Now playing - A.I.

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2001

When Stanley Kubrick died last year, he was considered by many critics to have been the greatest director of his generation. Unfortunately, he had left his most ambitious project unfinished. For years he had been working out the logistical problems of a film about artificial intelligence. It was feared that this final great piece of art might never reach the screen, until, not long after his death, it was revealed that the reins had been passed to possibly the greatest director of the next generation, Steven Spielberg.

Actually, the two had been communicating about the project for years. Kubrick had been waiting for technology to catch up with his imagination, and Spielberg was a natural to collaborate with. Alas, Kubrick died before he could see his vision realized, but the final product is truly beautiful. The pairing of these two very different directors and directing styles has brought about a near perfect mix. Spielberg alone would have created a vibrant fairy tale world without the necessary cold artifice, and Kubrick's heavy hand might have missed the humanity and emotion that is the heart of the picture. What we have, instead, is a sometimes scary, often moving, always beautiful essay on what it is that constitutes what is real and what is artificial.

David is eleven years old and a robot. He is the latest creation of the geniuses at Cybertronics, a company that designs and sells "Mechs" for a myriad of uses. There are nanny models, sex models, and worker models. David, however, is the first foray into the creation of children. The idea that couples who have lost children could use the machines as a kind of replacement is somewhat ghoulish, but it's not long before David finds himself in the home of a family whose child is in a coma; lost, for all practical purposes. David is designed to love; to love unconditionally and unwaveringly, as a young child might, and David performs this task perfectly. Understandably, then, it is quite a shock to him when the real son comes out of his coma and returns home. Of course, it's a real shock to the real son, Martin, as well. How would you like to come home from the hospital and find that your family had replaced you with a machine? It is this conflict that eventually sends David out into the harsh world, where Mechs are widely feared and despised. The story of Pinocchio influences him to search for the Blue Fairy, who can make him a real boy, and along the way he meets Gigolo Joe, along with a host of other robots. Gigolo Joe is a pleasure model, on the run, but willing to help a fellow Mech in need. Along for the ride is a teddy bear supertoy, named, predictably enough, Teddy, who serves as a kind of guardian and nearly steals the whole show. I won't reveal too many particulars, except to say that the film serves up a gutsy ending that has Kubrick's definite touch.

It's nice to go to a summer movie from time to time that is a real piece of art. Like Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator before it, A.I. will probably be up for Oscars come March. The acting is really remarkable. Haley Joel Osment has completely redeemed himself for Pay It Forward. He takes this role seriously and achieves a wonderful balance between humanity and artificiality. Jude Law, in a relatively small role as Gigolo Joe, is perfect as a machine who has been programmed to utter little more than catchy come-on lines. The cinematography and writing are both top-notch, and, for an FX-heavy movie like this one, it's nice not to have them thrust in your face. If I had one complaint, it would be that the middle act, the search for humanity, feels a little rushed, and the beginning and the epilogue feel a little prolonged. I suppose Spielberg was going for less an adventure and more a thought provoking drama , but don't they say it's the journey, not the destination? Minor flaws aside, A.I. is quite an achievement.

Despite the warm fuzzy Spielberg feeling you get when you watch the preview, A.I. is not a kid's movie. For one, it's pretty heavy. For another, it's scary and disturbing in parts. The PG-13 rating is appropriate for once. Your older kids should be able to join in some of the conversations sure to be spawned by this film. There are all kinds of issues brought up, from children's place in society, to what constitutes real feelings and emotions. Where do you draw the line between a thing that deserves no consideration, and a real, conscious entity? Is there a difference between programmed emotions and real ones? David has been programmed to love, supposedly the first robot with "real" emotions. But Joe has some emotions, as do the other Mechs they run into, be they fear, anger, or compassion. Is David really as unique as his makers want to believe, or are their creations becoming more human as they go along? And what is really different between David, whose feelings are implanted at a factory, and the rest of us, whose feelings are implanted somewhere else? This is a film that comes along at just the right time. In a world on the verge of cloning and exponentially expanding technology, A.I. asks all the right questions. Grade: A-

A.I. is rated PG-13 for disturbing scenes of cruelty and adult themes.

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