned by his parents and given only his mecha-toy pal Teddy to help him. Told to watch out for Flesh-philes who are against mechanisation of organisms, David and Teddy attempt to search for the Blue Fairy, thus rendering him real and therefore able to return to the family he loves. On his encounters, David hooks up with a pleasure (gigolo) model named Joe (Jude Law), who becomes framed for murder and therefore on the run. Together, the two mecha-friends learn that friendship is a much more faithful code to follow than that of a programmer's.


A.I. Artificial Intelligence is arguably the most ambitious work to be produced by Steven Spielberg in a very long time. There are some sequences that are so bleak; so visually cold-hearted that it is no wonder there are overtones of Stanley Kubrick in the film. A.I. Artificial Intelligence manages to fit perfectly among Spielberg's other science-fiction masterpieces Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Indeed, A.I. Artificial Intelligence could almost be regarded as the third part of a trilogy consisting of the other two. Whereas Close Encounters and E.T. focused on Man turning towards other worldly beings for spiritual companionship, A.I. Artificial Intelligence turns this notion on itself in the best post-modernist sense by depicting a world in which Man builds their own companions. This poses much more of a contentious ethical debate however, as the boundary between what is real and what is simulated in A.I. Artificial Intelligence has almost eroded completely. The threat to humanity depicted in the film is much more subtle and slow-moving when compared to something such as The Terminator, as rather than aim to wipe out the human race, the robots in A.I. Artificial Intelligence are threatening because it appears that human beings will soon be redundant; robots will outlive them and advance upon them. The key to the success of the film is the perfect acting by Haley Joel Osment, the wonder-boy from The Sixth Sense who already has an Oscar nomination under his belt. Many critics of the film claim that we fail to become emotionally engaged in A.I. Artificial Intelligence because Spielberg is ultimately asking us to sympathise with a robot, but this is surely not Spielberg's aim. If anything, we are always fully aware that David is a robot, but Spielberg, through his magnificent direction of young Osment, renders David so humanlike and touchingly innocent of the horrors of the 'human' world that it is impossible not to feel at least some emotion for him. This is the key to the film, in that Spielberg wants to play with our emotions - he wants to worry us about the fact that we might be sympathising with a robot character. This is evident in all of the film's characters, and Spielberg gleefully reverses all of the traits. The humans are cold, emotionless drones and the robots are vibrant and compelling to watch, such as Gigolo Joe, camped excessively by Jude Law, or even the wonderful toy companion to David named Teddy, who seems to be the film's wisest character despite his 'robotic-bear' status. In fact, the mirror-like symbolism is so blatant that Spielberg even has David's real brother wear electronic leg braces, as if he is a cyborg, therefore giving David more of a 'real' appearance than his human brother.


Production values are first-rate, which is the least you'd expect from Spielberg. The fantastic musical score by John Williams brings the legendary composer back to his best form, and it is no surprise that he has been nominated twice (for this and Harry Potter) in this year's Oscar nominations. Williams employs rousing strings mixed with almost am ambient melody, that is both anachronistically nineteen eighties and yet seemingly futuristic both in tone and complexity. The neon-Blade Runner-esque production design and general aura of the film is deliciously post-modern, in that it seems to possess a mishmash of many different styles and eras. Notice Professor Allen Hobby's Cathode-Ray-tube monitor screen, or Gigolo Joe's penchant for nineteen-forties Fred Astaire-isms. The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski contrasts expertly the very dark and very bright sequences of the film, to the extent that at times it feels like the usually colourful Spielberg is deliberately restrained.


It is without doubt that A.I. Artificial Intelligence is criticised purely because of it's infamous epilogue sequences, which has been incorrectly credited as being Spielberg's creation and has caused many people to jump on the bandwagon of accusing Spielberg of pandering to his trademark over-sentimentalism. If you haven't seen the seen A.I. Artificial Intelligence, you'd be advised to not read the next sections until you have.

The consensus of the argument regarding the end sequence is that the film worked perfectly well with David's plea to the 'Blue Fairy' serving as the film's conclusion. It's claimed that Spielberg was quite faithful to Kubrick's original premise up until that end sequence and had he ended it at this point the film would have been a fantastic testament to the late maestro's vision of the film. The "saccharine" ending that Spielberg apparantly "tacks on" to A.I. Artificial Intelligence garnered him much criticism for ruining what was a perfectly dark three-act set-up, and a perfectly good Stanley Kubrick film. The fairytale ending that Spielberg employs was seen as the height of American schmaltz compromising to the mainstream Blockbuster Video audience. Indeed, Spielberg's haters will be dismayed to learn that the end sequence is only very slightly altered from the ending Kubrick was planning all along, and is far from being Spielberg's creation.

Although it is understandable how some might have fashioned this critical view of Spielberg taken over a Kubrick production, there are still many factors contributing to the defence of the director of Schindler's List and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Firstly, disregarding a few extremely blatant visual homages to Kubrick, one should remember that the film, from beginning to end, has been directed by Spielberg based on his own screenplay adaptation. One must also ask themselves why Kubrick intended Spielberg to direct the film in the first place? One would assume that this is because the sentimentality of the story wasn't in tune with Kubrick's directive flair, and Kubrick was the first to admit this. Most importantly, the tone and the essence of the film is entirely Spielberg in its production values, from the powerful use of frequent collaborator John William's score, to the many production members such as Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn who have served with Spielberg on many past films.

With regards to the ending, you really have to weigh up what the added epilogue actually gives to the message of the film compared to what critics incorrectly claim would have been more 'Kubrickian'. If the film had ended with David's infinite plea to the Blue Fairy, the film would have been a bleak and unsettling story concerning man's disregard of robot companions once they prove to be redundant or malfunctioning. This notion would have reinforced the argument that it is hard to care about a protagonist that is robotic at its core, and would have posed a question regarding the necessity of robots as future social companions without answering it. The ending presented in A.I. Artificial Intelligence is clearly covered in sugar on the surface, and it is very easy to walk out of the cinema thinking that Spielberg copped out, but this is actually not the case.


Therefore, this next section is not aimed at converting the haters of the ending (and it is one of those endings that you either love or hate) but rather an attempt to offer alternative viewpoints, since the ending is quite ambiguous and can be perceived in many different ways. Firstly, is the ending even a happy one? Humans are completely extinct, and the viewer is unsure as to whether the beings that inhabit the planet are alien visitors or evolved robots stemmed from human creation. When David is granted the illusion of his mother, it is only for one day, and she isn't even his mother but an 'imitating' clone. Also, David isn't granted his wish of becoming a real boy like Pinocchio, indeed we aren't even sure what will happen to David after his one-day fantasy. The fact that the film contains a half-buried World Trade Centre thousands of years into the future (September 11th occurred after the film was made and kudos to Spielberg for resisting digitally altering the Manhatten skyline), combined with the fact that humans no longer exist, strongly points out the inadequacies of human life.

Are we even sure that the epilogue actually happens? Considering the benevolent attitude of Professor Allen Hobby towards his creations, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that he would have incorporated a "fantasy sequence" into the matrix of the robot's brain to allow him to shut off peacefully, rather than have an abrupt death. As the narrator ambiguously concludes at the end - "So David went to sleep too, and for the first time in his life, he went to that place where dreams are born". It is therefore possible that the entire epilogue of the film is played out in David's own simulated mind, and this concept in itself is far from happy, since it is actually his own death sequence as opposed to a joyous conclusion. Also, Spielberg gives these final sequences a different visual quality compared to the rest of the film, to suggest a deliberate isolation in terms of style- they are almost hauntingly silent, with a golden backlit glow that suggests almost heavenly connotations.


If anything, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is far too vague and mysterious in its conclusion to ever support one viewpoint. The debate will live on past our own life cycle, and cynics will not have been swayed. However, if you view A.I. Artificial Intelligence with an open mind and resist the temptation to accuse Spielberg of ruining Kubrick's 'vision', then you may receive the film as an epic science-fiction masterpiece, a more apt title than many have seen fit to bestow upon it.



Picture
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the picture is excessively grainy for the most part, identical to that of the Region 1 release. This must be deliberate, as Warner Brothers are usually very good when it comes to providing flawless transfers on new releases. Even so, the picture is generally pleasing and exhibits fine colour tones and splendid image clarity.

Sound
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (although without the DTS track the Region 1 contains) the sound track is very good indeed with fine atmospheric low bass rumblings in the form of John Williams' score and good spatial effects, that envelope the viewer in Spielberg's distinctive futuristic world. Again however, one must question Warner Brothers distinct disregard for DTS on Region 2 shores.




Menu: A nicely animated menu with an almost angelic tone, backed with some good portions of John Williams' score. However, some of the more background menu pages are static.

Packaging: The two discs are presented in a cardboard slot-in packaging that fold out, these are then housed in a cardboard dust-cover sleeve, and appears slightly susceptible to easy damage.



Extras

Creating A.I.: The only extra that is featured on Disc One is an interesting twelve minute Laurent Bouzereau produced featurette that focuses on how Spielberg and Kubrick's paths intertwined to make A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This features some informative interviews with Steven Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy amongst others.

Acting A.I.: This features two featurettes focusing on the two stars of the film Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law and their experiences in portraying mecha-beings, complete with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the pair and Spielberg. A Portrait Of David lasts nine minutes and A Portrait Of Gigolo Joe lasts six minutes.

Designing A.I.: A.I. From Drawings To Sets is a seven minute featurette with concept illustrator Chris Baker (aka Fangorn) talking through his experiences in designing much of the film's superficial image. Dressing A.I. is a five minute featurette hosted by Bob Ringwood and contains his ideas behind the costume designs of the film, and is a good concise featurette that doesn't outstay its welcome.


Lighting A.I.: A four minute featurette featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski on the reasons behind some of the visual touches he gave to the film.

Special Effects: A seven minute featurette hosted by Michael Lantieri giving a skimmed-surface look at how the special effects shots were initially designed.

Robots Of A.I.: A thirteen minute featurette featuring interviews from Spielberg and other crew members explaining the scientific structure of the mecha-beings of the film and how these robots were animated.

Special Visual Effects And Animations: ILM: A five minute Overview is first given by Industrial Light & Magic effects supervisor Dennis Muren regarding how he became involved with Kubrick/Spielberg on the film. The Robots is a three minute brief featurette explaining how some of the quirky robot strays in the film were brought to the screen. The Miniatures is a four minute featurette designed to illustrate how miniature models helped fuel the backbone of production design for some of the film's noteworthy locations such as Rouge City and the underwater Coney Island. The New York City Sequence: Shot Progression is a three minute explanation as to how the magnificently eerie New York City conclusion was achieved. Animating A.I. is an eight minute featurette involved with animating some of the film's 'life-less' characters.

The Sound And Music Of A.I.: Split into two sections. The first section concentrates on Sound and is presented by Gary Rydstrom and lasts for six minutes, highlighting how the sound recordings for the film were achieved and layered into the final product. Score is a five minute featurette hosted by composer John Williams on his collaboration with Spielberg.

Closing: Steven Spielberg On Our Responsibilities To Artificial Intelligence: A three minute closing speech by Spielberg in which he mentions his views on the concept of artificial intelligence.

A.I. Archives - This is more extensive than it looks, with two Trailers, three Storyboards of key sequences, a Portfolio Of Chris Baker's Designs and a brilliant Production Design Portfolio which contains some fantastic images and an ILM Visual Effects Portfolio. Also included are two photo galleries by David James- Portrait Gallery and Steven Spielberg Behind The Scenes. This whole section is a valued in-depth surprise at the end of a long list of extra features.

Cast: Pictures of the main cast members with filmographies for Law and Osment.

Filmmakers: A list of key crew members with filmographies for Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy.




Conclusion

A stunningly ambiguous epic that splits the audience has been given a memorable DVD release. This Region 2 version omits a DTS soundtrack that the Region 1 has, but other than that is identical, and the extras, produced by veteran Laurent Bouzereau are very watchable and detailed but are still lacking compared to other Special Editions. Even so, this is probably as good a Steven Spielberg release you are likely to see in a long, long time.

Film
10 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:04:15

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