Where to begin? The expectations on this one were big before the whispers of a Spielberg-Kubrik collaboration had become full-fledged buzz, and tossing in a score by symphonic genius John Williams only made the curiosity grow around what some hoped might be a cross between Star Wars and 2001 – which is to say a artistic and very smart but wildly entertaining major film event.
The final product, alas, was something less than what might have been expected, but still a smart and entertaining film. The story of A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (check out the beautiful Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition) is a simple one. Basically, it’s an adult version of Pinocchio, 21st century style. The ice caps have melted. The world’s coastal cities are submerged.
Millions of people have been displaced. Procreation, once such a simple process, has become more difficult as the decision to allow people to have children is weighed against the diminishing resources that must be divided amongst all human life.
The solution? Robot children. (And remember: Czech writer Karel Capek invented the word “robot.”) But these robot children have the added capacity to love. “Mechas” (short for mechanical) have been used for some time to perform menial or sexual tasks. But David is a prototype of a mecha that has been equipped with emotional sensors.
The scientist who developed David (William “I like beige sweaters draped around my shoulders” Hurt, The Big Chill) can answer all technical questions posed to him. Where he stumbles is over the moral questions such as “what responsibility do the owners have towards the robot who has been programmed to love them?”
For the first third (and most effective part of the film), it is exactly this question which Monica (Frances O’Connor, Bedazzled), her husband and son must face as they try unsuccessfully to accept David into their family. Had the movie stayed in this family-oriented setting, Spielberg’s commercial instincts may have prevailed and the movie might have totally sucked.
Instead, the second section of the film follows an abandoned David through such futuristic horrors as “Flesh Fairs,” where robots are gleefully destroyed in a circus like atmosphere, and Rouge City, where women are apparently the featured attraction (though we don’t see many).
The problem is that Spielberg’s touch lacks the hard “edge” that is needed to truly unsettle an audience (and involve us in his “alternate reality”). The man simply can’t escape his own hot buttered vision.
Thinky says: This film needed a Cronenberg, not Mr. E.T.